French 'No' means back to Nice

  • 2005-06-01
  • Staff and wire reports
RIGA - Baltic response to France's 'non' to the European Union's Constitutional Treaty was unequivocal, with politicians across the spectrum expressing disappointment but insisting that ratification must proceed.

Speaking on May 30, Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that ratification of the document should continue, and called on Parliament to adopt the EU Constitution as early as June 2. He said that Latvia respected the choice made by the French people, but the negative result must not become an obstacle to general ratification of the Constitutional Treaty, the blueprint for an ever-expanding European Union.

On May 19, the 100-strong Latvian parliament approved the EU Constitution in the first reading with 82 votes. The legislature needs to approve the document in two readings for it to be ratified.

In Lithuania, President Valdas Adamkus said France's "no" was sad, but not tragic. "I am convinced that the French people did not say 'no' to Europe, and I hope that, considering the referendum results, France will propose solutions acceptable to the whole European Union," he was quoted as saying.

"I think we should wait until all member states have expressed their opinion on the EU Constitution. Nine of them have already said a firm 'yes'," Adamkus continued.

Estonian leaders said that they wouldn't let this disappointment distract them from plans to ratify the treaty. "Rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in France shouldn't prevent the member states where ratification still lies ahead from continuing the process in accordance with their national plans and procedures," Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said through his spokespeople.

The EU Constitutional Treaty has been ratified so far by Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Austria and Germany.

Signed in Rome on Oct. 29 last year, the document must be ratified by referenda or parliaments in all 25 members by the end of October 2006 so that it may take effect as of Nov. 1 next year.

Many politicians and analysts were quick to warn of the financial repercussions of the French vote. France's rejection may delay the adoption of the union's budget and affect structural fund disbursement for the Baltics.

Tunne Kelam, an MEP from the opposition Pro Patria Union, told the Baltic News Service that if earlier there had been hopes that the next financing period could be agreed on during June, now all decisions would have to be postponed. It will also affect how much Estonia receives from the European Regional Development Fund, he added.

Dalia Grybauskaite, EU commissioner for financial programming and budget, said, "It is obvious that it will be much more difficult to achieve a good result in time." she told the Verslo Zinios business daily.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks have called on the Latvian parliament to pass the EU Constitutional Treaty in the final reading this week. In the president's words, the referendum's result "was a certain blow to the so-called great European process. It's kind of an irony of fate because France was Europe's engine, contributing most ideas to building and developing Europe. Now those ideas have turned against the French themselves, but it has nothing to do with the constitution."

Some tried to look for a silver lining to France's "death blow." Vahur Made, deputy director of the Estonian School of Diplomacy, said the outcome of Sunday's referendum was set to reduce France's role in European integration. This is good for the new member states, he added, because the EU has been too centered around France so far.

The negative outcome of the French referendum means that the union's set of ideas will start to originate from elsewhere to a larger degree, Made said.

Chairperson of the parliament's European affairs committee, Kristiina Ojuland, said that since the EU now apparently must go on with its existing arrangement of rotating one-nation presidency, Estonia has a chance to become EU president quite soon. The existing rotation rules would hand the presidency to Estonia already in 2007. If the constitutional treaty goes into force by then, a new system of three countries sharing the presidency would emerge that would throw Estonia back in the waiting line.

Latvia's Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks was sanguine, reminding that there have been precedents in EU history when similar crises were solved. "This vote showed that one must not mix foreign policy with internal policy problems," he said, adding that the outcome clearly confirmed objections of the French population to their government.

Pabriks said the EU did not have a plan B for such a situation, but was likely to come up with one.

However, Martin Schulz, head of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament, disagreed. On a visit to Tallinn, he said that although the French rejection was a disappointment, it didn't mean the Constitutional Treaty had failed outright.

Speaking at a news conference on May 31, Schulz said those people who wanted jobs, more social welfare and transparency voted against the treaty, yet by doing so they rejected the means that would have led to the desired result.

"The process continues," Schultz said. Failure of the constitution, he added, means that Europe will return to the Treaty of Nice. "Nice is plan B," he said.

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