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Debate: European Union constitution

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Should the European Union adopt a single, written constitution?

Background and context

The European Constitution is an attempt to provide an overall restructuring of the current EU institutional layout in order to deal with important challenges such as continuing EU enlargement, the EU integration process and the increasing role the EU is expected in play in world affairs. The Constitutional Treaty was signed in Rome on the 29th October 2004. It combines and extends the different treaties on which the EU is currently based and presents it as one document that needs to be ratified by all member states in order to take action. The treaty document was prepared by a special EU Constitutional Commission, and proposes a series of important reforms.
These include combining the three pillars into which current EU policy is divided, and clarifying in more detail the role of the EU Parliament, Council and Commission, giving almost exclusive legislative initiative and executive power to the Commission. They would also extend the co-decision legislative procedure (EU laws have to be jointly adopted by the Parliament and the Council) to the majority (95%) of EU decisions. Other major proposed reforms include the creation of a post for an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs who will act as the main representative of the EU in world forums under a common foreign and security policy framework, as well as the creation of a European Council with a rotating presidency – essentially an EU president. The document also provides for an increase in the number of seats in the EU Parliament and a redefinition of the rules on qualified majority voting in the EU Council, whereby decisions will require the support of 55% of the member states representing 65% of the population. The Constitutional Treaty has already been ratified by national parliaments or referenda in 15 EU member states - Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain – yet has been rejected in referenda by France and the Netherlands on 29th May and 1st June 2005 respectively. The no votes need not stop the ratification process elsewhere, but the Constitutional Treaty cannot come into effect without the approval of all 25 EU states. In addition to the No votes in France and the Netherlands, ratification is uncertain in some of the other eight member states. Denmark and Poland in particular could well reject the proposals, and the British government has also promised a referendum if the Constitutional Treaty is ever put to the vote in the EU’s most eurosceptic member state. These circumstances have raised a series of questions and debates with regards to the current text of the EU Constitution and the readiness to adopt it. This topic is aimed at those EU states who have yet to ratify the Constitution, and especially voters in countries where it may be put to a referendum. It may also be relevant to France and the Netherlands if those countries are asked to vote a second time on the same EU issue (as Denmark and Ireland have with past treaties, both voting “Yes” on the second occasion after an initial “No”).[1]
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Argument #1

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Yes

A comprehensive reform of the EU institutional layout is a must given the pressures created by the continuing enlargement process as well as the integration process. The existing EU architecture worked fine for a community of six states, and even for a group of twelve, but it is now desperately outdated and unsuitable for a Union of 25 or more. For example, the national veto still applies in many areas, meaning one state can block progress even when the other 24 agree. Even when agreement is reached, it is often agonisingly slow and difficult to implement. The Constitutional Treaty is the only comprehensive tool that exists right now in order to allow for this necessary overall reform, and has received more support from member states as well as different EU institutions than any other attempts for reform. The Commission preparing the Constitutional Treaty has spent many years and resources consulting with the different actors involved, gathering information and putting some of Europe’s most creative brains at work in order to finalize the document that has now been presented to the different member states.[2]

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No

While comprehensive EU reform is desirable in theory, in practice the EU has proven not to be ready for such a radical step. Historically, the EU has evolved by taking a series of little steps, as opposed to taking big jumps with big risks. The EU is now facing a number of different crises – from the economic crisis that has affected the countries that have traditionally led the EU such as Germany and France, to the social crisis that has spread throughout most of the EU members in the form of increasing opposition to migrants and a worrisome rise in nationalist and extremist parties and policies. The current terrorist threats that have already caused loss of lives in the UK and Spain are also applying a different set of pressures that will be addressed more efficiently at the national level.[3]


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Argument #2

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Yes

A constitution would help resolve the EU's larger problems: the need to increase its credibility, legitimacy and efficiency. Despite the difficulties, overall reform is badly needed and there is a general recognition that this is indeed the case. Doing it all at once under the Constitutional Treaty insures an increased efficiency, saving a series of important costs that additional meetings and referendums for smaller reforms would necessarily require. EU functionaries and members of the academia all agree that the Treaty of Nice alone simply cannot support all the changes that EU has recently undergone and will continue to undergo with the enlargement process, and point to the Constitutional Treaty as the only alternative to change and reform. The EU has no Plan B.[4]

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No

A constitutional treaty remains simply unlikely to pass. The Plan A of a Constitutional treaty is simply not realistic given the two ‘No’ votes that it has already encountered in France and the Netherlands, as well as a clear opposition that it is likely to encounter in the UK and Poland. Tony Blair has openly declared that the Constitutional Treaty is simply not a priority right now and that Britain not likely to vote on it, while the Polish prime minister has also made it very clear that Poland is not likely to ratify it either - both because of a lack of popular support as well as a lack of parliamentary enthusiasm. The Plan B that is most evident and that in many ways has already been applied, is to adopt the uncontroversial parts of the Constitutional Treaty while allowing more debate about the more contested parts.[5]


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Argument #3

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Yes

The ‘No’ votes in France and Netherlands were due to a series of misunderstandings and not necessarily to an open rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. A series of different polls and articles point to the fact that people were not really voting against the reforms – many of which they do in fact consider necessary - but rather were showing their dissatisfaction with national politics and concern over enlargement and immigration from the East. There is also a clear concern over the ability of the average citizen to understand the role of the Constitutional Treaty, given that even the current structure and functioning of the EU remains highly obscure to many of the current EU citizens. A referendum may thus always make it more difficult to obtain a positive result.[6]

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No

Whether the “No” votes were caused by a rejection of the reform process or something else, is not important from a practical point of view. The “No” votes do exist and will continue to exist in the near future, whether a referendum or another voting mechanism is to be used. The sooner we face up to this failure and figure out how to deal with the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the easier it will be to actually deal with a series of reforms that are indeed necessary. They need not be as controversial as the ones presented in the Treaty.[7]


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Argument #4

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Yes

The Constitutional Treaty creates an important position for a Union Minister of Foreign Affairs which will most likely help improve the way the EU is viewed internationally and give a more consistent voice to EU policies abroad. The lack of a consistent voice when it came to the war in Iraq created a very divisive and dangerous situation, with a clear rift between what the US called New Europe and Old Europe. That the EU would be perceived as divided by one of its most important partners in political and economic affairs has affected more than its image in the world, but also its actual power to establish itself as a legitimate and strong actor in world affairs.[8]


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No

Divisions within the EU regarding world affairs are not likely to change with the adoption of the Constitutional Treaty. Countries will not give up their differing opinions simply because only one Minister of Foreign Affairs is meant to represent them. If anything, they will make the work of the Minister impossible to conduct. For example, they will delay any unified decision when it comes to emergency situations such as the war in Iraq and they will refuse to abide by any decision that they do not agree with. The EU is not meant to be a superstate and we should not seek to make it become one. While the USA would appreciate more consistency in EU policies, it will also feel threatened by an EU superstate, and thus it is not clear that even the best case scenario would be a desirable one.[9]

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Argument #5

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Yes

The failure of the EU constitution represents a significant blow to the EU’s image abroad and at home, thus it should be allowed to succeed. Talk about the decline of the EU is not helping the European economy, or the way in which the EU is perceived. The failure to reform could potentially lead to an actual collapse of the EU as we know it, which would have disastrous effects for the region as well as the world. The failure of the Constitutional Treaty would also result in powerful disillusionment in the countries that have recently entered the EU or are applying to enter. This could significantly slow down further enlargements and put their domestic reform agendas at risk.[10]

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No

Taking on too much too soon will have more disastrous effects then waiting for another solution to the Constitutional Treaty. Adopting it and failing to abide by it would be an even bigger and more challenging failure, that will practically rule out the possibility of more comprehensive change in the future. As for the accession countries, they have shown little interest in the Constitutional Treaty overall, given a series of other more immediate concerns. No disillusionment has been noticed due to the current “No” votes and it is not likely that they will be terribly upset by a failure of the Constitutional Treaty as long as their application process is not affected – which, the EU has already assured them would not be the case.[11]

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EU aspirations: Has the EU historically and presently aspired to become a superstate ?

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Yes

The European dream of an alternative political and economic framework to that of the nation state will not become a reality without a constitution. This alternative model could prove to be a very creative solution to solving conflict and promoting development in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa, parts of Asia and even Latin America. It is thus essential that this dream be kept alive and – as Adam Chmielewski argues – for Europe to recognize its geopolitical-strategic role in the world.[12]


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No

The European dream was expected to change over time, and it is not clear that the European dream was always the dream of a superstate. A superstate is widely opposed by citizens of all EU members, not least because it would be undemocratic, unaccountable and remote. In fact, the EU framework has proven more successful in areas where states have maintained much of their autonomy. Such a model can still be used in other parts of the world with success. A rehabilitation of the nation state may not be a bad thing.[13]

See also

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