In a faltering sort of way,
the European Union constitution – widely believed to be dead after
rejection last year by the voters in France and the Netherlands – is
back on the agenda. A new discussion paper
from the European Commission has outlined a number of ways to
“strengthen public confidence in Europe” as a means to “create the
conditions to deliver an institutional settlement.”

Commission is deliberately cautious about the constitution itself, but
a number of politicians are being bolder. Estonia on Tuesday became the
15th EU member to ratify the constitution (by vote in parliament, not
by referendum), with Finland expected to follow soon. According to the
BBC, the Austrian government, current holder of the rotating EU
presidency, has promised to set out a “roadmap” for further progress –
perhaps not the most auspicious term in the circumstances.

renewed debate was kicked off last month by Germany’s Angela Merkel,
Christian Democrat chancellor in the grand coalition government, who
indicated that the constitution was “a critical issue” and progress on
it would be a priority when Germany takes over the presidency at the
beginning of next year.

This would have come as something of a
surprise to some of Merkel’s boosters. Judging from what they said last
year, conservative commentators in Britain and the US (and in
Australia, if they ever thought about her) had assumed that Merkel was
a good anti-European like themselves.

In reality, however, an
anti-European German politician is almost a contradiction in terms.
Support for the EU among the political class in Germany (as in France)
is pretty much unanimous; those who don’t understand why should perhaps
spend some time in either country looking at the war memorials. For two
countries that fought three bloody wars in as many generations, the EU
is not a luxury but a political necessity.

The latest report has
Merkel sounding a note of caution, saying that the EU “should not rush
things”. She is hardly in a position to do so anyway, since her
government is still finding its feet, while her French counterparts are
paralysed by the prospect of next year’s presidential election (and
Italy is yet to form a new government at all). But the debate, if not
the constitution itself, is returning to life.