Monday, February 07, 2005

European constitution: NO

The new treaty to establish the Constitution of the European Union - which effectively means the proposed future European constitution - has roughly 353 pages. I guess that the fraction of the people who are gonna read it will be negligible.

Before I looked at the Czech translation of the document, my opinion was "70 percent against, 30 percent for". Now it is "95 percent against, 5 percent for". I would not say that it is a democratic constitution. Is started with all the symbols that usually define a country (although many people say that the EU would not be a single country), titles for all the national leaders and kings, and other fun stuff. After a couple of pages, it started to get closer to the essence. The text explained that the European laws would have higher priority than the national laws. The main organs of the EU should be
  • The European Parliament
  • The European Soviet
  • The Soviet of Ministers
  • The European Commission
  • The European Court

Well, I admit that my translation of some of these terms back to English is not the standard one (and others use the word "Council" instead of the "Soviet") - but mine is arguably the more appropriate one. The proposed text is full of clichés, but I don't care about this stuff. What is important is how the system is supposed to work.

The Parliament and the Soviets

The European Parliament is a kind of parliament. That's fine. It's the only organ elected in the elections. However, these multi-national elections are a big joke. The turnout in the last elections to the EU was less than 20 percent in many countries. The usual political questions that normally define democracy don't work at the supranational level. The most important task for the deputies is to defend the national interests of their nations. It's pretty clear that this is how the situation is viewed by most citizens. And because most candidates propose similar strategies, it does not really matter much whom you vote for.

Let me mention a few examples.

It would not be impossible for me to vote for a Czech communist if I thought that he or she would be a more reliable defender against the Sudeten German former Nazis who would be more than happy to get some houses in Bohemia back, for example. (Incidentally, Vladimír Remek, the world's first non-Soviet non-American astronaut, is a moderate deputy for the Czech communisty party.) I can't imagine that I would ever develop an emotional relation to a Greek party - simply because Greek sounds Greek to me. Only a tiny portion of the EU parliament is relevant for me as a citizen of a medium-size or smaller nation. On the other hand, I could also support SPD and German Greens because they help to create a politically weaker Germany which is not such a bad thing after all. The logic of politics is completely mixed up and does not follow the ordinary laws.

However, the Parliament is the most transparent among the European organs. The mechanisms how the other organs are chosen - and fired - remains completely obscure. Well, there is some court whose judges come from all the member countries. But who is the one who actually decides a particular trial - especially one that deals with a row between different nations - remains ambiguous. The European court is composed of the European court (a kind of recursive, fractal arrangement), a tribunal, and specialized courts.

But the most bizarre ones are the executive organs, the Soviets. I just can't understand why there are three top Soviets like that. Where does the number three come from? Is it related to the number of lepton generations? :-) What is the real difference between the Soviet of the Ministers, the European Soviet (or the European Council), and the European Commission? It's totally unclear to me what's the overall difference between their functions although I've seen several examples how their functions differ.

Let's imagine that the European commission is a kind of federal government that cares about the whole territory, while the two other Soviets represent the interests of the member states. But what's the difference between these two Soviets - the European Soviet and the Soviet of Ministers? How many people in Europe know the answer?

As far as I understand, there are differences in the composition of these three Soviets. The European Soviet contains the prime ministers of the member countries, or some equivalents, while the Soviet of Ministers includes random ministers from all these countries. They always choose different ministers. At least this is what the proposed constitution says.

These two Soviets also sound relatively penetrable. The European Soviet includes the national bosses while the Soviet of Ministers includes random ministers, although the probability measure is not quite determined. But the European Commission is probably the strangest committee among these three. Much like the other Soviets, its goal is to support the European Union. Where do the members come from? They are being chosen according to [various politically correct criteria]. Well, that's not too illuminating because it still does not say who is making the decision.

Finally, after several pages, you will at least see that the chairman of the European Commission is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Soviet (the national prime ministers). One of the important members of one of these Soviets is the European minister of foreign affairs - quite a job. Whether and how can a citizen influence who will get this job remains very unclear.

For the individual countries, it is important what's their weight in the European Soviet and how big a role the national Parliaments play in various processes. I've obtained an "abstract" in which all these things are explained much more comprehensibly than in the full text of the constitution, but I guess that most non-European readers would not be interested in these topics at all.

Social issues and the environment

The constitution then answers a lot of questions about the human rights, the social issues, trade, environmental issues, the budget, monetary, fiscal, and a lot of other topics. In some sense, the constitution is analogous to a constitution of an islamic or communist totalitarian country: it answers too many questions that should only be answered by the winners of democratic elections. For example, the Union must "support the highest levels of environmental protection where the contaminators must always pay." With such a formulation in the constitution, it could become difficult for Italy and others e.g. to reject any future version of the Kyoto protocol - even though this is obviously Italy's decision right now.

These things simply shouldn't be answered in a democratic constitution. The text also says a lot of things about the space program, the co-operation between the universities, about the "European dimension of sports", agriculture, fish. I have not seen a chapter about the infamous eurobananas, but maybe it's only because I have not read the proposal carefully.

The unified foreign policy

The foreign policy is arguably the most controversial part of the constitution. The constitution presents hundreds of pages of personal viewpoints of its authors. For example, the most important goal of the foreign policy with respect to the third countries is to fight poverty. The European Union must follow all the documents of the United Nations, including the Helsinki and Paris conventions, the text explains.

It also seems that the constitution defines a unified European defense. Although the document mentions a lot of rather irrelevant treaties related to the United Nations, it never mentions NATO or the U.S. So my feeling is that the authors effectively want to cancel NATO and the transatlantic link - something that would be enough for me to reject the proposed document. But there are tens of fundamental unacceptable concepts like that.

The member countries are not allowed to do anything that would contradict the opinion of the European Soviets, the text argues. All decisions must be unanimous - this weird concept is repeated roughly 50 times in various contexts - and even if it looks like the agreement is not unanimous, the exceptional state (there can only be one) must remain silent and behave exactly as if the decision were unanimous.

You know, the constitution lists many things that I may support - like promoting free trade - but it also enumerates a lot of things that I would not support. Other people will have similar feelings, although the precise subset of the statements that they agree with will differ from mine.

Summary - hopeless

I don't believe that this document will survive. It does not look like a constitution that should underlie Europe for decades or centuries. It looks like a rather detailed program of a centrist candidate in 2004 - something that will be much less relevant already in 2006. The fact that it's centrist does not mean that it will be supported by the majority of the people. There are good reasons to believe that the constitution will be rejected not only by the fans of the Eurosceptic parties, but also by the political left. For example, the French labor unions are controlled by the communists - and none of these people is too happy about the comments about the free markets that may be found at many places of the constitution.

The constitution is obviously incompatible with most of the current documents - for example the Czech constitution. It's not just about the fact that the national sovereignity would diminish - and the European constitution allows to ratify even the laws that clearly disagree with the national constitution(s). The inconsistency reaches many other important legal levels. For example, the principle separating the roles between the executive branch of the government and the lawmakers is not respected. In Europe, all these things would be mixed up and the role of the Parliaments - both the national ones as well as the European Parliament - would essentially disappear: the new European laws would be proposed by the European commission and approved by the Soviet of the Ministers (!).

Some of these clear bugs of the constitution could be fixed, but it's too late. The "elite" has created this document without discussing it with others, and it only asks others whether they agree with it. The answer of a sufficient number of referendums will be "no", of course. For example, the British voters will hardly be intimidated by their government's brainwashing - Tony Blair et al. argue that the constitution won't cripple Britain's sovereignity, which is of course ridiculous because the text of the constitution repeatedly emphasizes that the member countries can't do anything at all that could damage the unity, and so on. The text, if "properly" interpreted, could be used by the French to prevent Britain and others from supporting the U.S. military operations, for example.

The support of the European constitution is less than 30 percent, much like in Britain, also in Cyprus, Sweden, and Ireland. The Dutchmen also feel uneasy about a tighter EU because they pay far too much to the budget and they don't like the increasing regulation. In the Czech Republic, there is a consensus against the constitution between the supporters of the strongest party, the center-right ODS, as well as the communists, and the numbers showing that most of the voters would choose "Yes" show wishful thinking rather than reality.

In the European Parliament, 68 percent of the Czech deputies voted against the constitution, while 71 percent of Polish representatives were either against or abstained. 59 percent of the British M.E.P.'s were against.

I believe that the very concept of the Union's laws being more important than the national laws is highly problematic: perhaps even the idea that Europe should have a unified constitution in the near future is unjustified. This large document, even though it is not too promising, has been translated to 20+ languages, and thousands of very important people are being paid for its development and promotion. What a waste of money.


  1. Wow, finally something we agree upon!

  2. As an American I am really not interested how the European Constitution is written or how many support it has. That's your internal affair.

    But, isn't it a whole idea that you Europeans want to form a union so that you could become a formidable force in deciding world affairs? Individually each European country is so tiny, that many of these countries have to use outsourcing to have their currencies printed. That a whole ago if you want to go around a bit in Europe you have to keep a dozen different changes in your pocket, and that's the whole reason you decided to use just one currency so your pockets won't be so saggy.

    And don't forget, Czech begged to be accepted into EU in the first place since it eagerly wanted to break rank from the eastern bloc and join the western one. If you change your mind, it is never too late to break away again from EU. I just don't know what do you have to complain here?

  3. A brilliant analysis of the horrors of the EU. As you say, the 'constitution' is a creation of a self serving 'elite' (funny you should mention our Dear Tony in that context) who would foist it upon an unwitting continent. As has been said in other contexts : Just Say No

  4. Sounds pretty hopeless alright. Any constitution over 1000 words or so is probably doomed. Europe is now stuck in a difficult place between unity and division. There seem to me to be three possible scenarios: 1) breakup, with Europe becoming a patchwork of client states of the new Great Powers, whoever they may be, 2) Unity, with requisite loss of national identities, or 3) some miraculous invention of a stable middle way that the world hasn't yet seen before. Number 1 with the disintegration and irrelevance that happened to Greece in the ancient world seems to be the most likely.

  5. Great post. I have to agree with you.

  6. Well those EU countries that will have a referendum on this collectivist document, they are lucky. The Belgian government, in its unlimited wisdom and intuition for what is best for the people, decided that the EU constitution proposal is too technical and too complicated for the average citizen, so they will say "YES" themselves.
    It's a "argument" that they can recycle for fighting democracy in the future.


  7. Good post! I'm also reading the proposed constitution (one of the few people indeed). We are lucky to be able to vote on it in the Netherlands. Even thought it's only as advice.
    I also come to the conclusion that it's bad constitution (but on other grounds than you).
    So we have to fight it. Don't just accept it.