I wish to begin by thanking Commissioner Verheugen for his address. He very helpfully reminded us that we had the Convention because of the shock of Nice. I recall that earlier this week, Mr President, you and I were addressing a meeting of the CBI in the United Kingdom and I made the same point then. This whole process is one that goes back to the Nice Treaty and the shock of the outcome of the referendum in Ireland - I do not ask you to comment on that, Mr President.
What we talked about at Laeken was engaging with European citizens and explaining what Europe is about to citizens who are feeling remote from Europe. Yet the headline in the EUobserver last week was: 'Campaign launched to save Constitution'. MEPs are reported to be so concerned about the activities of national governments in the IGC that they felt it necessary to take to the streets in defence of the Convention's plans. We have heard in the debate today that the Convention must be defended against something wicked that is called national self-interest. Those who have launched this campaign will find it rather difficult to rally the electorate to their cause; according to a recent opinion poll, 61% of the European electorate have never heard of the Convention at all and in the UK 83% of people have never heard of it.
What people in my country and the rest of Europe want is a referendum on the Constitution. In a Eurobarometer poll published last week 84% of the people polled in the 15 member and 10 accession countries wanted a referendum. In the UK that number is 86%. Mr Duff is amongst them; his party wants to have a referendum as well. He and I might differ significantly about the implications of this Constitution, but as democrats we should be in a position to argue our case with the people and to see what the outcome of that debate should be. What message is being sent in my own country by the continued refusal to listen to the people whose interests we are elected to serve?
I should like to clarify a couple of points relating to the Convention. I would be grateful for clarification from the Council on the position outlined by the Maltese Prime Minster, who said recently that there had been some agreement from those countries that do not have to hold referendums that they will not allow referendums. That is not a democratic situation.
I am very grateful to President Prodi, who has accepted that the Constitution amounts to a big change from the basic concept of nation states, a position confirmed by the German, Spanish and French Governments but denied by my own government.
Finally, on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Mr President, you and I heard a UK minister putting forward the view that there was nothing to be worried about. A former UK minister said that in the United Kingdom the Charter of Fundamental Rights will have as much legal force as the Beano. The Beano is a comic for children in the United Kingdom. I rather think that this Constitution proposes something different. That is why I believe that the people should have a say in it.