Thanks to the ECJBlog I’ve come across this transcript of an interview Jim Murphy, Minister for Europe, commenting on why the Reform Treaty is really very different from the European Constitution. When pressed on the issue – how can the government defend its position when Giscard, plenty of foreign ministers etc. say that the substance of the treaty is the same as the Constitution – Murphy’s response is really quite ridiculous: “…what happened is that the UK has signed up to a specific unique UK version of the treaty”. So the UK’s measly opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and some aspects of JHA means this treaty is not constitutional in nature for the UK, but, presumably, it still is for the rest of Europe?
What a load of rubbish the government is talking on this issue. The government does not want a poll because it fears it will lose. They opted out of the Charter because it looked like it might give too many rights to British citizens, and oh, as a centre left administration it could not possibly want to improve citizens’ rights. Essentially this is a really dangerous game. If these arguments continue to fester, life will become very tricky for the government. Blair put the past government in a hole by promising a referendum on the constitution, and now the current government is floundering around hoping that the storm will pass. That’s just not good enough.
“The constitutional concept has been abandoned”, yes it is true that this is a statement of the European Council, but I read the conclusions of the presidency of that Council, and now I am reading the draft version of the Reform Treaty… if I have to judge by myself (even if I am not a lawyer I try to be an informed and citizen), it seems that they changed the name but not the substance. Yes of course one of the ideas underlying the Constitution was to replace all the previous treaties with a new text, instead of amending them a usual, but this of course will not happen, the Reform Treaty is just an amending one as usual. However the substance of what was written in the Constitution is still there, and I think it couldn’t have happened differently because much of the constitution was already present in the now-working treaties (EU + EC + Amsterdam and Nice amendments).
About the opt-outs, UK has a long history of them, look at the single currency for example, so it is sure UK’s citizens will be affected in a peculiar way by the new Treaty, as they were affected in a peculiar way by the previous ones… so even if I am quite sure that on the “continent” only the “Constitution” label has been abandoned, but not the constitutional substance, I am not so sure about how this would apply to the UK, even if it is difficult to think that we can talk of two different EUs because the institutional framework will remain the same.