|Thursday, 25 September 2003||
On June 13 the final version of the draft EU
Constitution will be presented by the president of the
‘Convention on the Future of Europe’, former French president
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, in time for the EU Summit in
Thessaloniki, Greece, on June 20-21.
All parties are represented at the Convention:
the highest EU institutions, Member States, candidate countries,
national parliaments . . . and yet, version after version,
‘Giscard’s draft’ remains ‘Giscard’s draft’ till the very
This blueprint will then have to survive the
ravages of an intergovernmental conference by next December in
Rome, where the larger EU Member States will wrangle and haggle
until some distorted version is agreed. But the roadmap towards
European Unity is laid out. It may be a winding road, but it’s
not a long one.
The proposed Constitution would legitimise a
centralised ‘EU State’ with a real EU President and a true EU
government. This is not fringe-talk anymore — it is just a
more explicit rendition of the Convention’s conceptual structure
of the future EU. Even some federalists at the European
Parliament are alarmed at the centralisation that is being
proposed, comparing the outcome to the French Republic more than
the German, or indeed the US federal system.
Meanwhile, the ten Candidate States, having
signed the Accession Treaty last April in Athens, are also
invited to participate before joining the EU in May 2004. These
countries have negotiated their membership in today’s EU with
yesterday’s mind, yet they will be joining tomorrow’s version.
Each of the 25 Member and Candidate States hold veto power over
the Constitutional Treaty, yet no candidate country’s government
is expected to create any ripples.
In the background, the peoples of Europe, if
not oblivious, are simply too happy with European integration to
perceive any threats. The EU looks great and opportunities seem
boundless. It still thrives on the accomplishments of the nation
States that built it, coupled with the freedom of movement that
unification itself has allowed. So the rulers do their
thing, while the people enjoy the bread and circus.
But let us start with Giscard’s Constitutional
I will not go into the details of its
centralising features. That
job was effectively done by Jens-Peter Bonde, MEP and
chairman of the EDD Group in the European Parliament.
I’ll just go briefly through the centralising
The proposed EU Constitution removes the
current rotating system, where each Member State holds a 6-month
term EU Presidency, and replaces it with an EU President who is
elected by the European Council. A common foreign affairs
minister is also proposed. As Bonde points out, on the global
scene the EU would speak and vote with one voice and it would
therefore be seen and treated as one State.
Internally, the EU Commission would
practically become a central government led by a Commission
President that acts as a prime minister, selecting a cabinet of
ministers that would still be called ‘Commissioners’. Each Member
State would propose three candidates, but only 14 Commissioners
are chosen and some Member States would have to do without a
Commissioner. Instead, they would have “junior commissioners”
without portfolios and with no voting rights in the Commission
(the “EU Government”).
This “EU Government” would have the exclusive
right to ‘propose’ EU-wide laws, which have primacy over national
laws. EU legislation would then have to be approved by the
European Council, where every Member State would be represented
by two or three national ministers. The vote, however, is through
a “double qualified majority” vote of 13 of the 25 members,
representing 60% of the EU population. This means that 12 smaller
Member States can be outvoted by the remaining 13, and just three
large States (representing 60% of the population) can actually
veto any proposal.
There is no clear delineation of legislative
competence between the EU and the national governments. Here, the
“principle of EU subsidiarity” would apply. This means that EU-wide
legislation would be proposed whenever the “EU Government”
deems it necessary to do so. The main consequence here is that
there is no effective control over the centralisation of power in
Brussels, even if the European Council would appear to have a say
through ‘qualified majority voting’. It is ultimately up to the
EU Court in Luxembourg to decide over conflict of competence, but
the EU Court’s allegiance is explicitly sworn towards the “common
values” of the European Union.
At the European Parliament, much in line with
current procedures, the larger trans-national parties would be
favoured over smaller parties, with a parliamentary majority that
is allowed to financially discriminate against minority
opposition groups, even “outlawing” them out of existence if
their opposition is seen to counteract against the “common
values” of the EU Constitution. These measures border on
despotism, not parliamentary democracy.
The draft also proposes a ‘Congress of the
Peoples of Europe’ made up of representatives from the European
Parliament (1/3) and national parliaments (2/3). Some have
jokingly compared it with China’s People’s Congress, but this EU
version is more of a debating society than a congress. The EU
Peoples’ Congress would effectively decide and rule over
Jens-Peter Bonde calls Giscard’s draft a
‘coup d’etat‘ against ‘the voters, the citizens and the
‘There are two democratic answers to
Giscard’s proposed coup d’etat,’ writes Bonde. ‘We can aspire for
a genuine parliamentary democracy at a European level, where
European citizens elect the president, as in the USA, with a
congress to pass the laws and elect and control the executive
Government. This is the federalist solution, now partly forgotten
by the federalists in the [Convention's] Praesidium. I do not
believe in a vivid European democracy since there is no “European
people” ready for that. But it is at least a respectable dream
for democracy compared to the draft Constitution which is more of
a blueprint for increased powers for former Prime Ministers,
Presidents and civil servants.‘
‘Or we can endorse an alternative
democratic solution — a “Europe of Democracies” [ . . . ]
where voters and the national parliaments in every Member State
direct and control as much as possible on their own and build an
open, transparent cooperation among the EU Member States for
cross-border issues which can not be dealt with efficiently in a
Bonde sees a European Commission, including
its president, appointed and controlled by national parliaments,
and concerned solely with cross-border issues. The possibility of
the veto is not denied, but it would still be up to the European
Council ‘to decide most laws by a 2/3 majority of Member States’,
representing at least half of the EU population.
As I see it, a “Europe of Democracies” is a
devolved version of the current EU structure. Here, national
voters are at every stage allowed to have their final say through
their parliaments. It is a realistic, pragmatic road, even if
being realistic and pragmatic does not necessarily help in
attaining the ideal hoped for.
Ultimately, Bonde’s alternative is an EU body
that is enabled to receive centralised powers, while the national
veto remains a tool that is thought to restrain the growth of
this central body.
European integrationists would describe the
use of the veto and unanimous decision-making as a cumbersome
way towards unification. But if the veto provides a cumbersome
process, one must ask: cumbersome for whom? Is it cumbersome for
the European peoples to freely populate any part of the EU, or is
it cumbersome for the EU to seize and centralise power?
Perhaps the veto lasts only as long as it can
last. It has a transient nature. In fact, today’s already
centralised EU structure has managed to get thus far on the
beginnings of veto power and unanimous decision-making. It was
only in 1987, when the Single European Act (1986) came into
effect, that a form of qualified majority voting was introduced
to replace the veto in a number of areas — which kept
increasing with every treaty that followed.
You can never step into the same river twice,
a Greek philosopher once wrote. We can never again return to the
nation States of Europe as they were before the turn of the
century. We cannot turn the clock back to the 1970s. We don’t
need to. The direction is not backward, but forward.
Which way forward then would ‘the Ideal’ be?
Is it towards a centralised EU State, or towards a ‘Europe of
democracies’? Or would that be a European fraternity of Free
States or Free Regions?
Let’s switch gear at this junction for some
The European Union is built on ideals. Every
logical step has ideally predetermined the following logical
step, until we will eventually see quite an “obviously logical”
and “ideal” EU structure. Logic, of course, can be inflicted by
that flat-earth perspective which is so counterproductive to life
and wasteful of human resources. Humans had to pass through a
whole period of Christian Inquisition, for example, to finally
realise the wrongs of Inquisition; just as the Soviets did with
Stalin’s version of Lenin’s adaptation of Marxism. And while ‘the
tragically tried’ is repeated in different tones and colours, the
fruit of ‘the untried’ remains rooted in the minds of
Social progression is not as it appears and it
is not necessarily proportionate to time. Medieval times were by
far less cruel than during and after the Renaissance period when
tyranny and despotism reigned. And the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ was
not enlightened at all — the free thinkers of the time were
the ones who were enlightened, and they were reacting to the
atrocities of the established ruling bodies.
Ideals change over time and if you don’t
happen to be in synch with the ‘signs of the times’ you might be
called passé when in fact you’re just being too
avant-garde — avant-garde by the era-load, perhaps by the
whole lifespan of a civilisation. In a few years’ time the
concept of a ‘European fraternity of Free States’ would sound
even more ridiculous than it sounds today . . . until such
time, that is, when a fraternity of Free States, or Regions,
would become not only desirable, but indispensable. When that
happens, it would not just be a new page in European history, but
a new set of volumes.
So how ideal is a centralised State in order
to complete “the ideal” of “unifying” the peoples of Europe in an
“orderly” way? Is a centralised phase a necessary precondition
for a general devolution of power across Europe? Is this
centralised European State what comes in between the nation
States and a ‘union of free communities’?
I will not attempt to answer these questions.
But I believe the circumstances are ripe for the currently
pursued European ideal to be achieved. We are as yet far from the
saturation point, but I believe that EU centralisation is now
nearly impossible to avoid, it can only be postponed.
But going back to Jens-Peter’s Bonde’s
alternative’, it very much depends on the role and
function of the EU body that would oversee cross-border
issues. Ultimately, this is what determines the extent of EU
centralisation, not the national veto.
Let’s briefly explore this aspect.
First, every social structure has its own
life-cycle. And by its very nature, every social structure lives
to grow larger and stronger. A self-empowered governing structure
has much of the power required to centralise and grow
A supranational structure grows in much the
same way. Its growth is determined by its role and function. If
its role is empowered to function top-down, then it would act
upon national jurisdictions for the purpose of control and
self-consolidation. Whenever a supranational entity is empowered
with such a role and function, even if restricted to cross-border
issues, it requires its own laws and its own law-making
mechanisms, and eventually its own enforcement agencies. This
process of empowerment leads to a process of self-empowerment.
And the key to self-empowerment is the power to legislate.
In other words, once given life, there’s this
propensity for self-empowered structures to start feeding and not
stop growing until a saturation point is reached. Unlike
spineless and toothless world bodies that depend on “borrowing”
power, a self-empowered supranational structure grows by seizing
and centralising more powers from national jurisdictions. And on
achieving the power to legislate or “establish policies”, it
gradually enacts those laws and regulations that tend to
perpetuate its existence — no matter what checks and
balances are established, including the veto, including nice
words in the Constitution which sum up to nothing but
This is how the EU has gradually been created.
Its legislative and regulatory powers are already in place, and
now they’re being streamlined, consolidated and framed in such a
way as to solidly establish a self-empowering entity. This power
is said to be made up of the representatives of the peoples of
Europe, and yet, it has a personality of its own. It has its own
To prevent a supranational entity from
becoming a single point of overwhelming power, its role would
need to be limited to a liaison function, such as Interpol’s role
has largely been so far, or the United Nations, where the powers
of member nations are “borrowed”, not permanently transferred for
the purpose of self-perpetuation. Another example is the Council
of Europe, which groups all European States around a Round Table
(the Council of Europe has no connection with the ‘Council of the
European Union’). But the Council of Europe is now an
irrelevance, occasionally used by the European Union to coerce
States that are outside the Union and therefore outside its
direct sphere of influence.
If centralised power cannot grow and
self-perpetuate inside a vacuum the ideal would be that no
central power is created in the first place. There is no need for
centralised power in Europe for the simple reason that power is
(was) already centralised in Member States, many already long in
need of devolution of power. Without centralised power the EU
would function as a “cooperation framework”: a means towards
freedom, not the absolute ruling power above the powers that
So let’s get back to Jens-Peter Bonde’s cross
border issues. Which of these cannot be dealt with efficiently by
national or regional parliaments, while still preserving the free
movement of people, capital, goods and services across borders
(the ‘four freedoms’)?
Is it civil liberties and human rights? Space
technology? Defence? The economy? Justice and home affairs?
Industry? Agriculture? Where does one draw the line? Can
unification take place without a centralised body?
Socially speaking, anything more than the
actual ‘four freedoms’ is superfluous in unifying Europeans. The
existence of EU supranational entities would be justified only if
they could provide genuine safeguards for its members’ citizens,
such as the upholding of genuine human rights standards across
the region, or the embodiment of agreements between interacting
free Member States, or the setting up of a flexible defence set
up or emergency system.
Socially unified Free States would have a
cooperation framework that provides for the four freedoms of
movement. Here, no power is transferred to a centralised body
because there is no such body apart from the Member States
themselves. If there existed a ‘right of refusal’ there is no
need for veto powers that stop whole agreements. In other words,
if EU-wide Law did not exist, no veto could halt the
harmonisation of laws between States wishing to do so, since the
‘right of refusal’ solely concerns the individual Member State.
There would be no fear that a group of States might hijack the
“centre” (as is currently the case with provisions for “enhanced
cooperation” in the Treaty of Nice) because there would be no
centre to hijack.
This framework would of course allow for the
co-existence of different laws in different Member States,
governed only by human rights standards and cooperation
agreements that ensure the ‘four freedoms’. Euro-logic says that
you cannot have freedom of movement without harmonising laws. The
first point here is that harmonisation of laws between Member
States does not necessarily require EU Law. Secondly,
harmonisation of laws is not an absolute necessity, either. If
the European family of nations is truly a family, then the ‘four
freedoms’ alone would cause laws to be harmonised whenever
It is the freedom of movement across borders
that unifies the peoples of Europe, not a centralised EU
government. Yet “governing” these ‘four freedoms’ seems to have
taken a life of its own and is now directing itself towards the
predetermined “ideal” of centralised EU control. A centralised
European State would necessitate special powers of control in
order to contain the diversity that would still exist in Europe.
The two — centralisation and control — go together
symbiotically as one necessitates the other, creating a
spiralling, self-perpetuating motion that can regress only if the
motion is caused to cease and the whole system
collapses . . .
Kevin Ellul Bonici is a criminal justice
specialist currently working in Brussels. Email: email@example.com.
from The Laissez
Faire Electronic Times, Vol 2, No 21, June 2,
2003: A Constitution for a Single European State, Part 1