Three – that’s the magic number

D'Schlass vu Mënsbech, Luxembourg (picture Eege Foto)

I had to laugh when I read an e-mail circular exhorting the people of Luxembourg to vote Yes in the referendum next Sunday because otherwise the constitution might fail and not come into force. Somehow, I think that the future of the European constitution will not be decided next Sunday.

Regular readers of this blog will know my view that the constitution should have been declared dead after the French and Dutch votes. If a No vote in a referendum does not actually block the proposal that was being voted on, the sincerity of the whole referendum process comes into question. (And I am putting that mildly.)

But that’s not the interesting point here. What deserves a closer look is the suggestion that, if one assumes that the constitution is still alive, a Luxembourg No vote might kill it. The reasons behind this argument fascinate me.

Luxembourg is a founding member state of the European Union, of course, and we are told that three FMS rejections of the constitution will probably be fatal. But why three and not two?

My Spanish pro-European friends have told me passionately that their votes should not count for less than those of the French and the Dutch, and that it would therefore be unfair if the constitution was killed by those two countries alone. I can see the logic here but I don’t agree with it. The French and Dutch No votes count for more than the Spanish Yes vote not because they were cast by France and the Netherlands but because they were No votes and not Yes votes. All countries may be equal, but all outcomes certainly are not. The swing voters who decide elections do so because of the way they vote, not because of who they are.

But if we accept the Spanish logic, and it appears that the Luxembourgers do in holding their referendum at all, why does Luxembourg suddenly have a veto over the constitution which France and the Netherlands did not? I haven’t yet received a Spanish e-mail complaining that the Luxembourg result should not override the Spanish vote, but in their own terms they’d be right.

So what is going on? What lies behind the claim that the constitution can be killed by three No votes but not two? The possibility that some member states might have “difficulties” ratifying the constitution was foreseen in Declaration 30, which suggests that the ratification process can survive five No votes before the sixth brings it to a halt. It doesn’t guarantee that the constitution will be able to come into force on such circumstances, but it is not killed outright.

But that happens after six No votes, not three, so Declaration 30 is not an explanation.

I think what’s going on is this. The ratification process in Luxembourg has taken on a life of its own, but not surprisingly the people of Luxembourg are now rather quizzical about the whole thing. They will be asked to traipse down to the polls to express an opinion on a document that no longer seems to mean anything. The referendum is merely a matter of going through the motions. It is as though the people of Luxembourg were voting on the constitution of Azkaban. It is a fictional vote. In this case, fictional arguments seem to suffice. The reason that three No votes would kill the constitution is that this would be the third No vote. There is no more to it than that.

And I think that’s a pity. There is more to the Luxembourg referendum than that. But if the pro-Europeans are merely going to repeat the old slogans rather than adapting to the new era, they are not going to win the confidence of the citizens. Let’s be honest: the future of the European Union is not at stake next Sunday, but the opportunity to strike a blow for a new approach to European integration just might be.

This blog entry first appeared on The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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