Thursday

27th Jan 2022

Opinion

Ask the people what kind of Europe they want

"Get it over with". That is the basic meaning of many comments that have circulated during the IGC negotiations.

Germany and France have been eager to tell their EU colleagues to lay low and not make any changes in the draft EU Constitution. If everybody keeps calm, everybody will get a slice of the cake in the end, say the two big countries. With no delays in the time schedule, everybody will save face.

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At this point, it seems like preparations have been made to settle a last-minute deal in Brussels next weekend, although many doubts remain about this. The way to solve tricky questions, like the countries' voting weights in the Council, may be - as always - to agree to answer them later - maybe.

But even if a last minute deal is made and the Constitution is passed by the Heads of State, one question needs to be asked. Are the EU Member States and their citizens, of which there soon will be 25, ready for the subsequent consequences?

France and Germany have, by ignoring the rules of the so called Growth and Stability Pact (even if it does not seem to create any growth or stability), placed their own power in question.

The two biggest countries have been given increased powers with the EU Constitution, since voting power is partly based on population. Together with one other big country, - UK, Spain or Italy – these two together can block any decision. Together they will form a "ruling directorat", to quote Sverker Gustavsson, Swedish professor of political science (Svenska Dagbladet 7-8-2003).

The crisis with the Stability Pact shows that they are not willing to play by the rules, when the rules do not suit the big powers.

But their opposition towards the Pact is rational and fully understandable. Different countries with different needs are put in a monetary straight jacket. Add to this that accountable national politicians are being told by unaccountable ones in Brussels what they are allowed, and not allowed, to do. But rules are rules. Either you keep them and stick to them, or you get rid of them.

Germany and France want to keep the rules and follow them when they feel like it. The EU's smaller Member States should ask themselves if they are ready to hand so much power to a "ruling directorat", who seem to use their power as they wish. "I don't think any of us would want to put our fate in the hands of the big countries now", says the Dutch Foreign Minister Gerrit Zalm (Irish Times 29-11-2003). But this is exactly what the Netherlands, and other small countries, are doing.

Few government representatives at the IGC are openly expressing their worries for the kind of EU we will get with the new Constitution. They are keeping calm and avoiding the debate, in order to save their faces. When the Commission happily claims that the Constitution "fundamentally changes" the way the EU works (especially when it comes to the EU-institutions’ new juridical powers), anxious governments like the British or the Swedish, are describing the Constitution as a "tidying up exercise", to quote Peter Hain, UK Minister for Europe.

The tactic is simple. If the Constitution is described as insignificant, it is not important enough for the people to have a say about it in a referendum. The ruling Social Democrat Party in Sweden, who just massively lost the euro referendum, is avoiding the question of Europe just to keep the peace within the party and continue ruling the country. The only problem with the tactics of silence are the citizens - who want their voices to be heard and their views to be respected.

Just before the Summit in Brussels, on 11-12 December, the conference "Visions for a democratic Europe" gathers people - both EU-critics and EU-enthusiasts - from all over Europe to discuss the Constitution and demand that the people should have a say about it. Now it is time to give the bombastic slogan of "the citizens' Europe" some content.

Let’s ask the people what kind of Europe they want.

HENRIK DAHLSSON - a Swede, is Secretary General of The European Alliance of EU-critical Movements in Brussels. He is a political scientist and journalist by profession, and has previously worked as an editorial writer in the Swedish press

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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