In the political tradition of the West, a constitution is a sacred pact that unites the people (referred to as citizens, electors, society or ‘public opinion’) and the legal principles of its Government. As a sacred pact, its nature goes beyond the simple legal notion. If a Constitution is composed in a hurry (which in all likelihood will be the case for ours) all it does is embed the basis for public law but, more importantly, a political community that lives within its own walls. It becomes a marble palace, that will last for eternity supported by the shoulders of half a billion inhabitants.
It is common sense to let the new owners of a construction choose its shape and leave the details and potential hazards to the professionals. For the grand and sumptuous construction of the constitution, the citizens have been refused the right to express an opinion on the nature of the entirety and politicians have decided everything in silence like nervous thieves. If this is how a constitution is to be constructed you can guess the consequences that this risky venture will be unable to avoid from its conception to its birth. When you consider the lack of desire of the people to welcome their Constitution and its effective procedural registration by professionals in the field, the road to acceptance will not run smooth.
One Constitution for a two-tier Europe
The Constitution has appeared at the very moment that the EU is falling to pieces. Never in the history of its construction has their been so little unity over the EU’s future. The Euro zone, through its monetary and budgetary policy ties and the symbolism of an irremediably shared history, will lead to the emergence of a two-tier Europe. The consequences of this are uncertain, formidable and messianic: uncertain because it will create the novel situation where a group of ‘top-ranked’ countries intends to proceed towards a historic venture from which its lower ranked sister nations will be excluded. Article I-43 of the constitutional project that establishes the infamous ‘enhanced co-operation’ clause bares witness to this; formidable because the Union’s institutions are not ready to let countries go their own way; messianic, perhaps, because the historic engine of the Community venture will finally be released from the Eurosceptics to construct Europe on its desired scale. Nevertheless, the frustrations of the European nations faced with the accepted Franco-German engine, which by tying up the monopoly of legitimate reform, risks neglecting the abilities of its sister nations and embittering them, must not be underestimated. The Constitution, without a doubt, is keeping up the appearances of a Union that henceforth will be embedded into the marble of the Constitution, but it is hiding a break and maybe even a breakaway.
The real problems have been eclipsed
But there is worse. By shutting themselves off in their procedural ivory castles, the convention members have created a worrying gap which will separate them from the people. Certainly, it is good to know that in 2009 the Commission will contain 15 members, that is to say fewer than the number of Member States. This is a step forward in the legibility of real government. But what can be said about this obsession with not listening to what the people are saying, what the citizens are crying? In its current form, the Europe we know, with the policies and requirements it contains, no longer goes without saying. The last WTO summit in Cancun put the spotlight on the contradictions of a Community bureaucracy which, by subsidising like its American homologue an obsolete farming structure, has turned the production forces of developing countries against it. The results have been vicious and will become violent.
As for internal disputes, that seems no more promising. Certainly, a Constitution must not deal with occasional problems. And yet, how can it not be seen that it is being discussed at the historic moment that public services, the intensification of Competition policy inherited from across the Atlantic, the prerogatives of the Welfare State, from healthcare systems to higher education policy, are all being called into question? The Constitution will not be warmly welcomed because within it there is not one single project that could satisfy the citizens’ desires. Yes, article I-46 upholds the principle of participatory democracy. But, like the European elections in their current form, the lack of encouragement for the emergence of real trans-border campaigns with common lists or programmes condemns any efforts to pious speeches expressed through the media.
A democracy on paper
These uncertainties and concerns make any predictions difficult. Although each of us is giving our opinion on these issues of institutional policies, no one really knows where Europe is going. The institutional framework of the new Union will not be able to provide political debate with constructive positions from classic political culture, firstly because European leaders do not know where they are going. They do not know what to think about the future of the Welfare State, they do not know how to reconcile competition rules and legitimate intervention by the State, they do not know what a real protected Cultural policy is, they do not know where to go with privatisation of higher education. Europe encourages all these climbdowns because it does not have political and institutional strength from rigour of thought and political enrichment through the stimulation of political debate. In the light of these insufficiencies, citizens will not be able to trust their new institutions.
Eurocrats: fear the people. The tradition of Representative democracy is part of the direct evolution over institutional issues. European leaders have forgotten this because it suits them. Not consulting the people maintains their indifference towards Community issues. As for the privileged younger generation, which is enthusiastic about Europe because of its Erasmus experiences, it is indeed right to be enthusiastic and it represents hope. But it runs the risk of repeating the experience of the young European bourgeoisie at the end of the 18th century which, despite its spirit and brilliance, was only the expression, albeit magnificent, of an elitist, minority and autoproductive conscience. To avoid this, common European political campaigns must discuss what the continent’s citizens really fear: the forces of conservatism calling into question the world in which they want to live. Europeans must be made aware of what is happening to them.