Not Perfect But Good

The debate on the constitution is getting feisty. It’s clear that, at least among our readers, the constitutional treaty has fervent detractors.

Over to Mr Hamilton

The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary ocnsent of a whole people, is a PRODIGY, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety. I can reconcile it to no rules of prudence to let go the hold we now have, in so arduous an enterprise, upon seven out of the thirteen States, and after having passed over so considerable a part of the ground, to recommence the course. I dread the more the consequences of new attempts, because I know that POWERFUL INDIVIDUALS, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape.

So let us put one question on the table. If not this constitution, then what?

Can the current structure accommodate 25 members? What about 28 in three years’ time? And 33 or more over the next decade? Would another convention produce better results? Why? Or should the EU be scrapped altogether? Would this not have negative consequences?

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

18 thoughts on “Not Perfect But Good

  1. The onus is on the people who support the constitutional treaty to make the case for it (just like a constitutional amendment in the US).

    It is indeed the difficulty in doing this in an honest manner to a UK audience (but also elsewhere) that makes many supporters of the constitutional treaty claim that ratifying the new treaty is the “status quo” option. But when thinking about amendments to the US constitution, for example, such an attitude would rightly be ridiculed.

    The point of this sort of argument is to try and get people who dont want a European Constitutional Treaty at all to move into the discussion of what sort of new constitutional treaty they would want. But it is unconvincing – many people dont want this treaty or any “constitutional treaty”. UK opinion is largely split between those who want to leave the EU and those who want many powers removed from the EU institutions and exercised autonomously at the national level. The people who want both to consolidate the existing powers of the EU and expand them, as per the constitutional treaty, are in a permanent minority in the UK, so any effort to get the constitutional treaty approved in a referendum is going to have to rely on slight-of-hand and obfuscation 1. it’s the status quo 2. well what sort of constitutional treaty do you want? 3. the constitutional treaty increases the power of national governments and national parliaments 4. it’s a superpower-not-superstate 5. “the French/the Commission are disappointed” 6. the “Federalists were defeated” etc etc etc. It may even work, but it will poison UK politics for a long time if it does.

  2. The EU hasn’t degenerated into chaos and deadlock as yet. So the current scheme is clearly workable. If it works for 25 it’ll work for 30. Whether the new constitution would work better is equally unknown. Positively or negatively. There is a lot of wisdom in not changing a running system.

    Of course, you may comment on its qualities as a constitution. In that regard I’d say it is ridiculous. It lists five different kinds of union laws that can be passed. And various other things that are hideously unclear.

  3. Further comment on the validity of plebiscites on the EU Constitution in the light of this seems superfluous:

    “EU governments were pressed Friday to act urgently to inform voters about the bloc’s first-ever constitution, after a poll showed widespread ignorance of a text which is about to face a series of crunch polls.”

    – from: http://www.eubusiness.com/afp/050128165156.n70n8xtt

    The results from a recent Eurobarometer poll on knowledge in EU countries of the draft EU Constitution is here: http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs214_en_first.pdf

    An earlier debate on AFOE about the EU Constitution, much of which is still relevant, can be found here: http://fistfulofeuros.net/scgi-bin/talktome.cgi?entry_id=78

  4. Further comment on the validity of plebiscites on the EU Constitution in the light of this seems superfluous

    Why? One can certainly be of the oppinion that a certain area shouldn’t be legislated or that there should never be a document labeled “Constitution of Europe”. In that case the text doesn’t matter.

    This vote is not about the constitution as such. It is about the final extent and size of the EU. This constitution may or may not be better than the treaties currently in force, but certainly nobody argues it to be a masterpiece, just that it is better than nothing. That’s hardly a desirable choice.

    In my oppinion a failure would give Europe the opportunity to finally have an honest discussion about what the EU is to be.

  5. This vote is not about the constitution as such.

    Actually, yes it is. It says so in the question. 🙂

    In my opinion a failure would give Europe the opportunity to finally have an honest discussion about what the EU is to be.

    If 24 states choose to ratify it, and 1 state chooses not to, I think the honest discussion should be about whether that one state should leave and let the others do as they wish.

  6. Firstly, not all states dare have referenda. This is silly, because it assumes that an entity such as the EU can remain stable without giving the governed opportunity to explicitly give consent. Doing so lets a core of justified resentment grow.

    Secondly, if Britain refuses (we may call the candidate by its proper name) the whole equation changes in matters of power distribution, budget and the military. There would have to be a renegotiation at least. The same is true for any of the big four members.

  7. Because, practically the number of referenda you can have is limited.

    Secondly and far more important, they are not great. In fact, unless a population is used to them, as in Switzerland, they might very well result in bad decisions. But they have the unique legitimacy of the people having spoken.
    I’ve never claimed that they are great, just that they are necessary.

  8. If I may add an analogy to that. The legislatures have the key to the car, so that they may drive it. That doesn’t mean that they can sell or give it away without serious repercussions.

  9. An contemporary Europe, the point of legislatures is to give the impression of wider participation in decision-making than actually occurs; they are dignified parts of the European political system. if there were active legisalatures able to control their governments, there would be less reason to have a referendum. but rubber stamp legislatures like the Bundestag, Dail or House of Commons offer no constraint or check on executive action. therefore referenda are necessary.

  10. “rubber stamp legislatures like the Bundestag, Dail or House of Commons offer no constraint or check on executive action. therefore referenda are necessary.”

    Absolutely.

  11. It’s my observation that the vast majority of the debate over the EU Constitution relies overmuch on the Federalist and wantonly ignores the points and qualifications from Anti-Federalist writers. Here’s a link to the Anti-Federalist Papers (in part). Enjoy.

    http://www.constitution.org/afp.htm

  12. “rubber stamp legislatures like the Bundestag, Dail or House of Commons offer no constraint or check on executive action. Therefore referenda are necessary.”

    Well in Switzerland referenda usually are the weapon of the losing side at the parliament. If a non-consensual law (or decision by the Federal Council) is being passed, then there is an 80% chance of the minority party submitting it to a “votation”. Most of these laws are upheld, whereas most of the “spontaneous” ones (ie someone submits a constitutional amendment directly to the popular vote) are rejected. This pattern has been an interesting constant in Swiss politics for the past 60 years. Sociologically speaking, masses usually are pretty conservative.

    “Secondly, if Britain refuses the whole equation changes in matters of power distribution, budget and the military.”

    Certainly not in terms of budget. As for the military, peacekeeping issues (the only thing the EU is willing to afford) could I guess in the short term be compensated by Germany’s increasing willingness to act in international affairs.

    That leaves us with power distribution (=politics) – political capital is worth more when not used. If the UK is alone against 24 “yes”, I am not sure it will play to its advantage in any later negociation.

  13. “political capital is worth more when not used”

    Only sometimes. At other times, when people are shouting at you, it’s because you are getting what you want.

    There’s no denying that the UK is in a tricky position. The governments of other leading European countries wish to centralise more decision-making in the EU, whereas British civil society has a permanent majority against this, wishing either to leave or to stay in an EU with fewer competences. Either the EU24 (or, realistically, a subgroup) will be frustrated and try to take it out on the UK, or British civil society will be frustrated and take it out on the UK government and political parties over the next decade and more. That’s the choice.

  14. Certainly not in terms of budget. As for the military, peacekeeping issues (the only thing the EU is willing to afford) could I guess in the short term be compensated by Germany’s increasing willingness to act in international affairs.

    If you do the arithmetic with the current rebate, Britain won’t matter. But as nobody expects that to survive long term one way or the other, this is not an honest computation.

    Secondly, a nuclear power is not militarily insignificant. It’s a major blow to long term aspirations.

    Thirdly, it endangers all those carefully weighted double majority calculations.
    And last, but not least, it kills the nimbus of inevitability. And would increase the pressure on the rest, as the major defender of states’ rights is gone.

  15. It’s more the fact that the UK is the only large EU country with a growing economy which secures our influence.

  16. [i]If you do the arithmetic with the current rebate, Britain won’t matter. But as nobody expects that to survive long term one way or the other, this is not an honest computation.[/i]
    Why do you say this? Britain is the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget even with the rebate. Losing a major source of funds will course problems as Germany will not be able to pick up all of that money with their current economic problems.

  17. I am sorry. I must have misread EU statistics.
    In any case, you are strengthening my argument. Britain going out would really hurt.

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