29th Feb 2024

Who asked for a European Constitution?

As EU leaders meet in Greece on Friday to study the draft constitution compiled by the Convention, it is worth going back to basics and asking what this constitution is for.

Some say it is necessary to simplify the existing treaties and make them comprehensible to Europe's citizens - Peter Hain, until recently one of the UK representatives on the Convention, called the treaty a "tidying up exercise".

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  • JANET BUSH - "The only thing that is clear is that there is a yawning hole in the middle of this entire exercise - the will and desire of the European peoples. Most Europeans aren't even aware of the constitution" (Photo: New Europe)

Others say that it is designed to streamline the business of the Union, breaking the deadlock on decision-making represented by unanimity in order to facilitate the complexities of an enlarged EU.

Others see the constitution as an opportunity once and for all to settle the balance of powers between EU institutions and Member States.

Yet others see the constitution as an important stepping stone to a unitary European state.

No single agreed force for writing the constitution

And this is the profound oddity of this constitution - there was no single and agreed motive force for writing it.

In the case of America, it was recognised after the declaration of independence from Britain in 1776 and during the seven year war that followed that only a central government would keep the new Union together.

In other words, under threat from old colonial powers, the American states wanted to form a new country and duly wrote a constitution.

You can see from the language of its preamble that this constitution had an agreed and passionate vision at its heart: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Lacking in passion

The draft EU constitution's statement of aim reads very differently: "Reflecting the will of the citizens and states of Europe to build a common future, this Constitution establishes the European Union, on which the member states confer competences to attain objectives they have in common. The Union shall co-ordinate the policies by which the member states aim to achieve these objectives, and shall exercise in the Community way the competence they confer on it.''

Phrases such as "confer competences to attain objectives" and "shall exercise in the Community way the competence they confer on it" give away the truth that this constitution is a bureaucratic construct, a political compromise, utterly lacking in passion.

Why? Because nobody agrees what Europe's future should be.

The draft constitution may change during the IGC, perhaps for the better, quite possibly for the worse. At the moment, it appears to fail on every interpretation of what it is for.

It has not "tidied up" the treaties and made Europe comprehensible to its citizens. Decision-making remains horribly complicated. It has not settled the balance of powers -the draft has an escalator clause in which the EU can move by unanimity to more qualified majority voting in areas not yet agreed and only over time will it become

established in areas of shared competences which, of the EU institutions or the Member States, will come out on top.

And it hasn't yet - although in the legalese there is enormous potential for this - established a federal union.

Citizens unaware

The only thing that is clear is that there is a yawning hole in the middle of this entire exercise - the will and desire of the European peoples.

Most Europeans aren't even aware of the constitution. As the Economist magazine pointed out recently, a recent Spanish opinion poll found that 90 per cent of Spaniards were unaware of the Convention's existence and only 1 per cent was aware that its goal was to write a constitution.

The publication of the first draft was not even mentioned in Germany's biggest selling newspaper, Bild.

Observers of the Community method have long known that the integrationist tendency among the EU political elite has successfully used obfuscation and legalese to further its aims, motivated by a genuine belief that the people must be led to the Promised Land, even if they don't want to go.

Where a European demos doesn't exist, it must be artificially created. So we will probably have a constitution which transfers many more powers to the EU - and the peoples of Europe won't notice for a while. When they do, they may finally register their anger.

The American constitution - and the American state - has lasted and thrived because it had the consent of its people. One cannot have high hopes for a European constitution - or a future European state - drafted in isolation from civic society.

JANET BUSH, is a journalist by training. Having taken a degree in English Language and Literature at Somerville College, Oxford, she joined Reuters, working in Frankfurt and London, and then The Financial Times where she was Deputy Economics Correspondent and then New York correspondent. She was named Harold Wincott Young Financial Journalist of the year in 1987. In 1990, she joined the BBC Money Programme as a presenter of economic documentaries and then joined The Times in 1992 as Economics Correspondent. She subsequently became Economics Editor and a Leader Writer. Since 1999, she has been Director of New Europe, under the Chairmanship of Lord Owen. In 2000, she became Director of the no campaign, an alliance between New Europe and Business for Sterling. Janet is a member of the Labour Party and lives in Devon with her partner and five-year-old daughter.


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