Friday, 29 October 2004

Drop the EU constitution … Make space for a real debate on the future of Europe

Today the leaders of the EU countries are signing the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe”. This Constitution is the result of an attempt to review the old EC/EU treaties of nearly fifty years back and deal with the EU’s well recognised problems of lack of democracy and transparency.

Unfortunately what has resulted is a rewriting of the old post-World War 2 treaties, dressed in an institutional framework that furthers the Federal ambitions of those who seek to turn the EU into a supranational State, a superpower in the world, as envisaged by Schuman and Monnet in the 1950s. This EU State would not only have its own flag, anthem, motto and national day, but would have a foreign policy monopoly, growing military power, a single currency, citizenship, common law, and the right to further its powers without the consent of the national parliaments.

This is something fundamentally different from a democratic co-operation between independent sovereign states. For the first time in an EC/EU treaty it states that this Constitution and law adopted under it “shall have primacy over the law of the Member States.” The proposed EU Constitution thus overrides the national Constitutions of its Member States.

If this move towards a European State were a move towards a democratic Federation like the USA or Germany, criticism of it would mainly emphasise the impossibility of creating such a State in such a short period of time, and would question the necessity of the project. For such a State to be viable and endure would require a common political debate among its citizens. That in turn would require a common language, common media and a community solidarity across Europe that cannot realistically be expected within this century at least. And where is the urge for this amongst the peoples of Europe? It does not exist.

The European integrationist project is already distorting public debate and forcing it into disputes about the speed and extent of the EU’s growing powers and their reduction of the powers of national parliaments and electorates. The diversity that is stated to be a basic value of the proposed Constitution is diminishing already in face of numerous EU policies. Why does the EU Commission and Council of Ministers set about “harmonizing” our societies to such extent? In some cases of course this pressure forces a country to adopt good measures they might not else accept, but is it not a democratic value that such measures should be approved by the public concerned and their elected representatives in their country?

In addition to the basic objection to an EU State and Superpower on democratic grounds, there is the criticism that stems from the natural co-existence of different ideological positions within the Union. The EU Constitution is not politically neutral when it comes to ideology, as a proper Constitution should be. At its core is an historically unique combination of certain Left and Right policies that some have described as including the worst of both worlds. The EU supports a huge bureaucracy that seeks to regulate every product and extend its legislative control into ever more areas of life. At the same time the EU promotes the interests of the largest European-based transnational companies. The Constitution’s provisions for free movement of capital between the EU and the rest of the world aim to assist these in moving to where wages are low and environmental policies are weak, and the extensive harmonizing of products is aimed at giving them advantages of scale.

By forcing their version of free trade and undistorted competition on its countries

Controversial issues of Left and Right – and newer political disputes – should be left to ongoing debate amongst the peoples of Europe, not fixed as constitutional imperatives in a document that will be virtually impossible to change on such fundamentals if it should be ratified.

We, the undersigned, think that a review of the existing treaties of the European Union/Community is highly desirable. The importance of the democratic principles at issue is shown by the fact that referendums on the proposed Constitution are being held in several countries. This is also a promising sign of democratic decency from the leaders who have allowed referendums. And those leaders who up to now have rejected the idea can still change their minds and allow referendums, to allow their citizens into the debate and the decision.

What will happen if this proposed EU Constitution is rejected somewhere, which at present seems rather likely? Under EU law that should mean the Constitution is dead, for it cannot come into force for any country unless it comes into force for all. There is, however, a risk that the EU leaders and Institutions will try to arrange second referendums in countries that turn down the Constitution, adding some minor Protocol or other, but without changing anything of substance, and then work hard to have their populations reversing their rejection, as has been done with EU treaties in some countries before. We warn against any such attempt. A people’s democratic vote should be respected. If this happens, a “No” should mean “No”.

The rejection of the Constitution in any EU country will that way be an excellent opportunity to stop and think about what kind of European co-operation and what kind of Europe we actually want. That means all citizens of our various countries, not only the political and bureaucratic elites. What is the great hurry to have an EU State Constitution? What we really need is time for a thorough broad debate amongst our peoples to bring forth a vision, possibly many visions, of the future. And this goes for all of Europe. It is a important to allow the peoples in the now applying countries to take part in the debate, and not have to be faced with a finished Constitution as the only alternative. And why not include the fully independent states in the debate also, if their peoples want?

Such a pan-European popular debate should examine the ways and means to a truly popular and non-elitist structure for European co-operation, applying the basic principles of democracy. The outcome may be something wholly incompatible with the present EU structures, or it may be something the EU can develop into in a planned way. That is however a second stage in this necessary debate. What is needed is public discussion on something other that the fait-accompli of this EU Constitution, drawn up by a tiny handful of Europe’s top politicians and bureaucrats, which is being foisted on the 450 million citizens of the EU member countries, to be forced upon the applying countries as well.

We appeal to the peoples of the EU countries that are holding referendums to vote against the proposed EU Constitution. And we ask the governments in those countries who have not yet accepted a referendum to join the other countries in doing so. And we ask the leaders in the rest of Europe to encourage a debate that is broader than whether their countries should join the present EU or not. In such a way we can create time and space for a real public debate on Europe’s future and the best way to encourage real international cooperation on our continent in this dynamic modern world.

Signed by a number of leaders of organisations from different EU countries (and applicants)

See for more info.