Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Problem With The Consitution

The major problem with the EU constitution is, as with most things European, due to the fact that there is no way it can capture the popular imagination. It is an unwieldy and forbidding document, and doesn't provide any sort of popular symbol. I argued that one of the biggest problems with the Euro was that the notes had such unimaginative designs (a point picked up on in many European newspapers at the time) - if there is going to be popular support for the EU, there needs to be the creation of European figures. Stresemann, Charlemagne, even Schuman - we need to create these as European figures if people are to feel comfortable with the concept of Brussels. Otherwise it will just be an unaccountable labyrinth of characterless corridors.

Neil Kinnock is now pronouncing that the constitutional treaty is "dead". Whether he means by this that the whole concept of a constitution is dead, I don't know. Certainly many of the EU naysayers have been pronouncing this, and it is difficult to see how a treaty along similar lines can be obtained.

But lost in all this has been the question of whether a treaty along similar lines is actually desirable? Far from being a constitution drawn up in the usual manner, with a specially elected convention specifically for the purpose, it was carried out in the backroom deals so characteristic of Brussels, and so inimical to Europeans of whatever political outlook. Furthermore, far from being the "tidying-up" exercise that Messrs Blair and Straw have so disingenuously presented it as, it marks a fundamental change in the relationship between nation-states and the EU. I do not see this as sinister, but the EU is never going to win the hearts and minds of Europe unless it is upfront about this.

So, rather than this unwieldy and vague document, the way ahead should be clear. A brief but unequivocal statement of the principles of the EU, and its citizens' fundamental rights, should form one part of the document. In it should be contained the explicit statement that all rights not freely given to the EU by the member states remain matters of national jurisdiction. Then, the weightier section of how the EU operates procedurally should be sorted out. That is all that it needs to contain. And a constitution based on those principles can make a strong case for both necessity and utility, and maybe even win some popular support.