These are critical days ahead of the critical meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of this week. It will be one of the more difficult meetings for a long time. Evidently there are plans for continuing into the Saturday as well.
First, there is the necessity to say something about the continuation of the process of ratification of the Constitutional Treaty.
Second, there will be an attempt to reach agreement on the budget for the EU for the years 2007 until 2013.
Neither subject is particularly easy. And the mood isn’t the best.
On the first, it’s obvious that nearly everyone understands that there has to be some sort of pause for reflection and debate, and that just pressing on is likely to be seen as an expression of the arrogance of the elites.
It’s a question of the future of the referendums planned in the months ahead. The UK one has already been shelved.
Jean-Claude Juncker obviously intends to have his referendum in Luxembourg on July 10. But in a move that displays how difficult the situation has become he has said that he will resign if there is a No result.
Thus, he transforms the referendum into a referendum on himself rather than on the Constitutional Treaty. It might just work – but it also reduces the impact of the Yes vote he might achieve.
Second in line is Denmark with its planned referendum on September 27.
Here, a clear Yes majority in the opinion polls have been transformed into a clear No majority. And there are grave doubts on whether voters will even show up at the polling station to answer a question of very dubious relevance.
Danish PM Fogh Rasmussen intends to ask his French and Dutch colleauges to say in writing that they will never seek any changes to the existing draft Constitutional Treaty. Only then, he reasons, can he go to the Danish electorate and ask them to say either Yes or No.
Of course he knows that it’s highly unlikely that he will get this written assurance. Would it be possible for Chirac to return to Paris and Balkenende to return to the Hague having signed such a document? Hardly.
And without this, it seems likely that the planned Danish referendum will go to the way of the UK referendum. It will be put on ice for the foreseeable future. And then the Polish referendum also planned for September will suffer the same temporary fate.
And that means the effective end of the ratiification process at the moment.
The question is what to do instead.
Can one recall the European Convention that produced the draft for the Constitutional Treaty and ask them to at the least discuss the issue?
Or set up a new similar body after a while to stimulate a more far-reaching discussion on these issues?
Or is there some other process that can be iniated in order to use the opportunity of launching a really European-wide debate on the alternatives ahead?
I don’t know – and nobody else seems to have much of an idea. I’ll spend tomorrow in Brussels listening to what’s happening there, but it’s unlikely that I will be much enlightened.
The Foreign Ministers are already meeting in Luxembourg for the last critical pre-summit maneuverings, but I suspect they will have to focus on the difficult budget issue.
There is an attempt to settle these issues now through a grand compromise. It would of course be very welcome if this succeeds, not the least since a solution will not be possible during the coming UK presidency.
But with due respect to the Foreign Ministera – The Big Drama will be reserved for the heads of state and government later in the week.