Sisyphus Revisited: Options for the EU’s Constitutional Future

The rejection of the draft Constitutional Treaty in referendums in France and the Netherlands triggered a political crisis in the European Union. The crisis was quickly followed by the decisions of the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic to defer their referendums. The European Council reacted with a very mild Declaration calling for a period of reflection during which a broad debate could take place and for the alteration of the ratification timetable if member states so decided. Several member states (Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Poland) decided to suspend planned referendums; only Luxembourg stuck to its original timetable, ratifying the Constitution by referendum on July 10, 2005. Clearly, the process of ratifying the Constitutional Treaty has broken down.

Can it be revived? The answer is far from clear. The efficacy of any given reform plan depends on achieving a certain degree of political will and leadership that unfortunately seems to be in short supply within the EU. It is therefore tempting to abandon any ambition of constitutional reform and to fall back on the legal framework of the Nice Treaty. That treaty technically remains in force, but there are real questions about the EU’s ability to function under its rules. The proposed Constitution was designed precisely as a response to the perceived shortcomings and defects of the Nice Treaty. The solution (i.e. the Constitution) has failed, but this does not mean that the problems have disappeared. On the contrary, it is logical to assume that they persist and like Sisyphus, the EU must once again begin to push the boulder up the hill. What are the current options for reforming the EU and which ones make the most sense?