Brown, Blair and the Constitutional Treaty

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Prime Minister Tony Blair believes that no referendum on the Constitutional Treaty would need to be held in the UK if, instead of attempting revive the original wide-ranging Treaty, the members states now simply agreed on a series of amendments, writes Brendan Donnelly of the Federal Union.

Blair says that the amendments only need incorporate some of the less contentious elements of the failed Constitutional Treaty, according to Donnelly. In Blair’s view, such amendments could be regarded as purely technical and administrative in character, believes the author – involving little or no further pooling of British sovereignty. 

For Donnelly, Blair’s views take on extra significance, as a report attached to the interview intimated that this was the new British approach to institutional reform shared by his likely successor, Gordon Brown. It appears to Donnelly that Blair shares Chancellor Merkel’s hope that a timetable for a new IGC, proposing amendments to the current Constitutional Treaty, can be set in June. 

The ideal IGC for the British would see Brown accept the Treaty amendments, argue that they are sufficiently marginal and technical in character not to require a referendum, and ratify them in parliament by using Labour’s substantial majority, believes Donnelly. 

This approach could find favour with Sarkozy, believes Donnelly – who – keen to avoid a referendum in France – has proposed a limited “institutional” treaty. Merkel may be prepared to accept such amendments in order to present a common view on the successor text between Berlin, London and Paris at the IGC, he speculates. 

Two barriers to a resolution of the impasse remain, says Donnelly. Firstly, it may be impossible for the IGC to agree on the proposed amendments – with the 18 governments which have already ratified the Treaty seeking to preserve as much of it as possible. At the other extreme, Britain is keen to keep amendments to the existing treaties to a minimum, writes Donnelly, claiming that France lies somewhere in between. 

Secondly, Brown’s precise tactics concerning the Treaty remain unknown, and he may strike an entirely different tone from Blair once he becomes prime minister, according to Donnelly. Brown is in a difficult position. He does not want the UK to become isolated as the prospect of a consensus on institutional issues between the other twenty-six member states emerges. However, he will be sensitive to accusations that he is ushering in the new Treaty through the “back door” if he reneges on Labour’s pledge to call a referendum. Another issue is that it is highly likely the Conservatives – increasingly influential under David Cameron – will call for a referendum on even minor changes to the existing treaties, he writes. 

Donnelly concludes that the road ahead is tricky for Brown, and that he may well end 2007 regretting the defeat of Royal in France – which has made agreement on the Constitutional Treaty between the other member states much more likely. 

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