Silence and rage

Article published on April 8, 2003
community published
Article published on April 8, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Born in Europe, born European, still our generation asks itself who is in charge of the day-to-day running of Europe. Today, few know that something resembling a European Constitution is being drawn up. Its time to take to the stand.

The misunderstood debate

Some will think that when bombs are falling its somewhat frivolous to talk of the future of Europe, about what the European Union should be, this haven of post-modern peace (as Robert Kagan would put it), this rich mans club. Many, on the other hand, will understand that - whilst in the streets the future of Europe, its youth, shouts out in unison - the wars and the peace of tomorrow will depend on what we want Europe to be. Of course we have to understand the war were living through now, but primarily in order that we can learn how to avoid a similar thing happening again: our answer is Europe.

In actual fact this is exactly the reply that most European leaders would give, even the most Eurosceptical among them. The problem is that the issues concerning the EU are the realm of ambiguity and duplicity: everyone calls themselves European, but few are actually willing to work towards the creation of Europe. Few people are really aware of this, because few people understand the nature of the debate over the future of Europe. Without doubt the degree of technicality involved scares people, not to mention that the debate abounds in interchangable terms and concepts that can mean anything. But I think it can be summed up in one image: Aznar.

A great power or a lapdog?

Look at José María Aznar, President of Spain, an upright man, somewhere between a Conservative and a Liberal, with that unassuming air which won him the 1996 elections, by making him appear to be representing the man in the street, mediocre but honest and effective. Such a man would appear willing to accept that Spain is a middling power and that its diplomacy should reflect this status. But 9/11 and the Iraqi crisis have provided the opportunity, or so Aznar thinks, to make Spain into a great power, to gain admittance to this gentlemens club, with classic Cold War-style diplomacy, defining Europe in blocs. Neither you nor we, nor in fact anyone with an ounce of sense, can see how following Americas lead will result in Spains being considered a significant player in international diplomacy, but apparently Aznar can; we can only hope that one day hell explain it to us. Now, let us suppose for one moment that, in this crisis, Spain had asserted itself as a great power, that it had declared that France and Germany shouldnt make decisions alone and that there should be a debate in the heart of the European Council, that Europe should speak with one voice. Let us suppose furthermore that the Spanish government would participate actively in the adoption of this common stance, and that this stance would be the voice of Spain. Its clear that the role of Spain would have been much greater and, although it still wouldnt be a central power, it would at least form part of a united force, rather than being only the lapdog of a great power.

This very current dilemma encapsulates the whole European debate: states are divided between the desire to uphold their prerogatives, the freedom to make decisions for themselves and the willingness to share these prerogatives, to make collective decisions, as they did with their currency and many other things, with great success. Perhaps you dont believe it could possibly be this simple, and thats not surprising, because all European leaders, to a lesser or greater extent but without any exception go to great lengths to demonstrate that the issues surrounding Europe are of awful opacity, and that neither you nor your democratic representatives should trouble yourselves to understand them. Dont worry, they say, well take care of defining and defending your interests - without the need for any kind of civil society debate -, well reap the benefits when we get some more money out of Brussels and blame their technocrats when something goes wrong, whatever that may be, it doesnt matter. Yes, we are all so very pro-European. This self-protective stance, defensive of national interests which, I am adamant, do not emerge from any democratic debate, this reticence to accept a common plan, is destroying Europe. The Intergovernmental Conference of Nice, of December 2000, when there was no end of important decisions to make, was taken up with fights for the number of votes that each country would have in the Counsel of Ministers of the EU. Spain left with a bad taste in its mouth because it had been granted the same number of votes as Poland will get when it enters the EU (can anyone explain why this ever wasnt going to be the case?) and Belgium was angry at having one vote less than its neighbour Holland and refused to sign until it had been assured that two European Councils would be held in Brussels every year

Drawing up a constitution behind closed doors

As a result of this ridiculous carry on, they realised, thank goodness, that to reform Europe more was needed than just Heads of State and sat round a table, and so the Convention was formed. Made up of national and European delegates, of representatives of government and of the Commission, the Convention is a space for open public debate, that has proposed the drawing up of a Constitutional Treaty for Europe, a text well all be able to read and understand, which outlines a common project. Nothing more respectable, but how many people know about it? Few people do, very few. Imagine for a moment that, in 1977, at the dawn of Spanish democracy, few people had known that a Constitution was being drawn up; that it had been drawn up in secret, without public debate, without anyone knowing who was drawing it up or who they were representing. Well, that is precisely what is happening right now; and only that, because the Convention has a limited role, that of drawing up a text to be at some point in the future accepted or rejected by the Member States, brought together as always at an Intergovernmental Conference. And as far as the States are concerned, the fewer people who know whats going on the better, because then it will be easier for them to reject the text if they consider it unacceptable.

Breaking the silence

And so we see, silence arises from fear. The Member States dread that the text will benefit those institutions (the Commission and the Parliament) invested with a certain legitimacy, thanks to their greater emphasis on collectivity, at the expense of the decision-making powers of the institutions in which they are represented (the Council of Ministers and the European Council, that is of the Heads of State). But theyre also scared of losing their capacity, in the heart of the institutions that represent them, to veto decisions that dont suit their interests, which was the principal reason for the failure of Nice. And for Europe to function, for it to be visible, intelligible to all, for each and every one of us to feel fully represented and happy to be governed on a European scale, what has to happen is precisely that the States have to lose some of their influence in the current system. This silence infuriates us, as it does all those who dream of Europe, and for this reason we have decided to play the part of a European, transnational medium. While bombs are falling, we here at Cafebabel have been talking about words, about these words that are shaping Europe, we have shouted out that whats unfolding is our future and that it is your responsibility to inform yourselves and participate, to talk and, if need be, to shout out.