IGC: ‘Decisive Measures’ Needed?

Well it certainly seems to have gone eerily quiet over here. Meantime the Intergovernmental Conference has been working its weary way onward. Perhaps it’s a measure of the magnitude of the boredom that no-one has felt sufficiently inspired to get down to writing about it. This definitely hasn’t been the case with fellow blogger Eurosavant, who has a substantial piece reviewing the response across some parts of the European press. His principal conclusion on the progress: there hasn’t been any. His feeling: that we Europeans need to ‘be more decisive’. Maybe he has a point. He certainly is right that pragmatically this might have been better sorted-out if things had been done before the membership expansion. I suppose in the end we will ‘muddle through’. I don’t share the disintegration perspective, I don’t really think there’s anywhere else to go in an increasingly interconnected world, but equally I don’t really suppose we have missed an opportunity to inspire the world with our dynamic and vigourous European leadership. I don’t think things ever were going to pan out in that direction. The future is looking as if it’s going to have a decidedly Asian flavour about it.

As varied as the individual details may have been, one theme clearly predominates the preceding accounts on this website, from the French, Dutch, and the Czech press, of the progress of the EU draft Constitution Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) so far. And that is, of course, that there has been virtually none – indeed, that there is even considerable dissatisfaction over the process currently being used to try to gain common agreement on an EU Constitution.

………..sometimes “decisive measures” are what is needed to forge an enduring Constitution. Look at the American example: A decisive American legal transformation in the 19th century, highlighted by the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, raised the power of the federal government over that of the component states, just as increasing industrialization and technological development was making such a political shift desirable. That this legal transformation managed to occur in the first place was precisely because it happened at a time when those who might have voted against it – i.e. the southern states – were not even present in the Congress since they were still under occupation by federal troops in the post-Civil War. In a similar way, just imagine how much faster and decisively this whole EU Constitution process could proceed if not everyone’s opinion needed to be heard, if not everyone needed to be persuaded to agree.

Actually, there was a very real opportunity to accomplish precisely this, but I suppose those in charge were simply not tough-minded (i.e. Machiavellian) enough to carry it out. I’m referring to holding the Constitutional Convention and the IGC processes without the participation of the ten future members (hey, they are after all still not members, not yet). Instead, the eventual Constitution (approved by those who currently are members) would be presented to the electorates of the candidate states for approval, bundled into their EU accession referenda. All of this would not have to be on a strictly “take-it-or-leave-it” basis; there could be as much consultation with the candidate member-states as desired. Still, the important thing in this scenario would be that there is plenty of room to say “It looks like we can’t agree. Well, we’ll just present the Constitution, written up our way, to your electorate and let them decide whether they want to accept it, or whether they’d just as soon stay out of the EU.” I bet the whole constitutional process would have been a lot more swift and successful in such a case. (Frankly, sometimes it seems that there would be a lot more progress had this treatment been reserved exclusively for Poland!)

Still, that’s not the way it is, the EU has insisted on being fair and including everyone, with both present and future interests in the Union. The result, unfortunately, is possibly that people will simply not be able to agree, will not be able to compromise sufficiently, and that the Constitution project will fail. We have to recognize this as a very real possibility, together with its corollaries, e.g. the possible withdrawal of one or more member-states, a relapse to the unsatisfactory Nice Treaty as the EU’s latest legal basis. One thing is certain in such a case: after adding ten new members-states (which will happen whether there is a new Constitution or not) yet failing to adapt its mechanisms to its greatly-increased size, the EU is certain to suffer a collapse of confidence in its collective ability to perform its fundamental function of ensuring peace and economic prosperity for its citizens.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

4 thoughts on “IGC: ‘Decisive Measures’ Needed?

  1. My brother bought a series of books that were translations of some of Churchill’s memories about the II WW, which I found entertainingly educatives, I would not put to much faith on the quality of the translation and edition, but there were some of the rationales of Churchill that I think are still of value. One was, translating back to English, “it is not that one General is better than another, it is that one General is better than two”, and failing that a good and fast way to coordinate the people that have to make the decision.

    My take is that the EU should go for a parlamentary government, much like the one that the UK enjoys (or not, they may think it is bad) that gives, or takes away, its trust to a smallish commission that acts as the EU government. And that the actual member-states should transfer quite a few more functions, and the accompanying money, to this government. My rationale is in part that this is needed to reduce assymetrical shocks, a delicate question when sharing a currency. (While pro-Euro, I never thought that by itself it would solve all problems.)


  2. Yeah, there’s something to this “Europe, stuck in the middle” argument, I agree. But then again, federalism wasn’t really an established model of governance when the US began the experiment and so Europe may just not be some kind of hybrid but one of a new kind, with specific ways and means to exercise, check, and balance power. The latter is more fluid than many believe, in my opinion. “Decisiveness” is a great tool in moviescripts and times of crisis – but in times of normal, incremental social evolution, it might not be that helpful. Arend Lijphart may not have hit a conceptual home run with his “Consensus Democracy”, but he certainly has a point in saying that it reduces institutional volatility. So I guess the answer to question if we (Europe) can afford this specific kind of political and institutional evolution depends on our personal time horizon.

    As for the majority supported executive as opposed to the pseudo-presidential thingy now envisioned, I agree, it would have been better. But then again, this constitution isn’t there for eternity. In my opinion, it is only marginall less amendable as all other treaties have been so far.

    And as far as fiscal federalism for assymmetrical (real) shocks are concerned, doesn’t Europe already have a stabilising system in place for those parts of the union with the least diverse economic structure (the agricultural South), I am of course talking about CAP as well as the structural funds?

  3. I think it’s partly the structure (IGCs have always been unwieldy) and partly the Italian presidency. They are not getting the job done, and their PM isn’t helping. Berlusconi’s opening speech set the tone: antagonize your partners and waste energy on damage control. Spend the first six weeks of a six-month term on unnecessary distractions and you’ve used up 20 percent of your time in office. Worse, instead of laying the groundwork for a reputation of effectiveness, you’ve sent a signal that things may just get punted six months down the road.

    The Irish government is quietly (or perhaps not so quietly, if I’ve heard about it) preparing to take up what’s left in the IGC after the Italian presidency. That means this thing will really go down to the wire before admission of the new members. The contrast between the Danish and Italian presidencies will be a great case study for scholars of government and politics.

    Sometimes I think EU governance is a study in what precisely can be kicked six months down the road and what can’t. Only the things that cannot possibly be deferred get decided at the top level. Everything else gets taken up by the next presidency and the next.

    The Savant’s view of the advantages of excluding future members is simply wrong. Excluding the new members would not have been tough-minded, it would have been muddle-headed. Keeping them out would have been a guarantee that the first five to ten years post-enlargement were spent with ten governments working tirelessly to change the structures to accommodate their needs.

    There’s been plenty of ‘take it or leave it’ in discussions over the acquis. Everyone has to take it. It’s very likely that new members will have implemented more of the acquis in national legislation than several current members, particularly France.

    Preparation for EU membership has involved far more substantial changes in the laws and societies in Central Europe than probably any polity in Western Europe would be unwilling to undertake. Integration into the Union’s political processes has been gradual, and is now very thorough. Including the new members in the Convention and the IGC has been a matter of enlightened self-interest, and common sense.

    By the by, if anyone missed the gradual regularization of candidate state involvement in EU processes this time around, it’s not too late to pay attention in the Balkans. Similar processes are happening, particularly with Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, which are slated for membership in 2007.

  4. It’s certainly true that both the Convention and the IGC have so far proceeded in the silence of something extremely boring. It’s also true that one of the key features of European integration is low-keyness; if we’d been more dramatic and tough on many occasions the whole thing would have fallen apart. After all, isn’t the point that through integration we can’t fall out too badly because we have to keep talking in order to manage the business of Europe?

    I think I’ll comment on this at greater length (and higher quality) on my blog – http://yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com

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