"Yes" or "Yes please"?

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EU-critical Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde has written a new work on the Convention on the Future of Europe. Here , he introduces his website-published book

In 1787 representatives for 13 American States met in Philadelphia to form a democratic Constitution for the United States of America. They succeeded.

In 2002 a similar process starts in Europe with the call for a Convention to prepare a European Constitution. Will it succeed?

The Convention began its work on 28 February in the European Parliament Chamber in Brussels under the chairmanship of former French President, Valéry Giscard d`Estaing.

The Convention will probably deliver a draft or drafts to the European Summit in Greece in June 2003. Then, the Prime Ministers of the 15 EU Member States will call for an Intergovernmental Conference to negotiate the next European Treaty – or Constitution.

By the end of the day, we will have an amended Amsterdam Treaty or a genuine European Constitution.

There are three main directions from which to choose:

1. We can continue to amend and expand the existing Treaties.

2. We can simplify and democratise through the adoption of a Federalist Constitution as they did in the USA.

3. We can slim down the EU and form an international agreement between sovereign nation states only legislating on cross-border issues of common concern.

These are the three main models from which to choose. Why not ask the Convention to prepare the two new models in concrete articles? We could then ask the peoples of Europe whether they prefer the existing form of co-operation, the Federalist, or the Euro Realist model for the future co-operation in Europe.

Until now, there have only been referendums in very few countries. Citizens of Europe have only been able to say "yes" or "no" to a finished and agreed text which they could not amend.

The citizens have been threatened before the referendums with isolation or exclusion. Leaders have called for referendums and said that "No" was not a possible answer. One could only choose between "Yes" and "Yes please".

No one has been asked what he or she wants from European co-operation. The time has come to ask all citizens in all Member States through referendums. A Constitution or a basic Treaty has to be discussed, understood and agreed upon by the peoples of Europe.

A new Treaty should not suddenly appear without the possibility to amend it through discussion. Then, the answer can easily be a "no" in any country having a referendum as happened in Ireland on 7 June 2001 on the Nice Treaty.

The Irish citizens tought the EU leaders a lesson.

We should praise them for the break they have given us to stop, think and look carefully at the figures from Eurobarometer Poll 55. The figures in the polls - sponsored by the EU - are rather alarming.

The polls tell us that if the EU collapsed, it would only be regretted by the majority of citizens in 3 of the 15 Member States. The majority of citizens in 12 of the 15 countries would be indifferent or even happy with a dissolution of the EU. There is a lack of confidence between the citizens in Europe and the EU decision-making in Brussels. Since it is difficult to change the citizens, it might be easier to change the way we make decisions in Europe.

The Convention may be the last chance to unite the peoples of Europe around a co-operation they have chosen themselves. The majority in the Convention are elected representatives of the European and National Parliaments. They never received a concrete mandate from the citizens to draft a new Treaty or Constitution. Therefore, their first and most important decision should be to propose that the result of their work should be put to referendums.

It will then force the Convention to prepare drafts with a good chance of being adopted. It would also force both the vast majority of Federalists and the little circle of Euro Sceptics or Euro Realists to engage in real competition to offer the best possible future for the Europeans.

As citizens, we can expect "more and better" if we, ourselves, have the final word.

That is also what democracy is about: Let the peoples decide.

Jens-Peter Bonde is a Danish Member of the European Parliament. You can download his entire book, free of charge, by visiting the website of EU Observer (something you should do anyway!). Mr Bonde’s book is at http://www.euobserver.com/index.phtml?selected_topic=9&action=view&article_id=5378