First to say 'yes' to EU constitution

  • 2004-11-17
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The former legislature's final sitting on Nov. 11 went down in history as the first "yes" in Europe to the EU constitution. The lawmakers ratified the treaty just 13 days after its inking in Rome on Oct. 29.

Parliament endorsed the constitution on the fast track with 84 MPs voting in support, four voting against and three abstaining.

The ratification raised roaring debates in the country, not over whether to say "yes" or "no," but rather on the hasty speed of the process.

The outgoing parliamentarians ratified the EU constitution in a rush, spending little time to deliberate on the paper. In fact, many even confessed that they had not read the 300-page text.

The MPs also ignored independent lawyers, who emphasized that not only lawmakers, but the entire nation should express their opinion on such an important document. The Centre for Legal Projects and Research said that, as the treaty on the EU constitution would be superior to Lithuania's constitution, it should not be ratified in the Seimas (Lithunania's Parliament) as a simple international agreement, but rather in a referendum.

"After ratifying the agreement, the status of Lithuania as a country would radically change," the center's conclusion read.

The MPs, however, interpreted the document differently. "There is nothing special there. The document is combined out of different agreements that have long ago been ratified in the Seimas and are known to the people. The agitation in society does not have grounds," said Social Liberal Alvydas Ramanauskas.

The Seimas' law committee also suggested organizing hearings to help inform society about the constitution.

However, the chairman of Europe's committee in the Seimas , Justinas Karosas, explained that the hearing would have only served a purpose if the country had decided on a referendum.

"Some events dedicated to the constitution were attended only by five members of the Seimas. How could one expect more attention from simple people?" Karosas said rhetorically.

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who is also regarded as the father of the EU constitution, applauded Lithuania's decision to be the first member state in ratifying the document. In his letter, which was read at the parliamentary meeting, he described the Lithuanian move as a "courageous step." European Parliament President Josep Borrell Fontelles also joined in congratulating Lithuania.

President Valdas Adamkus, when attending Parliament's last meeting, said that the Seimas' decision to ratify the treaty on the EU constitution was of exceptional significance for most people, having fought for the future of independent Lithuania in the European family.

"It is a sign that Lithuania is becoming an inseparable part of a politically integrated Europe united by common social values," the president said.

However, Chairman of the Liberal and Center Union Arturas Zuokas believes that the Seimas, having ratified the EU constitution in haste, showed its disrespect to the country's citizens and the constitution itself.

"In their rush, the Seimas devalued the constitution itself and the importance of its adoption because the document was passed as any other routine law," Zuokas said.

Political analyst at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science Mindaugas Jurkynas said that it was rather pathetic to fool ourselves that a referendum over the EU constitution would have brought society into a united discussion about the future of Europe. Another referendum would have set the stage for opponents of the present government and the Seimas, and the discussions would have had little to do with EU matters.