By Ray Fleming
Columnists and headline writers always need to guard against responding to events with inflated language which, with hindsight, may not seem to have been justified. The last occasion on which I used the phrase “the end of the world as we know it” in this newspaper was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. With hindsight, I think that was justified; certainly, international fragility has increased while the assault on personal freedoms and human rights waged by the United States and, to a lesser extent, by Britain in the name of security has not made the world a safer place. So, have the results of the referendums on the European Union constitution held in France and the Netherlands this week brought about “the end of Europe as we know it”? Will future generations look back at May 29 and June 1, 2005, and see those dates as the moment at which the dream of a united Europe of nation states faded for ever? I think the answer to both those questions is “Yes” and that is why I have allowed myself the use of the word “Tragedy” to head this column. I think it is indeed a tragedy that the moment of opportunity created by dedicated, imaginative and often selfless work over the past half century by the founders and developers of the EU has been spurned. Before I go further, allow me to make one thing clear. In criticising those in France and the Netherlands who voted “No”, I do not mean to single them out. If Britain had held its referendum at the same time there would unquestionably have been another “No”. The point I shall be trying to make is this: that the many differing reasons found in France and the Netherlands, and that would be found in Britain also, for a rejection of the constitution were not good enough to justify a threat to a unity that promises to bring permanent peace to a continent which for centuries has been the flash-point of wars, including two in living memory of profound and widespread effect. The two simple questions I would like to ask of all those “No” voters is whether they want peace in their time and, if so, whether they do not agree that such peace is more likely to be achieved with 25 or 35 countries locked into a single democratic organisation than with each able to pursue its own untrammelled interests? The former UK minister Stephen Byers wrote an article in The Times on Wednesday, amusingly entitled, We must take no for an answer, in which he said: “It has to be understood that the original purpose for the Common Market in the 1950s, to ensure that our continent escaped another war, is no longer relevant.” Can he really believe that? If we do indeed take the French and Dutch No for an answer it will mean that, whatever economic and trading measures may be salvaged from the wreck of the referendums, the political impetus towards a consensual European voice in the world will have been lost. I understand very well that the idea of a “single foreign policy” is anathema to many people, but if may ask another simple question it is this: does any single European nation, with the possible and diminishing exception of Britain, have the military and economic resources to make its independent presence felt in the world? And if the answer to that is, as it must be, No, who is going act in the future as a mediator between the political extremities of China and the United States? Collectively speaking, Europe probably has a greater accumulation of diplomatic wisdom and experience than any other part of the world. The constitution provides the means, otherwise lacking, by which the European Union could eventually play this unique world role. Instead, in the referendums, priority has been given to short-term and narrow economic and social issues. Before he takes over the presidency of the EU on July 1, Mr Blair should consider whether by an act of supreme statesmanship he could bring back the constitution, perhaps in simpler form, in front of the people of Europe and urge them, especially his own people, to fulfil their destiny by approving it.


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