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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Problems with the EU Constitution


Problems with the EU Constitution  

May 2005

Given the power of statist actors within its configuration, one would expect that the next stage of the EU’s development process will be towards less centralization with a greater emphasis on multi-speed enactments of EU policy across nation state members. This would entail a political system closer to a loose inter-national formation than the federation that the technocratic ideologues had planned (1). However the EU elite has apparently decided that such a loose confederation cannot adequately reform its internal market program nor the institutions designed to accommodate further non-disruptive, economic integration. It is for these reasons perhaps that the Euro elite desires a more centralised and less decentralised approach to fiscal and political affairs, as embedded in the current Constitutional discussions. It is however a bold gamble to suppose that further centralisation will force open the EU market.

The current draft Constitution which needs to be ratified by the member states and which is chaired by Valery Discard D’Estaing, is charged with creating a document which would allow the EU more decisive and ‘joint’ decision-making powers. This Constitutional process is an attempt to create a single text, which would codify the various and overlapping treaties that have created some incoherence in the EU structure. It is also to provide a clear statement of ‘what is Europe’, its vision and purpose in the world, and how Europe would continue to develop into the future. Most importantly it was to provide clarity and unity of purpose that the average citizen could understand, emotionally, intellectually and politically.

As it now stands the current Constitution is a veritable muddle of ideas that fail to adequately resolve any of the above-mentioned issues. Its main intent is to give the EU more power versus the nation states. Currently the EU accounts for 50 % or more of national legislation but importantly it does not control pensions, welfare, or education all of which are still managed [for the time being it needs to be stressed] at national levels. The Federal EU budget is only 1 % of the total GDP of its member states as opposed to 24 % in the USA. The EU has a long way to go to achieve an actor coherency that can challenge the USA. This fiscal and political ‘deficit’ is exactly what the Constitution is really trying to redress. It is rather clear that the intention of the Constitutional process is to drive the EU towards a more centralized, and powerful Federal model, premised upon the American experience.

There are a number of problems with this vision. The main issue with the EU’s political construction and its incipient Constitution is the lack of coherence in discussing the parameters, limits and the breakdown of ‘competences’ or roles between EU institutions themselves and between EU institutions and the nation states. Not only are competences left undefined in the Constitution, the principle of subsidiarity which has been at the heart of the EU integration process, has been thwarted. The current Constitution’s text does not address what is meant by ‘shared competences’ over a wide range of areas. Article 9 mentions that subsidiarity is subordinate to the Union’s objectives which in effect means that the EU can enforce its mandate on a wide range of economic and social objectives transgressing nation state power. The lack of a clear and precise set of checks, balances and definitions of role and power bodes ill for the future of the EU.

Along with this mistake the Constitution is riddled with all sorts of compromises and half thoughts. For instance there is a Charter of Rights, which covers a wide range of socio-economic ground including free job placement as a ‘fundamental’ right. Currently such a Charter affects somewhat bizarrely, only Union employees. But the European Court of Justice could easily extend this Charter to all citizens. One has to ask what is the point of including a Charter that is really a job benefits scheme for Union workers inside a Constitution for the entire citizenry? It is rather obvious that such a Charter would be used in legal cases to extend the rights to the average citizen, if not immediately, certainly over time. The current limitation on its power to affect only Union workers is a trade off with the British who believe that they can limit its general implementation. To believe this is reckless and probably quite wrong.

The political and statist processes designed to manage the EU’s development lack the coherency and dynamism and democratic legitimacy to enforce wide ranging supra-national market and economic reform. Instead of spending time and effort and ennobling a proper and legitimate constitution with liberal checks and balances, the EU elite is taking the faster road through an increase in the EU’s institutional power, and the overriding of national subsidiarity. At least this appears to be the intention of the current Constitutional direction. As Valery Discard D’Estaing admitted, "I think we could foresee a single representative at least for the euro zone [at the IMF and UNO for example]…One day, if there's a European constituency, there could be a European president."(2) This is certainly his dream and vision; a solidified EU citizenry and Federal state with powers that mimic the US Constitution. Sadly the current EU Constitution has none of the constraints and division of powers of its US counterpart.

A European constituency is also, in reality, a far off concept. Political objectives and national aspirations will impede peaceful pan-EU constituency development and political centralization. Even if the Constitution as it now stands, somehow miraculously winds its wind to being approved, national politics will challenge its legitimacy and the concept that the EU is a unitary actor in any of ‘high’ political domains of defense, foreign policy and even fiscal policy. An obvious example is the support by most of the EU for the US position on Gulf War II, in direct and spiteful opposition of France and Germany. The ‘new Europe’ of states in central and Eastern Europe certainly feel more inclined to trust the Americans than either the French or Germans.

These political challenges and the enormous effort and allocation of capital and resources to effect a stable integration of the CEEC makes it highly doubtful that the EU can concentrate enough resources, political will and voter support to undertake significant reform and socio-economic institutional change concomitantly. In that regard the Constitution might be a botched effort and a dangerous one at that. There is importantly, little evidence that political preferences, interests and motivations within Europe, are coalescing around shared ideals, values, or principles especially in foreign policy, fiscal policy or defence. These national prerogatives and inter-state dichotomies will naturally affect internal economic integration. Nation states even in ‘post-modern’ Europe are still driven by national objectives and concerns about wealth, prestige and social cohesion. The creation of a Constitution that is cluttered, weak, ambiguous and based on the reality of a deepening economic crisis is simply unsound politics.

1) Some experts deny this expecting that even fiscal matters might be further centralised and that nation states might not have complete freedom (even beyond the Maastricht treaty) at some point in the future to manage national budgets. Such analysts cite the rise of a fiscal equivalent of the ECB.

2) WSJ, April 25 2003.


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