Friday, May 27, 2005

The EU: A Little Crisis Can be a Good Thing

Panic has set in at the EU as both France and the Netherlands seem poised to vote no on the new EU "Constitution." (Which must be approved by all 25 members to take effect.)

In our view, the "Constitution" tries to do too much. Portions cited by the "yes" and "no" campaigns (e.g., enshrinement of social and economic policy) have no place in a constitution. A constitution exists to establish the basic structure of government - the powers granted and restricted.
It would strengthen social policy in the bloc by setting out goals such as full employment and equality between men and women.
That's nice, but what does it have to do with the structure and powers of government? Maybe it should include the long-term goals of the European Space Agency too? (They seem, for the most part, to have limited themselves to the meaningless content of Article III-155: "The Union shall establish any appropriate relations with the European Space Agency.")

As far as we can tell from this side of the pond, the "yes" campaign has centered around two basic messages: (1) vote yes because we want you to and (2) everybody else is doing it, so if you vote no we'll keep asking until you say yes.

Odd, but interesting, from a BBC reporter in Paris:

The 'Yes' campaign hasn't been well handled. Sending a copy of the constitution to every householder may have been a worthy democratic move, but it wasn't very popular.

In the building where my flat is, the letter-boxes were jammed with 'Yes' literature. The vast text was too finely printed, making it seem like a dodgy insurance prospectus, and I thought the explanation that came with it, treated me like an idiot.

We downloaded the 325 page-document from the BBC and skimmed it. Here's an example of a provision of Constitutional importance:
Without prejudice to Article 5 of the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, measures for the production of statistics shall be laid down by a European law or framework law where necessary for the performance of the Union's activities. (Article III-335)
One of the "Constitution's" main authors notes the many problems of the final draft:

The European Constitution should still be praised for setting out Europe’s common values, and defining the powers of the institutions that run it.

But key sections “got out of control” in two years of drafting. Its authors took on too much, and tried to solve problems they were not equipped to tackle. They were too ambitious, and they started two years too late.

That is the verdict of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, one of the main authors of the tome which polls suggest will be rejected by French voters on Sunday, very likely followed by the Dutch on Wednesday. “Why did it get so big? We tried to do it all,” he said yesterday.


He thinks that “the parts that got out of control were defence and foreign policy”, as well as some of the legal framework. The 181-page “part III” is particularly at fault, he now feels.

“It is an extension of part I into actual policies with not enough excisions. We didn’t want to knock out bits.”

Part III contains almost every existing treaty, including the Growth and Stability Pact, the hugely controversial financial rules for countries which have adopted the euro currency.

“We were the wrong body [to tackle that]”, he offers, because of the financial complexity and political sensitivity. “We couldn’t have amended it.”


Looking back over the whole exercise, he concludes: “I don’t think we did it incompetently. But it would have been easier to sell to the public as a short, 60-article, institutional treaty.”

Europeans (as well as interested persons worldwide) would be well served by a constitution that can actually be read and understood without extensive study. Internationally, how much influence would the U.S. Constitution have had if it included every federal statute?

Update, May 29: French Voters Reject EU Charter

Update, May 30: Der Spiegel: Chirac Gets French Fried


April said...

Man, if I lived in the EU then my job would be covered in the constitution.

What happens when they need to change something? Would ever little change result in a constitutional amendment?

April said...

And one more thing...if I am going to study the EU in grad school I had better get moving.

Nick said...

I think this is what Lord Kerr was acknowledging. Too much stuff just got dropped into the "Constitution." Not only does that make it really hard to change, but it makes the "Constitution" incomprehensibly large. I already have a hard enough time following their endless bureaucracies.

Maybe this will benefit April since the world will need more EU and country analysts than if more centralization was occurring.