Back to the FutureSo the EU is 50. It has its Berlin declaration. Plus it there’s already plenty of wrangling over what the phrase in the Declaration “We are united in our aim of placing the EU on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009” actually means. According to Mark Mardell on the BBC website, the German Presidency of the EU is aiming to get the process of agreeing a new treaty done and dusted by the end of this year or the start of 2008. It won’t be a Constitution, but it should have many of the elements of it.

Yet while the Constitution is there in the background, many aspects of the negotiations seem to be like a step into the past. Merkel is keeping the negotiations secret, talking to the national capitals and not really to anyone else. Citzens? Whatever do they need to know? I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the European Parliament kicks up a fuss as well.

Then there’s the issue of the British (and maybe the Polish too this time), akin to the situation back at the start of the 1990s drafting the Maastricht Treaty, where John Major managed to get opt outs on EMU and the Social Chapter as conditions to Britain adopting the treaty. With David Cameron ready to play the referendum card against Blair / Brown, what are the chances that once more the British might extract some kind of a fudge in a high level treaty negotiation? It’s hard to know what could be opted-out of, so maybe everyone else will have to tolerate a lowest common denominator solution.

With all of this we’re going back to get to the future. It’s as if the Convention and the more open process to draft the Constitution never happened. Faced with a public backlash, the leaders look inward and backward to what they know best – intergovernmental horse trading. It might solve a few short term issues, but it for sure will not endear the EU to the people.

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