Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Europe stumbles forward?

The French and the Dutch have rejected the European Constitution; they have sent a clear message--but the content of the message isn't necessarily clear. Most would agree that the people were uncomfortable approving a document whose consequences they were unsure of and that they were reacting against the actions of elites, who they saw as too detached from the reality and from popular opinion.

In retrospect, this European Constitution was not the right one; it might have fulfilled the functions of consolidating treaties, but it failed to bring the Union and its institutions closer to the people. How could that have been done? First, by actions of the Union which showed that it truly respects the principle of subsidiarity; the Union institutions have been far too willing to usurp powers better left to individual states and their governments. Second, elections would be necessary--elections for a powerful body capable of, at the least, monitoring the EU bureaucracy and ensuring that it follows the priorities of the "European public" (if such a thing exists). Now, if there is no European public, can there really be a body that reflects its views? If any body is going to reflect the views of the European people as a whole, it must be a more powerful Parliament with pan-European political parties, fighting elections on a basis of European platforms and within a framework of clearly identified and less flexible powers (that cannot be continually enlarged without popular consultation).

So how should this Constitution have been ratified? National governments must ratify the treaty, as it is still an international treaty; but a document of such importance that it can rightfully be called a "constitution" should be ratified by the people, and should have been done by simultaneous vote in all 25 member states. If such a step was not possible with the document as written, it should have been amended, and indeed, that is now the least that will happen.

A new Constitution should attempt to more greatly define the powers of the Union and the relationship between the Union, the national governments, and the people, not relying solely on those national governments as the liaison between the Union and the people. A new Constitution should fix the Union's powers, not enabling it to continually aggrandize its scope and claim new authority without the approval of the people, who do not vote for political parties in domestic elections on the basis of Europe. And a new Constitution should not be adopted for the sake of adoption; it should be adopted only when there is a fundamental agreement on the type of Europe being adopted, and not a repetition of the same compromise, fudged to look like something new.

When there is a Constitution that all 25 member states are confident of putting to their people, on the same day, to create a true debate about Europe--and such a Constitution can be approved--then it is the right document for Europe.

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