TCS Daily

Give Me Referendum or Give Me Death

By Tomasz Teluk - January 5, 2004 12:00 AM

The EU's proposed Constitution may be down for the count after last month's failed summit, but it will get back up again, and the only chance to knock it out completely is with national referenda. More and more countries are saying that they will -- gasp! -- consult their citizens about it. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have already decided the Constitution might be subject to referendum. Only Germany and Sweden say they do not intend to hold a poll. The 16 remaining countries, including Poland, are still undecided.

Let the People Decide

It is a good sign that many governments will consult their citizens about the European Constitution. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla plans to submit a bill on voting on the draft of the EU constitution. The initiative is supported by the Civic Democratic Party. In Spain there is a deal between the government and opposition parties. The referendum looks almost certain to go ahead. According to the Spanish People's Party, the voting may take place on the same day as the elections to the European Parliament in June 2004. A similar situation taking place in Portugal. Prime Minister Durao Barroso said that this is the best opportunity for people to voice their opinion. The Dutch parliament suggested that the referendum on the European Constitution will be the first nation-wide referendum in its history. In Denmark it will be the sixth EU-related vote. The country is divided between EU supporters and the euroskeptics. The Danish people already rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the euro in 2000. In Ireland, referenda are common. The government is obliged to consult the people in case of any amendment. Swedish Social-Democrats claim the current draft of the Constitution does not have any influence on the Swedish state, therefore no referendum is needed. The German government will not consult citizens either. The country's Federal Constitution does not permit national referenda. The French will probably not take steps toward a referendum. The Constitution draft greatly benefits its authors.

Government Lies

The latest round of constitutional negotiation did produce a compromise on having one commissioner per country. Hopefully there will be no compromise on creating a European superstate. The statement of the Polish delegation is firm: "Nice or death". Along with their Spanish counterparts, they want to preserve the voting system established by the Nice Treaty in 2000. But Polish officials and media are concentrating only on the voting system of the future European superstate, and this is misleading the public about the real problems with the European Constitution, as personified by the Chirac/Schroeder duo. The main controversy is not the system of voting in the new Council of Europe, as Poles are led to believe by the Social-Democratic party (SLD) in Poland and the government-controlled media. The problem is that the draft, created by France and Germany, restricts member-state sovereignty, limits economic liberty, prolongs stagnation and discriminates against newly admitted countries. The European association that regulates the social security market in the EU demands from the Polish Social Security Commission and Retiring Funds payments proportional to the number of votes in the Council of Europe, which was negotiated in Nice. That means that Polish clients could pay to the budget ten times more than they do now. Warsaw is against the money being transferred to German or French pensioners. Readers have also been shocked with information about what has happened with EU financial aid. Police recently arrested 32 people suspected of stealing of several million euro from the Phare development fund.

Reforms First, then the Constitution

The European Court of Auditors in Luxemburg has just released a 400-page report finding over-estimations, errors and faulty transactions in the EU budget. Friedrich von Hayek once estimated that to control an economy made up of only 100 market-players and 700 products we need to resolve a scheme of 70,699 equations. Imagine trying to control the effect of 80,000 pages of regulation produced by 30,000 bureaucrats. One of the negotiators from the EU said unofficially to his Polish counterpart: "We are disappointed in your attitude. You are signing everything, without objection. We have been counting on your opposition to this irrational bureaucratic system." This is shameful. The strategy to defend the Nice Treaty is short-sighted. Politicians in Warsaw should concentrate on EU reforms, not on the prolongation of the status-quo. That is why negotiators from Poland and other Central European States should be united. Their negative experience from past compulsory political integrations could be useful for their Brussels colleagues.

Let's stay with Nice for a while. Maybe this would provide enough time to make internal EU reforms and write a new market-oriented agreement between European countries. Poland and Spain's veto in Brussels is the last hope for success of the free Europe.


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