EU constitution campaigns begin

As European leaders sign the new EU constitution at “a lavish ceremony” in Rome, the Irish Times gives Taoiseach Bertie Ahern space to expand on his view of a “magna carta that has built on all earlier foundations”.Today, when we sign the European Constitution, Dermot Ahern and I will join our colleagues in the very same room in which the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957. The historic symbolism is powerful.

The European Constitution will replace existing EU treaties. But it is building on the firm foundations they offer. While it makes some valuable changes, it is fundamentally a clarification and a consolidation of what has gone before.

Irish Times political correspondent Mark Hennessy picks up on the Taoiseach’s warning “Ahern warns against rejecting EU constitution”

The rejection of the European constitution by Irish voters in a referendum would “be an enormous setback for the country”, the Taoiseach has warned.

The referendum will be held before the end of October 2006, Mr Ahern said yesterday, at the publication of information booklets on the constitution.

“If you are asking me will I sign this in the belief that I can put my hand on my heart and say this is perfect for the Irish people, then the answer to that is yes.

“We got protection for every one of those major single issues that concerned Irish people, whether it was neutrality, tax harmonisation, or any other central issues,” he said.

He said he could not see why people would oppose it, other than “to be against something for against’s sake”, or because political parties wanted to exploit the No vote.

He said he believed the public had much more information about the EU constitution than they had about past treaties, including the one agreed in Nice, “which was a dog’s dinner”.

The Irish Independent also picks up on the issue of the referendum

Mr Ahern refused to say when the Government intended holding the referendum except that it would be “somewhere between now and October 31, 2006”.

And he added the decision would not be influenced by when Britain holds its referendum.

But since the UK foreign secretary Jack Straw has already said that “a referendum on the EU constitution will take place ‘early in 2006’ if Labour wins a third term”, there may be more than a hint of coordinated campaigns.

In any event, the Irish Independent states that Bertie Ahern is claiming, “The forthcoming referendum on the European Constitution will be the last time Irish people are asked to vote on such an EU treaty for a generation” – even if they vote ‘No’?