Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 2 June 2005

The Netherlands delivers its 'no' verdict

As expected, voters in the Netherlands have voted-down the EU Constitutional Treaty by an even greater margin than had been predicted. Roughly 61.4 per cent voted against, with only about 38.6 per cent approving ratification. The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, quickly announced that he would respect the result (which is advisory, not mandatory), even though he had campaigned vigorously for a 'yes' vote. Turnout was a very creditable 62.8 per cent, more than twice the level considered necessary.

OK, perhaps legally we still need to go through the rigmarole of having our referendum here next year, just to confirm what everyone believes will be the result here - a resounding 'no' vote. But the reality is that with two countries already having vetoed ratification the constitutional treaty, as written and agreed, cannot now take effect. For the record, I quote the relevant clause in the EU Constitutional Treaty which lays down the circumstances in which it may enter into effect:

Article IV-447
Ratification and entry into force
The Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe

1. The Treaty shall be ratified by the High Contracting Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic.

2. The Treaty shall enter into force on 1 November 2006, provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the second month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step.

However, naturally enough, this is not the entire picture. A sub-clause of another Article has relevance:

Article IV-443
Ordinary revision procedures
The Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe

4. If, two years after the signature of the treaty amending this Treaty, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council.

- the first three sub-clauses of this Article (which are a little lengthy for me to quote here) specify the manner in which such an amending treaty may be agreed and signed. Although I have my own full printed copy of the present Treaty, you can read it for yourself, if you do not have your own copy, by consulting the EU Europa website here - all the pages linked to from there are in .PDF format, so you will need to have a .PDF reader to access them.

Obviously even this was not complicated enough for the drafters of the EU Constitutional Treaty! According to Article IV-442 'Protocols and Annexes':

The Protocols and Annexes to this Treaty shall form an integral part thereof.

and that seems clear enough. There are, however, in addition to these a number of 'Declarations' which were adopted by 'The Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States', convened in Brussels on 30 September 2003 to adopt by common accord the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. These 'Declarations' are not, however, adopted as part of the finally approved Treaty as signed. One of these, Declaration 30, has particular relevance in that it basically echoes the provisions of Article IV-443(4), already quoted above, but like the Article itself merely states that if four-fifths of the Member States have ratified the Treaty and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties with ratification, then the matter will be referred to the European Council. So what is the significance of Article IV-443(4), coupled with Declaration 30? What the Article and the Declaration seem to imply is that the political will for the Treaty to pass into law exists. However, under the terms of the Treaty iself, ratification by all Member States (i.e. the 'High Contracting Parties') is required. When push comes to shove, that is what the Treaty, as signed by the Governments of the Member States, requires - the rest is just smoke and mirrors.

Whatever happens in any of the future referenda, including that in the UK (if it is ever held - and Jack Straw is to make a full statement to the House of Commons next Monday, and I look forward to this with interest), may be of crucial importance in an academic sense, but the Treaty as it now stands is a dead letter. The citizens of two Member States, France and the Netherlands, have declined to approve ratification of the Treaty by their respective governments. What else is there to say?

UPDATE (Monday 6JUN05 01.00 BST) As I have been away from blogging for the past couple of days, I have only just come across this interesting and thoughtful post by Simon Holledge at The Skakagrall; although the emphases he puts on various aspects of this 'fiasco' are somewhat different to my own, I find a great deal to agree with in what he writes, even if in referring to our illustrious Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tony and Gordon respectively, I feel he is being somewhat unfair in referring to 'Perfidious Albion', as at least one (and probably both!) of these two gentlemen cannot be laid at the blame of poor old 'Albion'; one or both of them are genuine homegrown Scottish contributions to the disaster area that is our unlovely NuLabour Government ...

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