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An EU Constitution

by rdf Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 12:09:06 PM EST

There was a comment on my Grump diary about the EU Constitution, given my poor opinion of European leaders, so I thought I write one (as requested).

OK, I'm not actually going to write one, just highlight the problems (as if you all didn't know already).

The reason that the EU is not performing better is because there is no agreement on what the EU is supposed to be. Is it a free-trade zone? Is it a monetary zone? Is it a military non-aggression and self defense zone? Is it a new supra-cultural state in the making? Is it a bulwark against non-European religions and cultures?

To me it seems that the origins of the EU were financial. It grew out of capitalist interests which wanted to make trade easier between states. There was also a desire to make closer economic cooperation be the wedge which would eliminate future armed conflicts that were perceived to be mainly economic in origin (although xenophobia was the tool used to rally the masses).

Since these origins were highly technical and didn't affect most people directly, they got implemented without too much difficulty. Even the common currency didn't cause too much resistance (exceptions noted). But once these changes were flowing smoothly then the issue of labor migration became important. The same capitalist forces that promoted trade and commerce now sought to promote lowering labor barriers (especially strong unions in the western countries). But easier labor migration morphed into easier migration in general and thats where the economics ran into the cultural issues.

This is where the EU is now stuck: cultural resentment. I have no suggestions, but pretending the issue is something other than what it really is, will not lead to a solution.

I see only three possible outcomes, none really optimum.

  1. One can have imperfect cultural assimilation as in the US, where those most able to fit in do so over several generations, and those least able remain abused.

  2. One can reverse migration policies and try to turn back the clock. Apparently this is what Italy is trying to do at present. Leaving aside the inhumanity of the effort and its likelihood of failure, it also runs counter to the economic forces demanding cheap labor. This is the same issue facing the US right now. Cheap Mexican immigrants are "illegal" immigrants.

  3. One can muddle along and hope that cultural differences will diminish over time. The young seem much less hung up over such issues as the older generations. The Irish and Italians were vilified when they first arrived in the US 100 years ago, but now being Irish-American or Italian-American is social acceptable and a source of light hearted cultural stereotyping (viz "The Sopranos"). The problem in Europe is that of language. In the US it was always understood that future generations would speak English and the native language would become secondary or forgotten altogether. Is Europe willing to make English the "official" language?

So, here's the constitution:

The social regulations (freedom of speech, assembly, religion, etc.) can be drawn from the US constitution and the large body of Enlightenment thought that preceded and has followed it. Brief and direct is best.

The political organization (which already exists, even if barely functional) depends upon solving the cultural issue. Is it one person one vote, or one country one vote? Are migrants members of their new country or their old one? How do you prevent the tyranny of the majority where more populace states have more influence? Unanimity was supposed to solve this issue, but has only led to paralysis. It must be squarely faced at some point - now would be a good time.

The goals. I don't think this has been properly treated in the EU. The US had the declaration of independence with it's "all men are created equal" as an implied framework, but the constitution also has:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The goals are clear: justice, peace, welfare and liberty, now and in the future. I don't think that any countries which still have parties with "Christian" in their name are yet ready to adopt such universal ideals. So what do you want? A new version of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a counter to a new version of the Ottoman Empire, or something else?

No consensus, no constitution.

Any European constitution must - at a bare minimum - answer the following questions:

  • How does this text ensure that small countries are not bullied unduly?

  • How does this text ensure that small countries will not end up with a clout that is completely out of proportion to their size, once the political integration is completed and we have one pan-European state?

  • How will this text prevent Europe from engaging in imperialist wars?

  • How will this text ensure that checks and balances are enforced upon all four branches of government?

  • How will this text handle secession?

  • How will this text permit the Union to continue to absorb countries with a democratic, peaceful and uncorrupt political culture who wish to join?

  • How will this text ensure that policy matters are handled at the most appropriate level (e.g. inter-state railroads at the federal level, intercity railroads at the state level, city planning at the regional level, street names at the local level)?

  • How will this text ensure that each de jure independent institution at each level (local, regional, state, (bloc?), federal) is, in also de facto independent?

  • How will an EU governed by this text handle an administrative unit (at whichever level) that behaves unconstitutionally?

  • How will this text provide for enforcement of human rights and civil liberties within the EU?

Answering those questions would be a good start. It's necessary to do so, whatever the impact of whatever cultural differences might (or might not) exist. And honestly, I think that by the time we're done providing satisfactory answers to those questions, we'll find that a European body politic already exists and is reasonably unified.

If it's not - if culture and language remains an obstruction after all - then we'll have to work from there. My own solution would be to adopt a couple of the biggest languages as official languages (e.g. English, German, French and Russian - cue cries of nationalist outrage from Scandinavia and Poland in 3... 2... 1...) and then permit subunits to add their own preferred language(s) to the list. That way, you'd always be able to use one of the Four Big for official communication if you didn't know the local language, but local languages could still be incorporated in the local administration as need arose.

As for "culture," I wouldn't know how to tackle that issue before someone presents a more or less coherent description of what "culture" is. Right now, it seems to be used as a shorthand for "all the things that supposedly prevent political integration," which is rather on the useless side as definitions go.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 01:42:14 PM EST
Disregarding the question of whether the states of Europe are ready to join into a single federation, I would venture to say that there is no way to write a constitution or anything else that will prevent these three of your listed problems:

  • How will this text prevent Europe from engaging in imperialist wars?

  • How will this text ensure that checks and balances are enforced upon all four branches of government?

  • How will this text handle secession?

The first two are virtually unavoidable because of human nature. And if you allow secession, then you hand a big stick to the states that they will try to use at every opportunity.

But the real stumbling block is that Europe does not yet see an advantage to forming this sort of union. Whether the current setup will collapse is not determined yet, but one possibility is the failure of the Euro system given wide disparities in economic conditions across the continent, and another is unresolvable problems with border control...

by asdf on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 07:08:34 PM EST
You probably can't prevent imperialist wars, but you can make life a bit harder on the imperialists than is usually the case. By, for instance, explicitly mandating that European military forces be physically incapable of conducting serious offencive operations outside European and allied territory. And then giving taxpayer standing to sue over violations of that article.

Similarly, while no piece of paper can guarantee that checks and balances are actually enforced in the real world, it can put the institutions into place and attempt to make them as robust as possible.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:13:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
seful questions, but does anybody have answers ? Is there anybody willing to have that debate honestly ?

I think there is also the problem that individual national governments place their own agenda ahead of Europe's and MEPs are subservient to their national governments demands. europe has to have the ambition to assert the primacy of its institutions, yet cannot do so without a constitution.

It would help if the constitution was a one or two page document normal people could understand instead of several hundred pages of bureaucratic legalese.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 12:53:47 PM EST

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