The signing of the European Constitution by 25 heads of state, amidst plomp and splendour, in Rome today, was a historic occasion. If this Monkey were in any doubt of that fact Italian TV put him to rights. The blitzkrieg started in earnest last night with all news channels and Bruno Vespa’s fawning current affairs programme Porta a Porta focussing in on the spectacle. It continued with live coverage from 9.30am this morning, providing for viewing pleasure on a par with a British Royal wedding.
And what have we learned from this extensive coverage? Well, we’ve learned, repeatedly, that Italy has played its part in Europe since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. We’ve learned that the leaders of Europe dined on, amongst other things, roast beef and artichokes alla romana, with grated fennel and potatoes. We noticed, while it was unspoken, that Romano Prodi was seated far away from Silvio Berlusconi, and we learned that the Constitution has been signed by 25 leaders of Europe.
Everything was determinedly upbeat and ‘historic’. Media watchers might have hoped for some Berlusconi gaff to liven things up, but even Silvio seemed to be singing from the same scripted hymn sheet – going so far as to quote Erasmus (a first for Berlusconi we would venture).
What we didn’t hear much of were the comments of outgoing European Commissioner Mario Monti, who said last week in relation to the European Constitution, that in his opinion it should be made clear that ” who ever doesn’t want to enter into the second Treaty of Rome(2004) will leave the first Treaty of Rome (1957)”. While these comments have no legal force, they do highlight the problem for the European Constitution. Technically it needs to be ratified by all countries, which may not happen where countries have an obligation to put the matter to referendum. Should they be allowed to hold up European ‘progress’?
Berlusconi’s position on this is clear. He would like the Italian Government to be “the first to ratify the treaty”. The position of his coalition members is not so clear, or rather it is clear but contrary to the Berlusconi vision. The Lega Nord, coalition partners are demanding a referendum. In an odd turn of events Berlusconi and his main opponent Romano Prodi, along with Piero Fassino (Secretary of Democratici di Sinistra one of the main opposition parties) and Gianfranco Fini are all described by La Repubblica as being set against a referendum. The fact that these political opponents agree on something must give anyone pause for thought.
At the same time we heard little about the ongoing problems with the proposed European Commission, despite Rocco Buttiglione and Berlusconi’s closeness to the issue. Also off the agenda were issues such as the place of God in the Constitution, the controversial membership negotiations with Turkey, or any mention about defense policies, or ‘peace keeping’ as the military actions in Iraq are described officialy in Italy.
This Monkey doesn’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade, nor does he wish for a moment to be considered a reflexive Euro-sceptic. He does think however that rather than rushing on a bureaucratic imperative to ratify the constitution, we all, as citizens of Europe, have a right to know what this Constitution means. What does it mean for a European Foreign policy? What does it mean for Immigration policies? What does it mean for voting rights for individual member countries?
And, most importantly, what does it mean for member states who, through referenda, democratically vote against the ratification?
 “chi non vorr