LONDON – Britain shelved a referendum on the European Union constitution Monday, following the charter’s rejection by French and Dutch voters. The development strongly suggests the treaty cannot survive in its current form, and removes a major complication for Tony Blair.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons that Britain reserves “the right to bring back the European Union bill providing for a U.K. referendum should circumstances change.”
“But we see no point in proceeding at this moment,” he said. “These referendum results raise profound questions about the future direction of Europe,” said Straw.
Across Europe, many people saw the British announcement as a final nail in the coffin of the EU charter.
“Jack Straw now has shut off the respirator,” said Villy Soevndal, the leader of Denmark’s small left-wing Socialist People’s Party. “The charter already was in a coma after the French and Dutch ‘nos.’ “
But Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker, who will chair a summit on the EU Constitution, insisted Monday, “the treaty is not dead,” noting that the British government will consult with its partners at next week’s summit. He said the constitution would only be dead if “the British say they will not ratify” the charter.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso similarly appealed to European leaders to avoid declaring their embattled constitution dead and to await the outcome of summit discussions.
Some analysts suggested the French and Dutch “no” votes last week strengthened Blair’s voice in the debate over the future shape of Europe.
Blair has long argued for economic reform of the bloc and has resisted the federalist ambitions of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, who view a politically strengthened EU as a global counterbalance to the United States.
Simon Bulmer of Manchester University, an expert on Britain’s relationship with the EU, said the Franco-German axis – the traditional engine of closer European integration – has been damaged.
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