NEWS

EU document on a rich constitutional trail

The new constitution grew out of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which was established in Dec. 2001 by the Laeken EU summit. At Laeken, the EU leaders assigned it the threefold task of (1) simplifying the series of treaties and protocols that came before it; (2) enhancing and streamlining decision-making in the EU to make way for a bigger membership; and (3) enabling citizens to feel more a part of the Union (thus addressing the so-called democratic deficit). The main draft was presented at the Thessaloniki summit in June 2003, finalized a year later in Brussels, and signed in October 2004 at a summit in Rome. Constitutional breakthroughs are often forced by crisis. Germany’s Basic Law of 1949 provided for a new state, originally only Western Germany, out of the ashes of World War II; France’s Fifth Republic constitution, from 1958, emerged following severe political stresses over the Algerian war. Sweden’s constitution, the world’s second-oldest, from 1814, reflected the new order after the Napoleonic wars; Norway’s, its centennial being celebrated this year, was born out of the split from Sweden. And the world’s oldest constitution in effect, in the US, from 1787, charted the new country’s course after the Revolution. The European effort differs in two big respects. First, it comes after a gradual process of development and reform. Any «crisis» mainly involved widespread fears before the EU’s expansion last year from 15 to 25 members; many believed this would stalemate decision-making. Yet the lack of an acute crisis to boot Europeans into action could actually work against easy ratification. Not just the same old Second, the «constitution» is, in fact, a constitutional treaty, which sets out rules and common principles among member states; it is not based on the «social contract» notion that binds governments to their peoples, although it does have provisions for protecting citizens’ rights. And this one builds on and consolidates a series of prior acts and treaties. The two main ones are the founding Treaty of Rome, from 1957, and the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), signed in 1991 and in force from 1993. Other landmark acts have included the Single European Act (1986, which provided for a single market in goods, services, labor and capital), and the Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001) treaties, which modified Maastricht, mainly through institutional reform. One reason the current treaty is so long is that much of it repeats earlier provisions. All these prior documents were hammered out behind closed doors, in so-called intergovernmental conferences (IGCs), between governmental representatives. The constitutional treaty was drafted differently, by a separate convention, consisting of 105 members from 28 states (the then 15 members, the 10 inductees and the three candidate countries) and EU institutions; only then did an IGC debate it. Giscard d’Estaing, the grand old man of the proceedings, was in no governmental capacity. With this wider representation, it could claim to be more open than prior treaty negotiations.