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Last week, the European Union celebrated an important anniversary. Seventy years ago, on May 9, 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, presented the Schuman Declaration on the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, which was the first of a series of European institutions that would ultimately become today’s EU. Built from the ruins of World War 2, in a bid to establish peace through economic collaboration, the original six-member EU grew to include 28 countries over the years, and only one of them has left so far, the UK.
Keeping the EU alive and going, though, has been incredibly difficult. Economic challenges, migration crisis, unemployment, and a growing nationalism in several of the member states are only some of the challenges that the bloc has faced throughout the years.
The most recent one is the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the EU to shut its borders, something that has not ever happened in its 70 years of its existence.
Adding the pandemic challenge, to growing nationalism and anti-EU movements and not-so stable economy, the 70th anniversary has found the EU in an existential crisis like never before.
As many wonder whether the bloc will survive, unearthed reports reveal how former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing claimed that referendums on matters regarding the bloc should be ignored.
At the June 2004 European Council meeting, the governments of the 25 EU member states signed a constitutional treaty for the bloc.
France and the Netherlands held a referendum on the issue in 2005, but it was widely rejected and the “EU Constitution” was never ratified.
However, in 2009, the EU agreed to the Lisbon Treaty which, according to analysis at the time by London think tank Open Europe, had 96 percent of the text included in the Constitutional Treaty.
The only country that put the Lisbon Treaty to a popular referendum was Ireland and, in June 2008, the Irish people rejected it.
According to a 2009 report by The Telegraph, Mr Giscard d’Estaing, who drafted the old constitution, told the Irish Times that Ireland’s referendum rejection would have not killed the Treaty, despite a legal requirement of unanimity from all the EU’s 27 member states.
He said: “We are evolving towards majority voting because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing.
“It is impossible to function by unanimity with 27 members. This time it’s Ireland; the next time it will be somebody else.
“Ireland is one percent of the EU.”
Mr Giscard d’Estaing also admitted that, unlike his original Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon EU Treaty had been carefully crafted to confuse the public.
He said: “What was done in the [Lisbon] Treaty, and deliberately, was to mix everything up. If you look for the passages on institutions, they’re in different places, on different pages.
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“Someone who wanted to understand how the thing worked could with the Constitutional Treaty, but not with this one.”
The former French politician, who served as President of France from 1974 to 1981, believed “there was no alternative” to a second Irish vote, a view shared by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President.
Václav Klaus, the former Czech President continued to insist that the Lisbon Treaty “could not come into force” after the Irish vote, instead.
He told El Pais newspaper at the time: “The EU cannot ignore its own rules. The Lisbon Treaty has been roundly and democratically rejected by Ireland, and it therefore cannot come into force.
“Any attempt to ignore this fact and make recourse to pressure and political manipulation to move the treaty forward would have disastrous consequences.”
Mark François, former Conservative spokesman on Europe, also insisted that it was time that European politicians started to respect the Irish No vote.
He said: “The Irish people gave an emphatic No to the Treaty of Lisbon on a record turnout and it would be good for politicians of all countries to respect this democratic decision.”
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“The point is particularly clear to us here in Britain as the Irish were fortunate to be given a referendum which we were denied by our Government.”
Despite some opposition, the majority of EU leaders, including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, called for a “period of reflection,” and the Lisbon Treaty passed following another referendum in Ireland in October 2009.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, then the leader of Ukip, famously claimed that it was Lisbon that made him an “enemy” of the EU.
Speaking on his LBC show in 2015, Mr Farage said: “In 2005, the European Union had produced its own constitution. The first proper blueprint. The first genuine admission that what they were building wasn’t a free trade zone, it was a state. And they put it to referendums.
“The French rejected it, the Dutch rejected it and many other people, had they had the chance, would have rejected it.
“And what did the EU do? Did they learn the lesson? Did they say ‘Oh well obviously people don’t want a state with a flag, an anthem and an army.’
“Did they row back?
“No, they rebranded it as the Lisbon Treaty.
“They forced it through without giving the French and Dutch another option. The Irish voted against it, but were forced to vote again.
“And from that moment, I have been an enemy of the entire project.”
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