2nd Dec 2020


Why pro-Europeans should oppose the EU Constitution

The cheerleaders of the proposed EU constitution – including the 500 MEPs who voted in favour of it in Strasbourg this week – are putting the entire project of European co-operation in danger.

In their zeal for further integration, they risk driving a nationalistic wedge between member countries and could jeopardise the real benefits the EU has brought in terms of coming together to address the social and environmental problems that can only be tackled through international co-operation.

Risk of leaving public behind

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Until recently the EU has only changed and adapted at a pace which is acceptable to Europe’s citizens. But now, following a decade of rapid integration, the EU is in danger of leaving the public behind.

In the UK, hostility to the Constitution is very high. While the gap between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ side will perhaps narrow as the referendum gets closer, it is clear that a very large number of people have severe reservations about the current direction that the EU is taking.

This is not only a British phenomenon. In the recent European parliamentary vote on the Constitution, a majority of MEPs from three EU member states voted against the Constitution. In other countries like Sweden and Malta, governments are denying the citizens a vote because voters might say ‘no’.

Opposition across the spectrum

This opposition to the Constitution cuts across the political spectrum.

From my perspective as a Green I dislike the fact that there will be an enhancement of the EU’s military capability. I do not feel that the EU needs an even greater role in the liberalisation of the service sector with all of the damage that could do to cherished public services around the EU.

I am also concerned about significant transfers of power from state, regional and local institutions to institutions that don’t have the same democratic credentials. This is especially true in foreign policy and defence, where scrutiny is minimal.

There are many reasons why people from many different political traditions have legitimate concerns about the content of the Constitution. That does not make them anti-Europeans, it just means that they do not like the detailed contents of this treaty.

As a pro European, I believe a strong and effective European Union to be central to solving many of the social and environmental challenges that we face. This constitution, however, is not the right vehicle to achieve it.

Risk of nationalism

We must accept that scepticism about future integration is a growing phenomenon in many EU member states – particularly in the UK.

However, if the governments and the EU continue to ignore the pressure from citizens then the healthy scepticism which I endorse could be turned into something more sinister.

A rejection of the internationalism implicit in European integration and a return to nationalism would be a disaster for Europe and the wider world. If the political class does not address the legitimate concerns of the sceptical public about the EU then nationalism could be the result.

Realising that a referendum fought on the issues is probably unwinnable, the pro-Constitution lobby is now saying that a British ‘no’ vote would mean expulsion from the EU. While that is patently untrue – Britain could not be ejected from the EU unless it voted for that to happen itself – it plays into the hands of those who wish to see the UK leave the EU.

We have a pro-European and anti-Constitution majority in the UK, but this tactic runs the real risk of turning an anti-Constitution majority into an anti-EU


Why Europe?

That is why pro-Europeans should oppose the Constitution. It is a flawed document that will alienate people from across the continent and across the political spectrum. If we are serious about re-engaging the public with this project then we need a fundamental revision of the role and purpose of the EU.

There’s little point in debating ‘more Europe’ or ‘less Europe’ until we have answered the prior question ‘why Europe’. In the short term we could implement some of the administrative changes that would make the EU run more smoothly after enlargement with a limited treaty.

That would give us time to think about exactly how we want the EU to integrate and answer some of the questions about the social and environmental content of the EU that were not answered by the Convention.

Dr Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MEP for South-East England and a member of the advisory board of the Centre for a Social Europe


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

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