Richard North, 14/01/2005  

Both the Independent and the Guardian today run a story on a "Brussels" admission that the EU constitution may have to be re-written to accommodate Turkey’s entry to the EU.

This, according to the Guardian, threw a "spanner into Downing Street's preparations", to the irritation of the government, "which wants to portray the constitution as definitive".

We are told that the disclosure "will undermine Tony Blair's attempts to portray next year's referendum as a once-in-a-generation chance for Britain to decide whether to be at the heart of Europe". Turkey could be admitted to the EU by 2015, meaning that the rewriting could take place in around 2013.

The Independent tells us that the issue is the question of the voting system in the constitution which is based on the populations of member states. Projections show Turkey will be the EU's most populous county within decades, so giving it greater decision-making weight than Germany, the UK or France.

In the French daily, Le Figaro, commission president José Manuel Barroso has sought to reassure French opinion by trying to separate the constitution from the question of Turkish membership. He said: "If there is a need to change the rules later we will do it. But that is not the issue today."

Critics of the constitution, the Independent maintains, will seize on the comments as an admission that it does not equip the EU with the decision-making machinery it needs for the foreseeable future.

What is quite remarkable, however, is the apparent level of surprise. Even a passing thought about the position of Turkey viz-à-viz the existing members shows that it is blindly obvious that the voting structure will have to be altered.

But what is even more remarkable is that anyone can believe – or believe Blair – that the proposed constitution is the last word on European integration. Before the ink was dry on the final draft, the "colleagues" were already working on a successor treaty.

Should the EU constitution be ratified, it is only a matter of time before new, formal proposals for another treaty emerge, ratcheting up the integration process even further.

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