Rebranding plan for failed EU constitution
By Nicholas Watt,
Guardian Unlimited, European editor
Monday May 29, 2006
European leaders may embark on one of the EU's greatest rebranding exercises by changing the name of the European constitution to "basic law".
Today is the first anniversary of the rejection of the constitution by French voters, and support is growing for a German plan to revive the measure with a name change.
Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish foreign minister whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July, said: "Everybody agrees it was a mistake to call it a constitution, so that would be a very sensible change if that were needed."
The name change is likely to be attacked by Eurosceptics who will argue that European leaders should accept that the constitution was emphatically rejected by French voters. Three days later, voters in the Netherlands also rejected it.
Supporters of the rebranding said that changing the name was designed to acknowledge the concerns of voters who felt uncomfortable with grand talk of a constitution. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said: "We in Germany live with a 'basic law' which does not carry the title 'constitution' but has the same legal quality. It's a possible starting point."
Mr Steinmeier was at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Austria. The ministers agreed the "period of reflection" on the constitution would have to be extended for at least another year until France has elected a new president.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, said: "Our position is that we should keep the constitutional issue alive but avoid any kind of paralysis."
European leaders know the EU cannot function indefinitely on current rules. The constitution would have linked a country's voting strength to the size of its population and reformed the system of rotating presidencies. Mr Steinmeier believes the rebranded constitution would retain these changes.
The talks came as a poll found that a majority of respondents in France and the Netherlands still oppose the constitution. According to the poll, more than half of French voters (55.5%) would vote no if the referendum were held again, compared with 54.5% last year; in the Netherlands, nearly two-thirds would vote no (65%), compared with 61.5% last year.
Neil O'Brien, director of the Eurosceptic Open Europe group which commissioned the survey, said: "The poll suggests that if EU leaders continue their current attempts to side-step the no votes and implement parts of the constitution by the back door, they will further antagonise voters."