EU treaty is a constitution, says Giscard d'Estaing

Ben Russell,Political Correspondent
Tuesday 30 October 2007 01:00 GMT

Gordon Brown faces a renewed row over Europe after a declaration by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing that key parts of the European constitution remain "practically unchanged" in the new EU Reform Treaty.

Conservatives repeated their call for a referendum on the treaty after M. Giscard d'Estaing, one of the architects of the EU constitution that floundered after referendums in France and the Netherlands, said that the central proposals of the rejected document had been retained in the new treaty, agreed earlier this month by European leaders meeting in Lisbon. Writing in The Independent, M. Giscard D'Estaing said: "The proposed institutional reforms, the only ones which mattered to the drafting convention, are all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon. They have merely been ordered differently and split up between previous treaties."

M. Giscard d'Estaing said: "In the Treaty of Lisbon, the tools are largely the same. Only the order in which they are arranged in the tool-box has been changed. Admittedly, the box itself is an old model, which you have to rummage through in order to find what you are looking for."

M. Giscard d'Estaing said references to the constitution had been removed "above all to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary".

He said: "When the day comes that men and women with sweeping ambitions for Europe decide to make use of this treaty, they will be able to rekindle from the ashes of today the flame of a United Europe."

Conservatives seized on his comments to press their case for a referendum. David Cameron has demanded a vote on the reforms, arguing they are substantially the same as the old constitution.

Ministers, however, insist that the idea of a constitution has been abandoned, arguing that the new treaty is significantly different because Britain has secured a series of "red lines" to protect its position.

But the former president said symbolic changes to the constitutional treaty, including removing references to the European flag and anthem, "sound a significant retreat from European political ambition".

He also highlighted the importance of the opt-outs secured by Britain during negotiations to maintain the Government's red lines.

He said: "The Charter of Fundamental Rights, an improved and updated version of the charter of human rights, has been withdrawn from the draft treaty and made into a separate text to which Britain will not be bound.

"In the area of judicial harmonisation and co- operation, Great Britain will have the right to duck in and out of the system as it pleases.

"Having already weakened all attempts at further European integration, such as by refusing the title of Minister for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Britain has been allowed to be the odd man out whenever it feels like it."

Mark Francois, the shadow Europe minister, said: "This admission really lets the cat out of the bag about the need for a referendum.

The man who chaired the body which drafted the original EU constitution has now confessed that its revived version, the so-called Reform Treaty, was deliberately drafted to try to avoid the people of Europe having their say on it. The French people were allowed a vote in 2005 as were the Dutch, and the Irish will now get a vote on the revived version – so why can't the British people have their say too?"

But Denis MacShane, the former minister for Europe, said yesterday: "M. Giscard d'Estaing is regarded in France as yesterday's man but the obsessive anti-Europeans in the Tory Party will seize on anything to promote their cause.

Elderly politicians in retirement can dream their dreams but this treaty gives Britain everything it wanted." Earlier this month, Mr Brown faced a rebuff from the Labour-dominated Commons European Scrutiny Committee, which said that the new treaty was "substantially equivalent" to the old constitution for many countries and warned that Britain may not be able to maintain its "red lines" over important policy areas.

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