Disgraceful

The treaty is basically the constitution minus some symbolic things (and an exemption from the Fundamental Rights for the Brits.) Henry Farrell had it right a couple of days ago.

This is a quite substantial set of changes. It should be presented to people so that they can vote on it (and taken off the table if they don’t want it). It’s a shame and a disgrace that the EU member states have responded to the 2005 defeat by going back to their old practice of seeking to achieve integration by boring the general public into submission, and a very substantial backward step. If people aren’t willing to sign up to major changes in the EU system of governance, then too bad for the EU system of governance.

Voting strength

I wonder about something… One of the arguments for the constitution, (and for the whole Nice treaty before it), is the changed voting rules are necessary because the increase in members would make the EU dysfunctional, and unable to make decisions. I was always kind of sceptical of that, but it was almost me alone against the conventional wisdom.

Well, now we don’t have to speculate, and it seems to me the EU functions perfectly smoothly. The council adapted, there was no gridlock. I haven’t heard the punditocracy claim otherwise either, and yet people still argue as streneusly that it’s vitally important to reform the rules. They’re just don’t acknowledge that they’re now arguing against the status quo, rather than a a threat in the uncertain future. It’s a bit odd.

Where’s the problem?

The one area where I have read people argue against the status quo is forein affairs. I don’t think the constitution will in practice change much, no government will defer to others on natinal interssts. I think we’ll see increasing cohesion, but because attitudes and habits are changing. But if I’m wrong it could only mean because the constitution takes away much more nat’l sovereignty than I think. I don’t think the pro.constitution pundits really should want to argue that.

(I’ll deal with the principal arguments some other time.)

If they say no

People will vote no for many different reasons, some for opposite reasons. But it seems clear to me some complaints will be shared by nearly all no voters, as well as many yes voters. Namely, that the EU is undemocratic, that the elites don?t care what the people say, that integration has been pursued without any input from them. Furthermore, I think an appropriate reaction to defeat would be humility. Therefore I think the proper way to rewrite the constitution would be to discard with most of the expansions of the EU’s powers, and as a side dish to introduce more robust measures to make the EU more democratic and accountable. This seems like the right thing to do, and also like a politically wise thing to do. It would make it likelier that people would vote for it, wouldn’t be that vulnerable to criticism that you rerun the vote and ensuing bitterness and still get the important things from this constitutions passed

If they’d scrap language that would invite judicial activism too, I myself could vote for it with enthusiasm.

While it’s not unthinkable that they’d actually do what I’ve suggested, I wouldn’t bet on it. More likely, they’ll either have a new IGC and make some less substantial changes to the constitution, or they will just give up for a few years. Neither scenario strikes me as worse than a yes vote.

What would be worse is if they give up and then go back to IGCs without any referendums or conventions, but I don’t think they could get away with it. In a sufficiently long run I’m sure they won’t, but heightened contradictions will be a mixed blessing. One dismal scenario would be for the French government to promise never to let Turkey in, and then rerun the referendum without changes, which would also be worse, at least if it succeeded, but again I don’t see it as likely.

The EU and the case for a ‘non’ (Updated)

A couple of weeks ago, Versac from the French blog Publius sent me a bunch of questions concerning my views on the EU and the Constitution. They’re interviewing a number of non-French bloggers in this way. I thought I’d publish my answers here. A sample:

The main negative thing is that it’s giving the EU more power, competences, and I think that’s inappropriate before the democratic deficit is addressed. Also, it may lead to more judicial activism, which is bad.

Voting no is a bit of a gamble, since you can’t be sure it will push the governments in the desired direction, and not for example rule out Turkish membership to get it passed, or end up drafting an even worse constitution. But the happy scenarios seem likelier than the bad ones. We need to bloody the politician’s noses. Above all the present situation is unacceptable, and no real reform seems imminent. We need to seize the rare chance to set the EU on a new course, towards democracy and accountability. By rejecting the constitution, all bets are off.

Full interview under the fold.
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The thing about referendums

I’m quite fond of representative democracy, and don’t think replicating the Swiss or Californian system would be a particularly good idea. I do however think that referendums are an occasionally vital and necessary part of democracy, and to do away with them, like the German constitution does, would be a great mistake.

There are situations where referendums are the only acceptable alternative. As a supporter of representative democracy I disagree with people who say that this or that issue is too important to be dealt with by the normal electoral process. But I do think I think referendums are necessary when an issue is 1) divisive 2) vitally important and 3) the normal partisan system cannot properly deal with, because the fault lines are different. As a corollary, anytime sovereignty is involved, I think an issue has to be pretty minor for you not to hold a referendum.

Most of the referendums on EU memberships are textbook cases of this situation. In the case of Sweden, nearly half of voters opposed Swedish entry and for most of the campaign the no side led. Without a referendum they would have had to vote for the Green or Left parties if they wanted to stop our entry. Both quite radical non-mainstream parties who together held less than 10% of the vote. In some countries all parties were for membership. In these instances I feel not holding a referendum would be undemocratic, and would to some degree disenfranchise (to use an American term) the whole electorate.
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The drafting of the constitution

For some reason, I stopped covering the constitution when I started AFOE. Since Cosmocrat has been on hiatus for two months, and Henry Farrell after joining CT generally restricts himself to subjects the US bloggers care about, there’s barely been any informed discussion of these things in the blogosphere, that I know of. That’s a shame. I will try to fill the gap, to the best of my ability:

This Economist article from a while ago is a good starting point.

“But the draft constitution has ambitious and arguably more important plans for the extension of EU powers in such areas as justice, foreign policy, defence, taxation, the budget and energy, all of which are now under attack. The most dramatic proposal is that EU policy on serious cross-border crime, immigration and asylum should be decided by majority vote. Several countries are now having second thoughts about this. The Irish dislike the idea that their system of criminal law could move towards the continental European model. Britain, Portugal, Slovakia and Austria are against the notion of harmonising criminal-law procedures. And if these articles on home affairs are reopened, the Germans, for all their determination to stick by the convention text, may be tempted to abandon their support of majority voting on immigration.

Britain, Ireland, Poland and Sweden also dislike the idea of calling the EU’s foreign-policy supremo a ?foreign minister?, since this smacks too much of a superstate. Provisions to allow a core group of countries to forge a closer defence union, from which they might exclude others, are also meeting opposition from Finland, the central Europeans and the British. Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, are leading the battle against any hint of tax harmonisation. And the British, after heavy lobbying by the big oil companies, are belatedly trying to insist on changes to proposals to create a common EU energy policy. A bevy of finance ministers are also keen to limit the European Parliament’s planned powers over the EU budget.

If many of these changes are made, defenders of the convention text will cry foul and start saying that the whole thing has been gutted. That would be melodramatic. Most of the details of the draft constitution are all but agreed: a big extension of majority voting, a binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, a president of the European Council, a ?legal personality? for the Union and the first explicit statement of the supremacy of EU law over national statutes. These are not small matters.”

Indeed, these aren’t small matters. What has been proposed is a fairly substantial transfer of sovereignty, as well as some other far-reaching proposals. The lack of attention paid to of these matters is bizarre and disconcerting.

The situation is particulary bad in Sweden and Great Britain, which are the two countries where I follow the debate. My impression is that while the there has been significantly more public discussion in some of the other countries, it has still been confined to an small segment of the population, and has nowhere gotten the attention it deserves. I’d love to hear that I’m wrong on that count.

The media bears a lot of responsibility for this. Are people even aware of what’s being proposed?

In coutries where there’ll be referendums, that should remedy the situation. Of course referendums have sometimes proved a flawed way of making these decisions, but representative democracy’s record is in this particualr regard tragically clearly worse.

In Sweden and Britain, the pro-integration parties have no interest in discussing these matters. The anti-integration parties meanwhile (Tories in the UK, the semi-commies and greens in Sweden) have repeated the same tired rant and silly hyperbole over any EU matter for fifteen years, they are the boy who cried wolf, and not interested in constructive criticism anyway. The commentariat seems strangely uninterested, along with everyone else. Bizarrely, despite having the most eurosceptic electorates, our governments have negotiated largely free from public pressure. (As opposed to interest group pressure.)

They are (again) changing our entire political systemsbehind people’s backs, aided by media indifference and voter apathy. It’s a scandal.

Now, as to the merits of the Convention’s proposals; I’m largely negative. I’m not anti-integration in the long term, but I believe we need deal with the democratic deficit before we go about transferring any more authority to Brussels.

The Charter includes various ludicrous things as rights and will invite lots of jusdicial activism, which is no good at all.

Having a president of the council with poorly defined will only create overlapping authorities, institutional warfare, make the decision process more cumbersome and even harder for the avarage citizen to understand.

It’s not all bad. I like that the Parliament gets more power. I like how it was done, the Convention. I like various other serious but minor stuff. And it’s not nearly as bad (or as radical) as the europhobes say. But I think the non-debate of the constitution itself demonstrates how dysfunctinal democracy is on the EU level, and therefore why this isn’t the time for closer union.

Where is the European project headed?

This is a slightly revised version of an early Europundit entry that I thought deserved a second life.

What will enlargement mean?

There has been a lot of talk lately [back in May at least] about what the long-term consequences of enlargement will be, and also about the rift that the Iraq war has caused in Europe. Some people, especially Americans have been saying there’s a risk of crisis, and that the Union will become divided and dysfunctional. There’s one in my estimate strong indication that they’re wrong: Look at the Convention. Divisions have not at all been on the lines of “old” or “new” Europeans, but between small and big states and between intergovernmentalists and supranationalists. The actors have taken positions out of what they think is right, and what they perceive is in their interest. And that’s how things will continue to be.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy have been weakened, but no one has ever imagined nations would take common positions on every issue. I think the Convention also demonstrates there’s a lot of agreement, and a strong will to work together and move forward. Integration and reform has been continued at a rapidly accelerated pace. If the issues of division of power between institutions, between the nations, and the future shape of the EU aren?t causing paralysis, why would fishing disputes or whatever?

There’ll probably be friction between France and the Central Europeans, but what people have missed is that the group of eight’s letter was not the only cause of divisions, but mostly something that brought divisions to the surface. In my opinion, it’s not so much because of any particular irreconcilable differences; rather it’s part of a long-term trend. Starting about five years ago nations stopped deciding almost everything by unanimity. This has to do with the growing number of members and with the increase of decisions taken on the EU level. Indeed, it’s also because national sensitivities have decreased, and issues aren’t looked at only from the national perspective or as national horse-trading, so therefore acceptance has grown of majority voting. Also, the group of eight’s letter was a reaction to French-German hegemonic tendencies, but remember the reaction was because the French-German engine had been revived after being dead 1997-2002. Changing alliances aren’t an impediment to progress or “ever closer union.”

So what we will see is these trends continuing, and being reinforced by, enlargement and further integration. More open divisions, and factionalism, but not so much divisions between any set camps, rather division on an issue-for-issue basis, and not so much one nor two power centers, though France-Germany still will be a power center in many instances. And, I don’t think it will put any brakes on integration.

Ever Closer Still

The last six or eight years saw these trends starting, and at the same time integration has not just continued, but at an accelerating pace. These were also the years of the Commission losing power and initiative to the Council (the national governments.) Integration is not driven by ideology or by some long-term federalist strategy. Rather, it’s the product of a thousand smaller decisions. Rather, it’s driven by “historical forces”, by a situation where every further step makes sense, by a self-reinforcing logic, and because there are no significant factors acting to slow or stop integration.

By the evidence of the Convention, plus my general knowledge of the Candidate countries, I don?t see enlargement seriously working against these trends, though if the constitution will be a drastic step, it may cause a temporary breathing pause. I don’t see anything else seriously slowing the process either in the foreseeable future. (Granted, in these matters, that’s hardly longer than a decade as I see it.)

That begs the question when will it stop? I don’t think this gradualist, often not noticed by the public, process can’t possibly continue to the point where suddenly we find ourselves citizens of a federal state. At some point something’s gots to give. When and how that will happen, I have no idea. Everything about the EU’s development is so gloriously uncertain and unprecedented, which is why it’s so fascinating.

(Actually, things are already changing, integration is no longer mostly by stealth or couched in bureaucratic terms, and there is a debate about what the final goal is.)

I started out sounding like I defended the EU from its detractors and now I sound almost like a eurosceptic. I should note that one explanation for the success of “Ever closer union” is that it simply makes sense, because of increasing interdependence et cetera. But the problem is, no one bothered involving the public, or at least didn’t succeed.