Before leaving for Luxembourg, one of my odd jobs in Malta was the morning newspaper review at Campus FM. I would look forward to the task every week even though this meant waking up at unearthly hours and having to read also the Maltese language media (because of their content not because of their language). I sorely miss this time for giving my slant on the day's news to the (rather numerous) listeners of that wonderful radio of my Alma Mater. I have been intrigued over the past week or so about the developments on the EU Constitution ratification process. Events at home and abroad must force us to pose one question. What role for the people? Who is deciding?
I have prepared this longish collage of excerpts from articles or reports in our newspapers. The highlights are mine. (The brackets in red are mine too). The scrolling quotes (wow!) are obviously my addition and are not necessarily related to the piece to which they are attached. Consider them a provocation.
The process has only been conducted by the Malta Labour Party. It has been subjected, as expected, to a running campaign of misinformation by those who believed it provided another opportunity to destabilise Labour. Overall, it proved to be a very healthy democratic exercise, even if media reporting about it was skimpy at best� but that, too, was to be expected.
So maybe it would be a good idea to chronicle today, for the record, Labour�s internal debate about whether to vote for or against ratification of the EU�s constitutional treaty, as discussions developed in past weeks. The process was always projected to end with a general conference vote in secret, about the option to be adopted.
All in all, the internal discussion within Labour regarding the constitutional treaty has been a rewarding experience. The usual attempts were made to try and present a sombre and melodramatic picture of events in the Labour camp � because as in all other European parties, contrasting views were held and expressed about the whole issue. No doubt, we will have more of such media circuses, run by �hidden� coordinators who have become very recognisable and predictable.
Beyond their antics however (whose antics?), Labour has done a big service to this country by showing how a deep political discussion can be held within a framework that respects realities, while providing the space for intelligent and meaningful debate. That this has happened around a �hot� European issue confirms how right the electorate was in June last year, to give its thumbs up to Labour�s candidates in the national election for the European Parliament.
2. Anti-Constitution Motion (KMB, TOM, June 14)
Former Labour leader Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici yesterday published the motion he will be presenting at the MLP general conference on June 30.
The motion states that the Malta Labour Party should not vote in favour of the ratification of the EU Constitution because this would override the national Constitution (right); it renews the negative aspects of the accession treaty negotiated by a Nationalist government; and it leaves out the declaration on neutrality and the concept that Gozo is a region. The motion also states that the European Constitution increases the hold the EU has on its member states and binds them to follow its anti-social economic policies and commercial policies based on globalisation and the exploitation of workers. It also increases social injustice and imposes the assistance to EU states that are attacked militarily. The MLP, the motion says, should work with progressive forces to draft a new European Constitution that safeguards independence and sovereignty, encourages cooperation across the board and ensures sustainable development, as well as having as its main aim peace based on neutrality and the reduction of weapons, including those of mass destruction.
3. Love of Labour (Anna Mallia, Maltatoday, June 12)
Nowadays, I hardly recognise any difference between the two major political parties and this has found its peak in the marital way in which they are handling the issue of the ratification of the European Constitution. That the Nationalist Party ratifies the EU Constitution came as no surprise although I would have wished for the people to be consulted by calling a referendum. But for the opposition party to join forces with the Nationalists in the eulogy to the EU Constitution for no reward and for no apparent reason whatsoever, that was a big slap in my face and in the face of many other labourites. Not only that, but the way the issue is being handled or rather mishandled.
The stacking which has taken place in all the layers of the party is very antidemocratic. The chorus of branches from within the party all in praise of the EU Constitution does not hold well. First we had the approval of the parliamentary group, but with reservations! (sic), then we had the applause of the youths section and now we had the acclamation of the veterans section. What makes this undemocratic is that by and large many of the delegates are members in these groups, and therefore it stands to reason that their vote in the general conference has already been captured by the yes group of the Labour Party.
A truly democratic process would have entailed the total freedom given to the delegates to have a secret vote on the issue of the ratification of the Constitution without any declarations by any of the groups within the party. Such declarations have already influenced the vote of the majority of the delegates. The party knows that Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici has the support of 30 per cent of the delegates and should the yes vote exceed 70 per cent, if I was in Mifsud Bonnici�s shoes I would ask for a recount since it is inconceivable that the majority of delegates would vote for a flagrant breach of the Maltese Constitution or for Labour to vote with the Nationalists.
4. European Reactions (Reuters � in TOM, June 15)
"I think it would be sensible if we agreed, in view of the no votes in France and Holland... that we should have this pause for reflection over several months so that we can give Europe the debate it needs and then the direction it needs," Mr Blair told reporters. It is unclear how many of the 13 countries that have not yet ratified or rejected the charter will go on with the process with polls showing dwindling public support. The treaty set a non-binding deadline of October 2006.
France and Germany have insisted so far that ratification should go on, but new French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Paris was ill-placed to teach others lessons and each country should decide for itself. EU president Luxembourg disclosed for the first time yesterday it was considering some sort of breathing space rather than face more referendum defeats.
"If we rush ahead now, it may be that the decisions taken, however democratically, may make the situation more complicated," Luxembourg's junior foreign minister, Nicolas Schmit, told a European Parliament committee." We don't want to send a signal that the ratification process is halted, but maybe suspended, maybe slowed down."
5. People Power (Joe Vella Bonnici, TOM, June 14)
Some commentators have remarked that the "no" voters were a pot pourri of disillusioned people who were blinded by their emotions, prejudices and short sightedness. Is it not the very essence of liberalism that individuals should seek to maximise their own "utility" or, in simpler language, their self interest? This, in the belief that only then will society be able to maximise its own prosperity and ensure the highest degree of participation of its citizens in the democratic process.
It is political arrogance and elitism that assumes that all those that do not share the same views are ill-informed or plain wrong and must be re-educated to change their minds. These political manipulators often exploit the reach of the mass media for their own purposes. It is becoming customary for EU political leaders to cry wolf and make alarmist statements whenever citizens in EU countries are to vote on some important issue. The former President of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi, claimed that a "no" vote would lead to the end of Europe.
It is expected that the Maltese Parliament will still go ahead with the ratification process. For the sake of democracy, this should not be just a rubber stamping exercise. The general public looks forward to a healthy debate that will address the situation now emerging in the EU, assess the consequences for our country and what, if the proposed EU Constitution is ever adopted, will it mean for our people. It seems to me that the underlying conditions for a healthy debate on this issue are missing. The government side, oversensitive to local electoral issues, has still to express some resentment, or even reservation, for anything which is EU labelled. The opposition on this matter is overburdened by it recent past.
In other circumstances, even Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici's contribution to the debate would have been welcome. As things stand, he is just like many of us, a fiddler on the roof.
6. Europe at the Crossroads (Josef Bonnici, TOM, June 12)
No one knows yet what will happen next but it is clear that, without the ratification of the EU Constitution there is no longer in place a common strategy concerning the way in which Europe should move forward. And the fear expressed by some is that not to move forward, is to risk slipping backward.
The outcome of the French and Dutch referenda is clear-cut but the reasons behind the negative vote are much less so. Various local and broader issues appear to have influenced voters.
In many cases, these issues did not really have much to do with the Constitution. For example, it has been widely reported that many of the 'no' votes in the Netherlands were linked to widespread unease at the way in which the number of immigrants, in the principal Dutch cities, has increased and at the manifest problems in the integration of these immigrants into Dutch society.
However, there were also many subscribers to the views of a certain segment of the left who are in favour of greater European integration and of an EU Constitution, but they want one which, to use their own terminology, is "less liberal".
7. Times Online Poll (Roseanne Zammit, TOM, June 9)
Over half of the respondents to an online poll by The Times think Mata should not proceed with the ratification of the EU Constitution or call a referendum.
Asked whether the ratification of the EU Constitution in Malta should continue as planned despite the no French and Dutch votes, 42.65 per cent said it should, 20.89 per cent felt it should not and 36.26 per cent called for a referendum.
A respondent who believes the process should be stopped said the Maltese government was about to ratify a document that will override the country's Constitution in many key aspects. "Potentially, the Constitution represents a much bigger loss of national sovereignty than EU accession. Yet, there have been no attempts here to explain the Constitution to the people and Parliament will ratify it as a matter of course.
"The Maltese voted to join the EU in its present format, not as the superstate envisaged in the Constitution. Thanks to the French and the Dutch, the Constitution is now dead."
Another asked why there was such a hurry to ratify the Constitution. "We should take stock of the real reasons behind the no vote in France and the Netherlands and act accordingly."
One entry said it was now very clear that EU citizens were far from happy with the route EU leaders mapped out for its future. "Europe has lost its competitiveness in a maze of over-regulation. Individual initiative and entrepreneurship have been stifled.
"There are more people making and enforcing draconian rules and collecting taxes than there are people actually producing that which creates wealth, namely goods and services. Soon it will become more profitable to do nothing.
"Ironically, the majority of immigrants in France and the Netherlands voted against. Their reasoning was that a common EU Constitution would result in a strong fortress Europe and shut out immigrants from Third World countries.
"The EU is indeed gravely ill. Euthanasia is one solution."
Among those who called for a referendum one argued: "I think the Prime Minister is a coward not to call a referendum. He called a referendum for entry in the EU, why not now? Because he knows he will lose?
"I think that in Malta we should accept this idea of a referendum and not just let 65 odd people decide for us. Mickey Mouse country."
Another said: "A referendum should have been called for as happened in other countries... Just because the government is elected by a simple majority does not mean that during its term of office it can act in a godlike fashion and the majority will agree to whatever it chooses to do.
"A new Constitution is a very important issue that should be agreed upon by the people."