"No preconditions, no taboos"

J Clive Matthews
28 September 2007

Vice-President of the European Commission Margot Wallström, Commissioner in charge of communications and mastermind of the "Plan D" initiative, of which the Tomorrow's Europe poll plays a part, made an intriguing speech in Brussels yesterday, addressing the European Economic and Social Committee Conference.

The Committee's president, Dimitris Dimitriadis, has described its aims as to "build a Europe with a human face" and "A Europe made up by our citizens, fostering... participative democracy", much the same aims that Wallström has professed, notably in her speech at the launch of Tomorrow's Europe:

In her speech yesterday, Wallström reiterated her desire for proper engagement from the people of Europe:

"We want a real no-holds-barred public debate on all these matters. No pre-conditions, no taboos: we are taking a fresh look at everything and we want to hear innovative ideas and conflicting views. We expect many interested parties not only at European, but also at national, regional and local level to contribute with their opinion. I hope that you will also contribute to this debate. We want a real consultation and a broad debate, before the political decision is taken."

For many who try to keep up with EU affairs, of course, this talk of "a fresh look" and "before the political decision is taken" will be somewhat confusing. Surely the EU reform treaty has already pretty much been decided on? Surely the political decision was taken at the European Council back in June, that agreed the terms?

Little wonder, then, that the eurosceptic Daily Mail has picked up on parts of the speech, selectively quoting so that:

"Miss Wallstrom, the EU Commissioner in charge of promoting the document, said it is "unreadable" and full of "legalese", and called on Europe's governments to provide a simplified version."

This interpretation Wallström disputes, arguing that the Mail is "twisting my words", and she has a point, noting in her speech that "since the Reform Treaty will be full of cross-references to the present Treaties, it will not be easy to read and understand. Therefore I would like to see a 'consolidated' text to be made available as soon as possible after the conclusion of the IGC."

An amending treaty, after all, does involve a vast amount of cross-referencing. To understand the reform treaty in the form it will be presented, anyone hoping to make sense of it will need to have to hand copies of the Maastricht, Rome, Amsterdam and Nice treaties, as well as a very good understanding of the current functioning of the Union, the Acquis communautaire, and so on. The one real benefit of the old constitution over the new reform treaty was that it replaced, rather than amended, the prior treaties - so, though very dull, was far easier to read.

So, without consolidation, how can anyone hope to understand it? Wallström says "I would like to see many informed debates surrounding the Reform Treaty and during the ratification process", but considering the level of knowledge you need to have a hope of understanding the reform treaty, how likely is such a debate?

Still, it would take a real cynic (not hard to find in EU politics...) not to agree that Wallström's professed aims are laudible:

"We need to listen to as many voices as possible if the purpose is to come up with new and fresh ideas about our common future. This is why your voice is important: about the new treaty, the policy challenges for the EU and democratic solutions that we should implement in the Union. Europe is a journey we make together. We have to consult one another and agree where we're going and how to get there. European democracy and European communication policy are not about 'getting the people on board'. It's about putting them in the driving seat."

The only question is, would you want to put someone in the driving seat if they didn't know how to drive?

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