Hanging In The Balance

As opinion polls produce results wobbling uncomfortably back-and-forth between ‘yes’ and a ‘no’, France is in the grips of a chaotic day of ‘solidarity under duress’ whose consequences for 29 May seem hard to foresee.

News that parliaments in Germany, Austria and Slovakia have approved the constitution treaty is tempered by the results of the latest poll from the Netherlands, and a growing awareness of the possible uncertainty of forthcoming votes in Denmark, Poland and Ireland (at this stage the Czech Republic has still to decide on whether to have a referendum). It is taken as read by all concerned that the constitution faces a major obstacle in the UK referendum to be held in 2006.
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We don’t have a Plan B.

Because no one has one. Well, no one has a public plan about how to handle one or more rejections of the European consitution in upcoming national referenda. But as the French referendum is approaching and the numbers do not look too good for the “yes” camp, unofficial Plan Bs are suddenly everywhere, if only to scare the naysaying Gauls into becoming responsible citizens. I know it’s common knowledge by now, but let me repeat it once more – a French “non” would be the worst case, and have possibly nuclear consequences for the EU as we know it. So scaring the voters a little seems like a reasonable approach to me.

In this vein, Bettina Thalmeyer of the Munich based Center for Applied Policy Research has put together a list of possibilities for the day after (and has published a paper about it (in German)) – hoping that it will not be May 30 (the translation and slight modifications are mine, table in the extended).

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Eh, Non

The Financial Times quotes former EU Commission President Romano Prodi on the consequences of a French rejection of the constitutional treaty.

?There would be no more Europe. We will pass through a long period of crisis.

?The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.?

This is arrant nonsense.

Nor is it likely to help the Yes campaign. The French are a funny people (sometimes even intentionally) but they are not likely to be stampeded into voting yes by this sort of gloom and doom.

The Union will face a crisis if France does not approve the constitutional treaty by the final deadline of 1 November 2006. It’s not at all clear to me, though, that a rejection next month is a final rejection. (If anyone has learned anything about EU politics, it is surely that nothing is ever final.)

The bid to have France lead the way forward looks to be failing. But are the French willing to be the only people to reject the treaty?

Five member states have ratified the treaty already; Spain, the sixth, has said Yes in a referendum, so parliamentary ratification is likely to be a formality. Four to six more could act before the French referendum. All of the countries in question are addressing the constitution through their parliaments, and all are expected to vote Yes. So as much as half the Union may have said Yes by the time France throws a spanner in the works.

And a spanner it would be. While an EU without France is barely conceivable (though it might simplify language issues), the converse is also true. Plus the French have said No to a treaty before, and then changed their collective mind.

This still seems the likeliest course to me. France will say No next month. Over the course of the next year, almost everyone else will say Yes. France’s voters will face the prospect of Europe going on without them, and they will see the situation differently.

(Bonus Machiavellian questions: Is the FT deliberately trying to weaken Prodi by splashing such silliness on their front page? Do they really prefer Berlusconi? Or are they simply unable to resist such juicily foolish quotes from a major figure?)

Turkey and the Constitution

Ohhhhhh, I can’t resist this. Anatole Kaletsky writing in the Times:

Turkey is likely to scupper the strongest argument in favour of ratifying the European constitution: the claim that voting rights among the EU member nations must be reformed to accommodate past and future enlargements. The fact is that, far from preparing the EU for the future, the constitution will have to be torn up if Turkey joins. Turkey?s rapidly growing population, which will overtake Germany?s by 2015, would give it more votes under the new constitution than any other nation. Since an EU with Turkey as the single most powerful member would make no sense to anyone, including even the Turks, enlargement would mean completely rewriting the constitution just five years after the new arrangements are supposed to come into force. While conspiracy theorists suspect that the constitution was drafted to block Turkey?s accession, it looks increasingly like Turkey will sabotage the new constitution.

We do seem to be creating something of a muddle here. Many thanks to Dave at North Sea Diaries for the link and extract.

This summary of yesterday’s Commission discussion on Turkish entry also makes interesting reading.

Alter-European?

Writing in The Guardian under the headline ‘Why I am no longer a European’ Max Hastings explains why, though he remains committed to the idea of Europe, he can no longer support the Constituion. His feelings, I think, represent a growing tendency of people throughout current and future members of the EU to support the ideal of European unity and integration but not necessarily the way in which it is currently being carried out.

It’s a grouping in which I would tentatively include myself and, I suspect, several of my colleagues here on AFOE. The problem comes, I think, from the fact that while there is a growing sense of a common European cultural identity, it’s in danger of being swamped by an overly techno-bureaucratic notion of integration being imposed from above. I’m planning a separate post on European cultural and national identities (hopefully it’ll be done before Christmas) so for now I’ll just look at the main points of Hastings’ article.
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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’s Publius?

“When the proposed Constitution issued from the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, Alexander Hamilton foresaw that opposition to it would be great, and though he thought the document would probably be adopted he couldn’t be sure. Three members of the Convention, all of them prominent, had refused to sign it, and others, including Hamilton’s two fellow delegates from New York, had left before the end of its deliberations. Indeed, the form in which the Constitution was approved gave it the appearance of unanimity: the delegates subscribed to it in the name of their states. This covered over defections and absences; for example, Hamilton alone signed for New York, and at least one delegate would have been unwilling to subscribe in his own name.”

So begins my edition of The Federalist, the collection of 85 essays written by Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the name Publius. (The authors went on to become the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, fourth President and first Chief Justice, respectively.) The essays were written at a speed that would put many bloggers to shame and distributed by the most advanced technology of the time. They address the toughest criticisms leveled at the proposed Constitution, from the charges that a unitary government would trample citizens’ rights and well-established prerogatives to the supremacy of federal law to the separation and blending of powers.

The title of the final essay sums up the argument: “Not perfect but good. Should adopt and seek to amend.”

Europe has had its Convention, and Europe’s governments are now having their Conference. Soon, there will be referenda, with high stakes and uncertain outcomes.

Where’s Publius?