A European Referendum for the European Constitution: dream or reality?

Interviews with Members of the European Parliament

, by Ecaterina Matcov

A European Referendum for the European Constitution: dream or reality?

The latest JEF initiative, which is plainly shadowed by UEF (the Union of European Federalists), is the kick-off of the political campaign dubbed “A pan-European referendum for the European Constitution”. The goal of the campaign is to gather one million signatures to put an amended European Constitution to a vote in a wide European referendum in all EU member states.

We decided to pose questions to some Members of the European Parliament that have previously been keenly involved in the Constitution debate and find out how they perceive the idea of having a pan-European referendum. The question posed to each one of them and the answers received are the following:

TNF: Do you think a European wide referendum could be one of the ways to have the Constitution ratified or this is only an idealistic federalist dream that is far from becoming reality?

Gerard Onesta, MEP Group of the Greens [Vice-President of the European Parliament]

“The transnational referendum allows the European Council largely to circumvent the tricky problem of national political issues taking over from the European issues. If they are all consulted on the same text the same day, European voters will be aware that the object of the exercise is not to express approval or disapproval of their own governments. Several Heads of State have also expressed a similar view recently.”

Jo Leinen, MEP PES [Committee on Constitutional Affairs]

A European referendum is an important tool for European democracy. It can contribute to a real European debate and can help to establish a European public sphere. But this is only true if it actually is a European referendum and not the sum of national referenda. At the moment, there is no legal base on the European level for a European referendum and some national constitutions do not allow referenda. We want the European Constitution to be ratified until 2009, so the next parliament elections take place under the new rules. Until then, a European referendum is not an idealistic, unrealistic dream but something we should continue to fight for.”

Andrew Duff, MEP ALDE Group [Committee on Constitutional Affairs]

An EU wide referendum is a bad idea on two counts. First, referendums tend to divide society. This referendum would not only do that but also divide member states one from another. What we really need to do now in Europe is to unite. Second, an EU wide referendum as a way of ratifying the constitution would be in breach of the Treaty — which would be an odd way to start out on Europe’s constitutional path.

Richard Corbett, MEP PES [Committee on Constitutional Affairs]

In theory, a Europe-wide referendum to approve a European Constitution sounds like a good idea. However, the EU has, at present, no competence or powers allowing it to do this. It would first need a change to the current treaties to be negotiated, approved and ratified by every Member States (some with a national referendum on it) to enable the EU to do this. As we are still fighting another battle at the moment – to save the constitutional treaty – I think this is not realistic. The alternative of holding 27 national referenda simultaneously is also not realistic, as it would require constitutional amendments in some countries. Rather than campaign for something unobtainable, we should direct our energies for winning the arguments on the constitutional treaty.

Alexander Stubb, MEP EPP [Vice-Chairman, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection/Committee on Constitutional Affairs]

There are three reasons why I’m strongly for the Constitutional Treaty. First, it would make the EU more efficient. Secondly, the Union would be more democratic. And thirdly, the Union would be easier to understand. A European wide referendum would contribute to all of these by strengthening the legitimacy of the Union. Unfortunately it really seems like an idealistic federalist dream.

Conclusion

Even if many advocates for having a European referendum find the path towards its achievement difficult, impossible or even surreal, JEF, being a generation ahead, will continue struggling for the achievement of its dream, no matter how illusive it might sound.

This article was first published in the Spring edition of JEF-Europe’s paper magazine The New Federalist.

Images of the respective MEPs are taken from the official website of the European Parliament: Your MEP

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