Watch on the West
A Newsletter of FPRI’s Center for the Study of America and the West

Europe’s Constitutional Treaty: A Threat to Democracy and How to Avoid It

By Declan J. Ganley

Volume 4, Number 5
December 2003

Declan J. Ganley is an Irish entrepreneur and founder of wireless broadband and cable TV businesses in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. In the early 1990s he built what became the largest private forestry company in the former Soviet Union. He serves on the Futures Group of the Irish Government’s Information Society Commission.

Many observers view former president of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing as having labored tirelessly in the interests of his nation and Europe over the course of his life of public service. But Giscard d’Estaing now presides over the Brussels convention charged with producing a draft constitution for the future of Europe, the very concept of which is an attack on democracy in Europe and a subversion of Europe’s citizenry.

“Democracy” derives from the ancient Greek word for “the rule of the people.” Invented in Europe, its ideals have spread to the far corners of the globe. It has become our way of life in Europe and something we take for granted. It cannot be taken from us or relegated to the role of symbolic chattel while Giscard d’Estaing and his convention transfer its key functions to Brussels. Throughout Europe’s history, those who attempt to take from the people that which is theirs ultimately fail; one can only hope that the convention’s usurpation of the European agenda seems similarly destined to fail.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” European citizens must pay attention to and act on the draft constitution for the future of Europe that the convention’s logrolling has produced. Unless they do, a serious assault will have been carried out by the European elite represented by the convention, which will further encroach on Europe’s libertarian democratic society and its ability to hold those who govern accountable for their actions. If the convention succeeds, Europe’s future may be headed down a very dangerous path.

The draft constitution represents the political bureaucracy’s attempt to consolidate its hold over the decision-making process in the EU, which affects Europeans’ daily lives in fundamental ways. Should it come to pass, the constitution would call for a presidential head of Europe, in the role of the president of the European Council, who will have global recognition as president of the Union, in whose election the people will have no say. Their vote and opinion are neither required nor desired.

A foreign affairs minister would oversee the tract in the draft, that “member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union’s common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union’s interests or likely to undermine its effectiveness.” Of course, the (non-popularly elected) president and his or her foreign minister would be unlikely to display what Chirac earlier this year identified as the “bad behavior” and signs of being “badly brought up” of the annoying, democratically elected leaders of Central and Eastern European states.

The president and minister will be hand-picked by the Brussels bureaucracy. The European minister for foreign affairs, who will represent European interests to the world, will not have been appointed by a president elected by Europeans. It is already the case that Europeans did not elect those responsible for the policy that underpins the Euro. The governor of the European Central Bank is neither directly nor indirectly accountable to the citizenry. This means that Western Europeans live in a far less accountable society than they did only a decade or so ago. Sweden’s rejection of the Euro in its recent referendum is a sign that Europeans recognise this fact and require accountability from those setting monetary and other policy. The many areas over which they have ceded or will be ceding power to Brussels include employment regulation, industry, transport, communications, justice, health, agriculture, fisheries, and important aspects of defence. The national veto is to be abolished in no fewer than 50 new areas, including immigration and asylum. The draft constitution also ratifies that EU law will have primacy over member states.

Bureaucracy vs. Democracy

Notice a trend here? Our democratic rights and liberty, values that so many Europeans and others have fought and died for, are at risk. Ideals born of revolutionary France are betrayed. Our liberty and democracy are interwoven: subverting them could undo the success of liberal democracy in Europe to date. Superannuated or failed politicians with sinecures atop a multiplying bureaucracy in Brussels have prospered for too long off the backs of hard-working Europeans. This latest effort is a bridge too far.

At least one aspect of the bureaucracy’s effort has merit, which is the laudable goal of achieving the ever-closer union of Europe aspired to in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. This is a wise and desirable objective and should be achievable. The EU has served the people of Europe well. It is abundantly apparent that it is capable of much more, which is why we must jealously guard it from those that would try to snatch its levers from us. A United Europe could provide for European peace, prosperity, strength, quality of life, and the ability to build not just a better Europe but a better and safer world. A United States of Europe, structured properly, could benefit Europeans and the world.

The convention that Giscard d’Estaing has presided over these past two years has somehow managed to tarnish the prospect for a United Europe. It has created a perception in the minds of millions of Europeans that European federalism stands for centralism, inefficiency, lack of accountability, and overreaching control--classic big government encroaching on the rights and sovereignty of the individual and the last redoubt of old-style socialism writ large. A federal Europe is a pretty good idea, if it possessed an accountable administration with a clear European identity and position on the world stage; had vested in it only those key disciplines that are best and most efficiently managed on a European level; embraced Europe’s diversity; and devolved as many matters as possible to Europe’s regions. But the Constitution for the Future of Europe does not provide for such a Europe.

Most important, the president of the European Council must not be elected by the collected Prime Ministers of Europe, who will no doubt choose from among themselves, electing one of their retired/retiring own for the job, where s/he will win a triple-crown retirement plan: the parliamentary pension, the ministerial pension, and then the EU pension. Yet another American founding father, James Madison said that “the censorial power is in the people over the government and not the government over the people.” His words ring true for Europeans today. Europeans do not require middlemen to interpret what is best for them. The president of Europe must be accountable to Europeans at the ballot box.

The European Flaw and How to Fix It

All of these goings-on in Europe point to a current flaw in the European system of democracy, whose structures are failing through a combination of self-interests and inability to adapt. These failing structures are the embodiment of “old Europe.” Like the creaking analog telephone systems of earlier decades, Europe’s system of nationally structured political parties has become a legacy system. You can tweak and push the system harder, you can add new parts, but what lies underneath can no longer deliver the performance required of it. The old “analog system” must be discarded: European politics needs to go digital.

It is time for the creation of new, truly pan-European political organizations. Looking at the United States, the historian Clinton Rossiter said “No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties.” Similarly, in the absence of mainstream, truly European political parties, the European political scene has become the plaything of special interest groups with no broader European vision. New parties and organizations could address Europe’s needs at the levels where most of the decisions affecting us are, or should be, made: the macro level in Europe, our broader community, and at the most local level within the regions of Europe’s states. Europeans hold in generally low regard most of the current political leaders in Europe, who stumble from opinion poll to opinion poll with little other motive than to stay in power.

In addition to protecting our future from power grabs, pan- European parties could start to address issues such as free trade, security, education, quality of life, health care, the family, an independent judiciary, competitiveness, technology, entrepreneurship and job creation, the developing world, and human rights. Vaclav Havel put it succinctly when he said of the current structure of the European Union, “Europe speaks to my head but it says nothing to my heart.” For the European ideal to prosper, Europe must become something much broader than a physical place: it must become a living idea that others might embrace and eventually join.

Unfortunately, the draft constitution does not follow the true path of constitutional liberalism that has served the Western world so well in recent history. The foundations of libertarianism in the Roman Republic were slowly undone by the undermining of Rome’s own elite. As political analyst and Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria states in his The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (2003), “The lesson of Rome’s fall is that for the rule of law and liberty to endure, you need more than the good intentions of the rulers, for they may change (both the intentions and the rulers).”

The draft constitution may prove to be a significant ingredient in what could develop into a medium-term disaster for Europe. Continuing down this path could lead to the rejection of the constitution in its present form via referenda in a small number of European states. This may well lead to a two-tier Europe: the “fast-track” inner core and the others. If Germany and France stay on this course and at the same time fail to reform their welfare burdens, they will have no choice but to seek shelter for their economies through trade protectionism in order to stanch the resultant loss of jobs and investment. Within a decade the EU could be disintegrating into something unpleasant and have grown farther apart from its old ally, the United States.

Brussels has already begun its efforts to force the constitution upon the people of Europe. A spokesman for the European Commission president Romano Prodi stated in September that “if it (the constitution) is not ratified, Europe faces the messy choice of grinding to a halt or having to expel one of its members.” This from a man with no mandate from the people. Europeans have by and large become tired of our political leadership, who are for the most part devoid of any great vision for Europe’s future. Many of Europe’s leaders have taken on a distinctively grey hue. This disillusionment in the leadership has resulted in most people’s not noticing what has been going on in the convention. Through the familiar, steady drone of weekly political coverage, a coup of sorts has been perpetrated to snatch away Europeans’ rights.

Preventing Disaster

The forces at work within the Europolitical elites make a momentous force behind this power grab. Each state’s senior socialist and centrist political figures will call for adoption of the draft constitution as a “reasonable compromise” and a “historic achievement”—of which Europe has had too many with sad consequences already. The extreme right and fringe parties will argue against them, which will only make the proponents look more correct.

The convention can only be countered with a true and fair vision for a United Europe. Europeans who until now have kept their views to themselves should mobilize to stop this tide. They must overcome groupings and parties based on legacy national organizations to form a new organization and articulate a clear and achievable vision for Europe’s future. Rather than try to define itself in contradistinction to the United States, this new Europe must be an equal partner and influence for the worldwide extension of justice and liberty. Such a political party— I will for the sake of discussion call it “Libertas”—will need to challenge the engrained composition of the convention in local and regional elections, as well as running candidates at member-state and EU levels. The old structures need shaking up.

The Intergovernmental Conference expects to conclude its work by December, towards having a treaty ready for signature in May 2004. Fortunately this outcome can be avoided. The constitution can be rejected by referenda voters in Ireland, Denmark, and France. Something better needs to be proposed. It is time to map out a new and better United Europe. When given the opportunity, Europeans must bury the constitution of the Brussels elite in the spot they’ll mark with an X on the ballot paper.

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