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.

8 thoughts on “The drafting of the constitution

  1. I agree that politics and the european institutions may need the constitution.. but not the people..

    only when the european people feel that they need the constitution, a constitution must be written..

    now is just too soon..

  2. EuroSavant – “Commentary on the European non-English-language press” – continues to cover the ongoing EU draft Constitution Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), by translating and commenting on press reports in the European non-English-language press. For example, I covered the (triumphant) view of the latest foreign ministers’ meeting in Naples in the Polish press here. And I’m preparing for a number of days of intense weblogging next week, during and after the upcoming decisive European Union summit in Brussels. It should be a wild ride – and success is by no means assured. Stay tuned!

  3. Two straight questions:

    How will the new Constitution help to reduce the persistently high unemployment rate in the Eurozone?

    How will the new Constitution help to curb fraud in the EU Commission?

  4. Bob,
    I think that those matters are not to be tackled in any Constitution, since their causes vary with time and circumstances.

    DSW

  5. Have any of you read Gisela Stuart’s piece in the Sunday Times? Given that she is a slavishly loyal Blairite, and was a member of the 13 strong Preasidium to the European Convention it makes startling reading. her final words should give you a flavour of the piece, “I repeat. The Government does not have to accept it”. Sadly I cannot link to it as it is behind the subscription firewall but I advise you to take a look

  6. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has been faithfully running a box several times a week in its front news section about the technical details of one bit of the Constitution or another. I only have time for one German paper a day, but it’s a very serious national broadsheet. Would suspect that the Sueddeutsche and Handelsblatt have had good coverage, too. So there’s definitely been serious media attention in EU Europe’s most populous country.

  7. Antoni,
    You’re right about about the constitution and unemployment. But I think that Bob’s right to ask should/would the constitution address fraud.

    If the constitution does not address the inherent eventual onset of corruption, that only serves to shorten its useful lifetime.

    The American Constitution attempts to do so by separating Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers and a free press …and that’s working real well these days isn’t it ?

  8. From Gisela Stuart, Britain’s official representative, on the convention drafting the constitution:

    “From my experience at the convention, it is clear that the real reason for the constitution – and it’s main impact – is the political deepening of the Union. This objective was brought home to me when I was told on numerous occasions: ‘You and the British may not accept this yet, but you will in a few years’ time.’

    “Not once in the 16 months I spent on the convention did representatives question whether deeper integration is what the people of Europe want…”

    – from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3299905.stm

    See also The Guardian report with the introduction to Gisela Stuart’s Fabian pamphlet at: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/eu/story/0,9061,1102439,00.html

    “In a Fabian Society pamphlet to be published on Wednesday, Ms Stuart says the draft, prepared over 16 months by the convention headed by Vale’ry Giscard D’Estaing, a former French president, is based on a structure reflecting the political and economic attitudes of 50 years ago.

    “‘The real issue to be addressed is whether this model for Europe is any longer the most suitable,’ she says. ‘I used to enjoy driving my old Mini but as it became unroadworthy I knew something else was needed.'”

    – from the Financial Times for 8 December (subscription required).

    What comes across to me is that the drafting of the Constitution was very much a top-down affair in which it was taken for granted that convention members would automatically endorse whatever Giscard D’Estaing passed down.

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