Getting from A to Z: Ratification

The constitution certainly affirms sovereignty in the ratification process. Each of the now 25 member states must ratify the treaty in order for it to take effect. If any one does not, it is back to the drawing board, for alterations if not wholesale changes. Such hiccups have occurred before; Denmark voted down Maastricht in the early 1990s, forcing some modifications and opt-outs; in 2001, Ireland voted down the Nice Treaty, but later ratified it in a second go. If a bigger country – say, France – were to vote this one down, the problems would be far greater. In the EU all may be equal, but some are still more equal than others. The ratification process is different in each country, depending on prevailing laws, traditions and constitutional stipulations. In some, like Ireland, a public referendum on treaties is compulsory; in others, like Germany, it is actually forbidden, so its Parliament will do the voting. In still others, it is a matter of politics, decorum, or prudence; the UK’s Tony Blair opted for a referendum out of choice, but the Belgians thought better of holding one, for fear that a referendum on the constitution would get hijacked by other tangential issues (such as whether Turkey should join the EU). Three countries out of the 25 have already approved the constitutional treaty: Lithuania, Hungary, and Slovenia, all by their parliaments. Spain’s vote on Sunday will be the first referendum, although it is technically consultative (non-binding). Others will be held in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Britain. Britons will likely vote very late, probably in fall 2006. Poland will also likely hold a referendum. Greece, along with 14 others, will not, which bodes ill for increasing the numbers of those well-versed in its provisions from the current 6 percent. It will vote in Parliament before June.

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