MEP Duff in uphill battle to save Constitution

Interview: To win new referenda on a modified Constitution the EU needs to engage national parties and the wider public much more, explains Liberal MEP Andrew Duff to EURACTIV. 

In order to get the Constitution passed next time around, I understand that you want a new Convention and  to engage in a broader debate that would involve civil society to a larger extent. Is that admitting that the first Convention on the Future of Europe, which actually set out with the same ambition, did not quite get that job done? 

Yes, I think that is right. I mean we certainly did not have a sophisticated public relations strategy in the Convention. We appointed a press spokesman. We had the formidable personality of the President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, which is fairly ‘médiatique’. 

But the future Convention would learn from the previous experience and seek to improve on it, as I said, and we would have to work very much in the perspective of improved public relations of coming out with solutions which were sufficiently simply and clear and attractive, so that they can be marketed much more effectively. 

We have to get out beyond Brussels and into the provinces of Europe and I do not mean by that London and Paris. We have got to get out into the regions and we cannot do that all from here. We cannot organise and manage and do all that ourselves. We must have the active co-operation of the political parties back home and that is the key in change to the previous experience. 

And you really believe that it will make a difference to have national parties more engaged? 

Yes, because I think they have been fighting shy of the debate. Some of them are jealous of the evolution of powers and competences to the EU level. Some of them are very poorly informed about EU affairs. And few MP’s from my own country or from France or from the Netherlands, where I went campaigning, clearly few of them have actually read the Constitution which is a slight handicap in seeking to explain it and justify it to other people. 

So if it is all a matter of attitude – which is not the right attitude, at least according to you – why would that change a second time around? 

Because we now find ourselves in a severe crisis. I am not complacent about the crisis. I think it is hugely important that we solve it. And certainly if we had a second Convention towards the end of this process of dialogue and reflection, it would be a lot more press-worthy than the previous one. I mean you and your colleagues would follow the events with even more care than you did in the past. 

Do you feel you have backing in your perception of the urgency of the situation from Commission President Barroso in the light of the remarks he made on 21 September (see EURACTIV 22 September)? 

No. But as I said, I am going to speak to him. We will have, as we always do, a very constructive discussion.

Barroso’s statements seemed to suggest that he has been talking to heads of state about the Constitution, and agreeing with them, that they had all better let this one lie for a good long while? 

Yes, I am sure he has been speaking to heads of state, but my view is that it is not the function of the Commission president simply to placate the head of states in government. 

When you look at the opinion polls on the reasons why people voted ‘No’ in France and in the Netherlands, it seems that a lot of the opposition did not have much to do with the issues in the Constitutional text. Are you not afraid of engaging in another grand effort to debate the Constitution with the peoples of Europe, knowing that the voters may well vote  the Constitution down again partly because they just feel like giving their national government a good kick in the teeth? 

Well, then they may, but if that is the case, then that is the end of the Constitutional project for the generation and it would push integration into reverse which I do not think actually is what people do want. I think they want a stronger, more democratic and effective EU. 

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