by Ray Fleming
l THIRTEEN member states of the European Union have ratified its constitution. That is actually a majority of one in the 25-member organisation. Commentaries on the EU constitution usually begin by drawing attention to the states which have rejected it, France and the Netherlands in particular, so for a change it may be helpful to accentuate the positive. Of course, it is true that for the constitution to come into force it is necessary for all 25 countries to have ratified it, and that day is still a long way off. Nonetheless, it would be unwise to assume that the constitution is dead and buried and this may be why Austria, which has just taken over the presidency of the EU for six months, is restoring it to the agenda. When France and the Netherlands voted negatively last summer Britain suggested that a period of reflection would be appropriate. Nothing of the kind took place formally during the British presidency but Austria may be right to think that now is the time to revive consideration of whether a constitution is still thought to be necessary and, if so, whether the existing document could be amended to make it more generally acceptable throughout the EU. The Austrian foreign minister, Ursula Plassnik, put it very picturesquely: The constitutional process has been slowed down over the last half year. It is now covered in a blanket of snow waiting for the spring. So what we need is climate change. Regardless of whether as ambitious and complex a concept as the existing constitution could ever receive unanimous EU approval, there is a case to be made for considering whether some of the more pragmatic proposals in it could be adopted on their own merit. One of these would certainly be the idea of ending the sixmonth rotating presidency of the EU, which places an almost impossible administrative burden on the country concerned, and instead appointing a three - or four-year president of the decision-making Council of member states to be responsible for moving the EU agenda forward in line with the collective decision-making by the states. It would be wrong if something as fundamental as the constitution were to be lost for all time because of negative mood in two countries at a certain time in the summer of 2005.