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EU: European Commission Says Dutch 'No' Wouldn’t Sink EU Constitution

The European Commission today said that a negative result in Wednesday’s Dutch referendum on the EU constitution should not stop other member states from proceeding with ratification. On Sunday, France rejected the constitution by a large margin and polls indicate the Netherlands is about to do the same. However, the European Commission insists the document must be ratified by as many member states as possible before a final decision on its implementation is taken.

Brussels, 31 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission on Tuesday tried to quell speculation over the fate of the EU constitution by calling for a period of “reflection” until the EU summit on 16-17 June.

The constitution received a heavy blow on 29 May when French voters rejected it by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

Tomorrow's upcoming referendum in the Netherlands is also predicted to end in a defeat for the constitution.

Both countries were among the six initial founder members of the EU, which exacerbates the psychological impact of the results.

But the European Commission today insisted that the process of ratification must continue regardless of the Dutch result.

Asked if the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, would stick to his view that the constitution can be salvaged after two successive referendum defeats, his spokeswoman, Francoise Le Bail, said emphatically that that is indeed the case.

“I would think yes. It is the position of the commission -- we must wait till tomorrow to see what the president will say -- but the commission’s position on this issue was made clear by the declaration that was adopted on Sunday night [29 May]," Le Bail said. "That is that the member states have assumed a political commitment [to proceed with ratification] and the member states must respect that political commitment.”

Le Bail repeatedly reiterated the commission view that all speculation should be deferred until the EU summit later in June. She said the EU was politically in a “very complex situation.”

This assessment reflects Barroso’s earlier unwillingness to concede that the French vote was a straightforward rejection of the constitution. Instead, the commission president told French TV reporters on the evening of the defeat that voters had had “contradictory” motives in voting down the treaty.

The commission’s stance may become untenable, however, if -- as the "Financial Times" reported today -- Britain decides to call off its own referendum in the wake of a Dutch “no.”

The BBC today quoted a former vice president of the European Commission, Neil Kinnock, as saying the constitution is already “dead.”

On the other hand, most other EU member states yet to ratify the constitution have said they will proceed.

The European Commission today appeared unwilling to even consider a negative outcome for the ratification procedure.

The constitution has a clause saying that if after two years only four-fifths of the member states have ratified it, EU heads of state and government will gather to “review” the situation.

Yesterday, the president of the European Parliament, Jose Borrell, said this means that if more than five countries fail to ratify the constitution, it must be abandoned.

Pressed by reporters, Mikolay Dowgielewicz, another commission spokesman, explicitly rejected this interpretation today.

“Let me respond as follows: The commission wants the constitution ratified by all the member states," Dowgielewicz said. "I don’t want to speculate what happens if there’s a problem with five, six, or seven countries.”

Apart from France and the Netherlands, the referendums in Denmark and Britain could also easily fail. Also, if Poland and the Czech Republic decide to hold referendums -- as appears likely -- their governments too will face an uphill struggle.

Currently, under even the most optimistic scenario, a revote of France is not a realistic possibility until after the presidential election in 2007.

The delay will force a postponement of important reforms in the way the enlarged EU is run. However, some decisions may be brought forward by EU leaders independently of the constitution and implemented separately. Thus, the EU could still acquire a president and a foreign minister -- although there are observers who say even that would violate the will of the voters in France and soon possibly in the Netherlands.