21st Jun 2019


Constitution fails fundamental tests

In France, we are deeply engaged in the campaign on the referendum of 29 May when we will be able to say OUI or NON to the Constitution.

Now that I’ve had some time to try to familiarise myself with this text, all I can say is: I hope you can convince your compatriots to vote NO. There are dozens of reasons to vote No. I will name only a few.

First prize for complexity

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This so-called "Constitution" or "Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe" (TCE) is unintelligible. No ordinary person has the time or background to understand it.

A Constitution should be comprehensible for the people it will govern. This text completely fails the test.

The Constitution of the United States of America is about 30 pages long - I suggest you check the length of your own national Constitution.

The European Constitution is 252 pages long in the French version and with all the protocols and annexes comes to 850. I don’t have a law degree (and I suspect you don’t either), but I’m used to examining fairly difficult texts (MAI, WTO, IMF, etc). This one wins first prize for complexity.

The people are absent

A Constitution must be based on popular sovereignty, that is, come from the people. We have known this since the 18th century. Here this principle is forgotten. The people who draw up such a document should be elected for that purpose by the people who will be subject to its provisions.

The 105 members of the Convention, although many were national or European parliamentarians, were not elected for the purpose of designing a European Constitution.

The American Constitution begins with the words "We the people". The European one begins with a long list of heads of State and Royal Highnesses. I don’t know if there is already such a thing as "the European people" but if we plan to live together, we should encourage its emergence and development. The people are absent from this Constitution.

Signing for an \"unlimited duration\"

One must be able to change a Constitution. The French 1793 Constitution makes provision for amendment and revision, saying "One generation should not subject future generations to its laws".

The US Constitution of 1787 was first amended in 1791 with the 10 Articles of the Bill of Rights. Since then there have been 17 other amendments and the whole thing has served for nearly 230 years.

Changes cannot, for all practical purposes, be made to the TCE without the double majority: first all heads of State (the European Council); then ratification by all member States (parliament vote or referendum). We are asked to sign for an "unlimited duration", as the text says.

A neo-liberal dream

The TCE goes into huge detail on economic and monetary policy - over 300 articles are devoted to these. The word "market" is used 78 times, "competition" 27 times; the phrase "a market in which competition is free and not distorted" (libre et non faussee) 7 times.

The French employers Union, the European Employers union UNICE and even George Bush have declared themselves very satisfied with this Constitution. They should be: This Constitution is a neo-liberal dream. Even public services (never defined in the text) are subject to the rules of competition.

The TCE also ensures the total political independence of the Central Bank (mentioned by name 98 times). Price stability is added to the list of "objectives" of the Union although public services are taken out and are the only mandate of the Bank. It has no mandate to encourage employment encourage growth and employment - "full employment" is mentioned once, "social progress" three times and "unemployment" not at all.

European governments are not supposed to give any "aid" (subsidies) to any enterprise. The Union cannot borrow and its budget is fixed by law. The only other Constitution I know of that devotes so much detail to economics was the Stalinist one of the Soviet Union of 1936. Politics is constantly subordinated to economics and in social or fiscal matters, "harmonisation" can only occur through unanimous vote.

Separation of powers

The Commission has enormous power and is almost completely without responsibility to the Parliament. The European Council (heads of State) , although presumably elected nationally, is completely without responsibility in European terms.

Normal Constitutional principals such as separation of powers and "checks and balances" are almost entirely absent and the executive branch is far too dominant.

The Parliament cannot even initiate legislation on its own, cannot levy taxes, and must co-decide with the Council on nearly all important issues. As Montesquieu said in "The Spirit of Laws", all power tends "naturally to the abuse of power". We will have no way of stopping it.

Read it

One could go on and on: I suggest that in your campaign, you develop your own expertise on this text (hundreds of pages of analysis on the French Attac website) and keep your arguments close to the text itself, which is the best antidote to voting Yes.

People who have actually read the text almost always come out of this difficult exercise determined to vote against it.

Naturally all the official, economic-financial and media propaganda is in favour of voting Yes - they say it’s ‘more democratic than what we had".

It is certainly not good enough and if we don’t win in France it will be a historic defeat. But I have faith in the intelligence of the French people and I think we can win.

The author is Board Chair of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam and vice-president of the French Attac organisation. Her contribution was originally made for the EU critical 'Borgerinitiativet' in Copenhagen.


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

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