View Full Version : Europe Drafts A Constitution

June 14th, 2003, 04:39 PM
June 15, 2003

Seeking Unity, Europe Drafts A Constitution


BRUSSELS, June 12 — It will be much less than a United States of Europe. But it will be more than the distillation of five decades of treaties into one document.

For 16 months, Europe's most important and exclusive club has struggled to draft its first constitution. The process has been awkward and unpredictable, ambitious and timid, as delegates from the 15 member nations of the European Union and the 10 that are to join next year fight to protect their countries' national interests even as they agree to cede bits of sovereignty.

Philadelphia it ain't.

The founding fathers came together in 1787 for a Constitutional Convention to forge a document that created a national identity and institutionalized the sovereignty of the American people in one nation-state. The 105 delegates who made up the Convention on the Future of Europe tried to do something much more modest: codifying common ground among long-established states that will give their union more of a logical structure — and perhaps more power — as they expand eastward.

"Until now, Europe was mainly associated with a common market," Ana Palacio, Spain's foreign minister and a delegate representing her government, said in an interview. "Now Europe will be more and more a place of citizenship. Now people will associate Europe with a constitution."

Indeed, one article in the draft constitution states, "Every national of a member state shall be a citizen of the union." When the union expands, that means a mega-Europe of 450 million citizens, larger than any population mass except for China and India, and an economy of more than $9 trillion, close to that of the United States.

The proposed constitution also states that European Union law will have primacy over that of member states. It simplifies voting rules and spells out areas like trade policy in which the union will have full authority and other areas to be shared with the member states, including justice, transportation and economic and social policy.

It will also set up a new structure for an organization that was created for only 6 states and will soon have 25, with two permanent presidents, one foreign minister, a stronger administrative arm and a Parliament with expanded power to pass more legislation.

But for many participants in the process, including Giuliano Amato, a former Italian prime minister and a constitutional law expert who is one of two vice presidents of the convention, the proposed constitution is lacking because it fails to create a common foreign and security policy.

"I'm not entirely satisfied," he said in an interview. "Too many member states are defending themselves instead of sharing power at the European level to make things better. It's each state beyond the constitution. That's why I'm not even sure we are entitled to call it a constitution."

[On Friday, despite deep disagreements within the delegation, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who is the convention's president, told the final plenary session in Brussels that the convention had adopted a historic first draft. The forum rose for the union's anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," and toasted their endeavor with Champagne.]

With over 400 articles, the constitution is very much a work in progress. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing will present it to a summit meeting of the member heads of state in Greece next week. Then, in October, it will go into intergovernmental review, in which each member state has the right to demand changes. Each parliament — including those of next year's 10 newcomers — must ratify the document before it comes into force. Some countries, like Ireland and Denmark, will have national referendums — as required by their constitutions.

Even the pope has weighed in, lobbying — thus far successfully — for a specific reference in the text to God and Europe's Christian heritage. After all, the union's debt to the "civilizations of Greece and Rome" and later "by the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment" are mentioned.

One of the main challenges to forming a more perfect European Union is one that the American founding fathers confronted: how to find a way for big states and small states to share power. France and other big states would like a strong president from a large country who would reflect their views, an idea that is anathema to the smaller states. Spain has vowed to fight to retain complex voting rules that give it power disproportionate to its population. (Spain has 27 votes in the union, only 2 fewer than Germany, which has more than twice its population.)

Britain, which is skeptical about creating anything that looks like a European state, is demanding the absolute right for any member nation to veto decisions on foreign policy and taxation. Sometimes the big-small divide is trumped by history. Germany, for example, is more inclined to create a federal structure that would more closely resemble a United States of Europe.

Another issue yet to be resolved is how to make the union more accountable to its citizens by opening the decision-making process to public scrutiny. "Right now, if my prime minister goes to Brussels and makes decisions behind closed doors, I as a parliamentarian cannot hold him to account because I only know the outcome, I don't know the process," said Gisela Stuart, a member of the British delegation and of the European Parliament. "It's the same with the ministers. They can tell me anything."

The new constitution will introduce a single foreign minister to give the union a single actor on the international stage. It will also create a permanent president, elected by member heads of state, who will serve up to a five-year term to replace an unwieldy system in which the presidency rotates among member states every six months.

Already there is intense speculation that Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister as well as a convention delegate, is eager for the job of European foreign minister, even though it will probably not be created before 2006. In recent weeks, he suddenly began to talk to Anglophone journalists in English, and friends in Brussels said that he had asked them where one might want to live there.

But there will continue to be two presidents indefinitely — one for the Council of the European Union, which consists of the heads of state of each member country, another for the European Commission, a kind of executive body that is more federal in nature and tends to take the smaller states more seriously.

"You have an animal with two heads," said Mr. Amato, who favored a proposal to merge the two presidencies in 2015. "Can an animal with two heads survive for long?"

Mr. Giscard d'Estaing answered yes. "We still have seven monarchies in the system," he said in an interview. "Some went through violent revolutionary uprisings, like France. Some were under the Communist rule for 50 years, 70 years. So if we try for an oversimplified system it cannot work."

The draft constitution clearly states that "member states shall actively and unreservedly support the union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity" and shall "refrain from action contrary to the union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness." But that was language picked up from previous treaties and did not prevent the union's deeply painful split on Iraq, which pitted countries like France and Germany against Spain and Britain.

In a setback to those who wanted a more powerful union to help counterbalance the United States when it comes to issues like foreign policy, defense and taxation, each country — even Luxembourg, with a population of 440,000 — has the right to veto any decision on foreign policy and defense.

In one of the most ambitious expansions of the union's authority, the draft constitution also would create a European public prosecutor to combat terrorism and cross-border crimes like corruption, fraud and people-trafficking. It simplifies legislative and legal procedures and extends decision-making by majority vote, particularly in areas like justice, law enforcement, immigration, asylum, energy and the annual European Union budget.

The draft document also gives the union a "legal personality" that would allow it to sign international treaties. A solidarity clause will require member states to provide mutual assistance in case of terrorist attack. The constitution also explicitly bans slavery (which the original United States Constitution did not) and the death penalty (which was never banned in the American Constitution). There is even an exit clause so that a member state can secede from the union if it chooses.

On defense matters, the constitution pledges enhanced "structured cooperation" for "more demanding tasks," but does not pledge military resources for common purposes. Not surprisingly, no effort was made to coax France and Britain to give up their seats as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Underscoring just how important national differences remain, the constitution will be published in the union's 11 current official languages — 21 when the 10 new members are admitted next year. There was no agreement on what to call the new union once it has a constitution, so delegates deleted the space in the draft's preamble where a new name would have appeared.

Even the inclusion of the dreaded word "federal" as a description of way the union would function was found to be objectionable, particularly by Britain. It was replaced by anodyne phrases like "united in an ever closer fashion."

"The reality is that you have different visions for Europe," Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former Belgian prime minister who is a convention vice president, said in an interview. "So never fight for words. Just because someone doesn't want to name the baby, you don't throw out the baby."

Even in the best of circumstances, the constitution will not come into effect for years. So it will not solve the immediate problem of how to absorb the 10 new countries next year. With the expansion, the population of the European club will increase by 20 percent, but the average wealth per person will fall by about 13 percent because most of the newcomers are relatively poor.

That means that the new union, which started out as a club for the rich, will have to find ways to balance the interests of a country like Luxembourg, which has a per capita gross domestic product of nearly $43,000, with a country like Lithuania, which has a per capita G.D.P. of $3,200.

The constitution also will not do away with the 80,000 pages of European Union laws and regulations that dictate what members can and cannot do in some of the biggest and smallest areas of life. The rules govern such things as how to make cars and cigarettes, how corporations carry out acquisitions, how high a budget deficit a country is allowed to have, who is a dentist, what preservatives can be used to make beer, how many hours a week people can work and when hunters can shoot small birds.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

June 14th, 2003, 05:33 PM
That's great. I did a paper on the EU and I entioned this. It's a very intersting situation.

June 14th, 2003, 06:10 PM
They should have a contest to name the Union.
Give the winner free tickets to Euro Disney.

June 16th, 2003, 11:49 PM
I also wrote a college paper on this- European History 17** to Now. This development was a long time coming, but I think it is still too soon.

I still am not sure how allowing unilateral succession will help the survival of the Union and... please tell me, how can the president... or one of its presidents, be elected by the "heads of state" of the memeber states. That is filled with legitimacy issues.

July 3rd, 2003, 11:21 AM
July 3, 2003

Italian's Sharp Tongue Punctures Image of United Europe


BERLIN, July 2 — Stung by criticism, the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, suggested today to a German member of the European Parliament that he would make an excellent leader of a Nazi concentration camp.

The remark, made on the day after Mr. Berlusconi took over the rotating presidency of the European Union, enraged the German Socialist, Martin Schulz, set off a diplomatic furor and suggested that the swashbuckling Italian leader might produce more division than reconciliation in a Europe grappling with several difficult issues.

Those issues include adoption of a new constitution as the 15-member union expands next year to 25 members, and relations with the United States, which were frayed by the bitter debates leading up to the Iraq war. Mr. Berlusconi has stood far closer to President Bush than the German and French leaders.

Mr. Berlusconi, whose combative, bristling style and control of much of the Italian media have made him a controversial figure across the Continent, was giving a routine inaugural policy speech today to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, when Mr. Schulz questioned his suitability for his new post.

The German legislator specifically raised Mr. Berlusconi's sponsorship of a new immunity law in Italy at a time when he is on trial in Milan on bribery charges.

"Mr. Schulz," Mr. Berlusconi said in reply, cocking his head to one side and smiling, "I know there is a man in Italy producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of leader. You would be perfect."

In response, Mr. Schulz said: "Mr. Berlusconi, if I understood him correctly, invited me to appear as the commandant of a concentration camp." He went on to say it was very hard for him to accept that someone capable of such a remark should lead the European Union.

Italy's ambassador in Berlin and Germany's ambassador in Rome were summoned by their host governments to receive formal protests. Germany quickly issued a statement labeling Mr. Berlusconi's remark unacceptable.

But for the European Union, the deeper significance may be as an augury of what lies ahead during the six months of Mr. Berlusconi's presidency.

"The incident and resulting breakdown hang in the air," the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented as news of Mr. Berlusconi's exchange with Mr. Schulz began rocketing through Europe. "If the coming months are only occupied with dumb provocations and vain character assassination, it is going to be difficult to move forward the European project. Being reasonable is not everybody's thing."

The greeting Mr. Berlusconi got in the parliamentary hall even before the exchange with Mr. Schulz presaged the polarizing effect many believe he will have.

Placards held aloft by leftist legislators read, in several languages, "Nobody is above the law" and "No Godfather for Europe."

Even before the session, Mr. Berlusconi's assumption of the union presidency had received enormous media attention in Europe, most of it unfavorable.

The most persistent charge, made for years, has to do with conflict of interest. As Italy's biggest media entrepreneur — he owns the country's biggest publishing house and three national television stations — Mr. Berlusconi has been widely accused in his own country of using his political power to favor legislation beneficial to his business interests.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Berlusconi's political allies in the Italian Parliament passed a law that exempts the top five serving government officials, including the prime minister, from criminal prosecution. The adoption of the law put a stop to the trial of Mr. Berlusconi, already under way in Milan, though the court holding the trial has challenged the constitutionality of the legislation.

In addition to being the first sitting Italian prime minister to testify as a defendant in a criminal case, Mr. Berlusconi has aroused the ire of the European left by his open admiration for President Bush and by his support of the Iraq war. His relations with some European leaders, particularly Gerhard Schröder of Germany and Jacques Chirac of France, are said to be very tense.

But while in the past Mr. Berlusconi has mostly been an issue for Italians, who have twice elected him prime minister, the prospect of Italy's presidency of the European Union sharply ratcheted up the negative views in the European press.

The cover story in Der Spiegel on Monday showed a picture of Mr. Berlusconi with the caption, "The Godfather," and contained this comment: "At home he dismantles justice, subjugates television and has laws tailored to his needs, and now he will represent Europe."

The Economist, which before his electoral victory in Italy two years ago ran an article titled, "Unfit to Lead Italy," more recently ran another with the headline, "Unfit to Lead Europe."

To counter the negative attention he has been getting, Mr. Berlusconi published a letter today in four newspapers in Italy, Germany, France and Spain in which he shot back at his critics. "No one is in a position to give lessons in morality to a government elected by the Italians," he wrote.

Mr. Berlusconi refused to retract his comment to Mr. Schulz, saying it was meant in an ironic way.

"It was the way in which he spoke," Mr. Berlusconi later said of Mr. Schulz. "It was his gestures. He attacked me and was extremely offensive about me and my country. I replied to his insults ironically with a joke."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

July 6th, 2003, 03:41 PM
Quote: from Chicagoan on 11:49 pm on June 16, 2003

please tell me, how can the president... or one of its presidents, be elected by the "heads of state" of the memeber states. That is filled with legitimacy issues.

You're right.
A president that would be elected that way would have very little legitimacy, hence little power.

July 6th, 2003, 09:45 PM
Specifically since most of the Western European heads of states are elected by their respective parliaments, and about half of the heads of states in the EU, are monarchs. (I personally have no issue with that).

I have applauded Europes move toward more economic and political intergration, but the new structures that have been created touphold that intergration have left much to be desired.

I strongly believe that the only way the EU will gain the hears of Europeans in the long term is to make the institutions directly responsible to the citizens of the respective countries.

Now thats my 50 cents.