Not as exciting as the World Cup

If anyone has the energy to think about the European Constitution at the moment, I’m afraid this entry will not encourage you to keep up the effort.

Last week, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) put on a show for those of us in Brussels who are interested: a lunchtime meeting, discussing the way forward after the “period of reflection” on the fate of the Constitutional Treaty. The speakers were the leaders of the three main pan-European political parties – for the European People’s Party, former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens; for the Party of European Socialists, former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen; and for the Liberals, Belgian politician Annemie Neyts.

I found it a depressing meeting, depressing because of the complicit complacency of the three.
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Then and now

Billmon, in a very eloquent post, says nothing. All he does is put up a series of quotations. Yet his message couldn’t be clearer; or more correct.

Lest visiting American wingnuts misunderstand me: I do not assert that Billmon is correct in inviting us to infer that Donald Rumsfeld is guilty of war crimes. That question would be decided by a court, in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Rumsfeld ends up before one.

No, what Billmon gets undeniably right is the far bigger and broader and more fundamental idea that (to use the words of Telford Taylor with which Billmon’s post comes to a close) ‘law is not a one-way street’. Whether a government is good or bad is decided by what it does and refrains from doing; not by who its members are or by the justifications they offer for their acts and omissions. That goes for the current government of the USA, and it goes equally for every other government entrusted with the running of a state.
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You’d Better Move On

The papers this morning seem to be all full of ‘gloomy’ articles whose principal theme is that Europe has finally been plunged into a grave crisis by this weeks summit.

“People will tell you next that Europe is not in a crisis,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the EU presidency, said after a two-day summit ended in acrimony. “It is in a deep crisis.”

As someone who is ‘crisis prone’ I would have imagined I would share that feeling. Somehow I don’t.

Some reasons why.
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Clueless In and Out of Brussels

We’re still all waiting really. Waiting to know what the next move really in the saga is going to be (Iceland isn’t in the community yet, if I remember correctly). Staring into the tea-leaves and casting a wary eye over towards Brussels, looking desperately for clues.

What this continuing lack of definition really does is make matters worse., compound the problem. It re-inforces exactly that feeling of being ‘left out of things’ that probably produced the ‘no’ votes in the first place. This isn’t very promising if you were hoping that at least the rejection of the constitution at the ballot box would act as a kind of ‘shock therapy’, now is it?

However, according to the rumours:
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Dutch referendum: some background

Having been asked by AFOE to write a couple of posts for them in the coming weeks I am both honoured and horrified and apologize in advance for occasionally butchering the English language. A very short introduction: I am a Dutch translator now living in France after 30 odd years of residence in Belgium. I am totally incapable of producing fine scholarly essays but I can do my part of the vox populi pretty well? I hope.

To warm up I offer you some background relevant to the Dutch referendum before the official results start rolling in. First some figures, taken from a Eurostat news report (pdf) that was released today.

Dutch unemployment, while remaining well below the European average of 8,9%, has risen from 4.6% to 5%. By comparison, Poland has 17% unemployment and Ireland 4.2%. Eurostat also mentions that The Netherlands registered the highest relative increase in unemployment rates among the member states together with Portugal (6.5% to 7.2%) and Luxemburg (4.2% to 4.6%). Unemployment among young people in The Netherlands, while fairly high at 9.2%, is still modest compared to the EU average rate of 19%.
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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.)

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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Le Petit ‘Non’

Well, if you believe Times (and after last weeks episode with the Independent I believe no-one), le petit ‘non’, like its equivalent le petit mensonge, is not all that serious after all. According to the Times, Britain is working with other European states to draw up plans to keep the European Union constitution alive if there is a narrow ?non? vote in France next week. Just a soupcon of ‘no’ will, in the end ‘help the medicine go down’.

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Turkish Accession Talks And The French Vote

People in Turkey are getting nervous. If French voters reject the Consitution Treaty later this month, it will be for a whole string of reasons, none of which necessarily are related to any of the others. Some will vote against the treaty because it is perceived as removing sovereignty too much, others because they feel it leaves too much room for national sovereignty (the ‘social dumping’ debate). But possibly ‘no’ voters hold one view in common: they don’t like the idea of Turkey joining the EU.

Now many of the consequences of a ‘no’ vote – if ‘no’ vote there be – are unforseeable. But one distinct possibility would be that among the items contained in the ‘plan B’ rescue package would be a proposal to review the state of play with the Turkey accession process. This possibility is exercising the mind of Morgan Stanley’s Serhan Cevic no end. Mine to. Full declaration: I support Turkey’s *eventual* membership of the EU.
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