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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Dead - but good for a transplant?

By Mark Mardell
Chief political correspondent

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Britain will take over the rotating EU presidency next month
What is the future now for the European Union constitution's after it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands.

Metaphors of death abound.

Former commissioners, academics, the "Yes" campaign, the "No" campaign, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, all queuing up to say the European constitution is dead.

But no government will say it - not even the British government, which prides itself on being more brutal and more candid about the whole business.

Jack Straw will make the direction of travel pretty obvious on Monday - when plans to get a bill on the referendum through Parliament are put on ice.

Well, put right at the back of the fridge actually, where they'll be forgotten.

One British government source explains it like this: "For us, it's as though a not very loved relative has just died, and we're eager to see what's in the will.

"But we know other members of the family are really devastated, and can't bring themselves to switch off the life support system."

Other countries planning to hold their own exercises in public humiliation - sorry, referendums - are getting very jittery

But whatever they say in public, other countries planning to hold their own exercises in public humiliation - sorry, referendums - are getting very jittery.

The main Czech opposition party says it's pointless to go on - their government says France should vote again.

In fact those countries still on course for their own popular vote plan to ask the Dutch prime minister and the French president a pretty direct question when they all meet up in June: "Will you promise to vote on an unchanged treaty by a given date before we vote?"

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Any equivocation in their answer and the rest of the referendum club could just be bold enough to use the D-word.

But that brings up an even more tasteless and grisly metaphor.

The former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, one of the authors of the constitution, has told a conference in London: "My beloved daughter is dead, but some of her organs can be transplanted to make the Nice Treaty more beautiful."

Double transplant

What's that all about? Well, there are two parts to this transplant.

Some pretty important things in this constitution don't need a treaty - prime ministers and presidents could just agree to do them.

A European Union foreign minister could be created like that.

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So could the president of the European Council, an individual who would be in charge of chairing meetings, rather than the job being passed like a rather expensive and rather unattractive package from country to country every six months.

Plan B

The other idea which is being canvassed is a small focus treaty, which would change the voting systems for ministers, changing the balance of power to favour bigger countries, getting rid of some vetoes.

It'd be so small, so focused, that it wouldn't need a referendum, they say.

Oh yeah? This transplant would be hugely risky for the surgeons.

These are, after all, some of the more controversial measures in the EU constitution, to anyone even vaguely worried about the EU extending its power.

They would surely demand a new referendum, and denying it might look a trifle arrogant.

Granting it? Well it might be like one of those murder mysteries where you find out that the dead body was actually stabbed - then shot!

But the transplant surgeons are keen, very keen, that this is plan B.


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