Germans to prompt constitution rethink

Few will recall the ambitious pledges made by the Austrian presidency of the European Union to relaunch the faltering constitutional treaty. Ambition was unjustified as the document drafted by a team overseen by former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing had earlier been rejected in a double referendum in France and the Netherlands. Now a few years on, Germany, which is taking the reins of the presidency on January 1, 2007, will try to pull Europe from its current deadlock. The constitution tops the agenda of the German presidency. Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to exploit the very good timing, meaning Germany’s leadership of both the EU and the G8 (the group of the world’s eight richest nations) as well as hosting European leaders for the Union’s 50-year anniversary in Berlin. Germany is expected to present a road map for relaunching the treaty. Truth be told, the German presidency comes at a time of deep crisis – a crisis of trust and goals. There is a widespread sense that the nation-state is making a comeback. People are losing faith in the European project and nationalism is re-emerging. The acute disagreements between states cannot be disguised with diplomatic niceties while clashing mentalities between the «old Europe» and the eastern newcomers are putting integration under strain. The idea of political integration going beyond national borders is losing ground. At the same time, the Eurocrats in Brussels are carrying on much as before, taking comfort in their lavish jobs and perks. Nevertheless, recent opinion polls show that the people of European countries do not hold a negative view of the EU. They do not reject the idea of a European constitution. Nor do they embrace left-wing tirades against the supposed attempt to put neo-liberal policies into the constitution. Greece in particular has remarkably high approval ratings, for two reasons. First, most of us grew up against the specter of «the eastern threat» (the late statesman Constantine Karamanlis famously reassured Greeks that «we belong to the West»). Secondly, there is that popular image of the EU as a fat cow that we can milk all we like – and not necessarily to the country’s benefit. In truth, what we and the other European people want from our political leaders is a guarantee that the constitution will not undermine national identity. People want a treaty that works as a political, economic, social and cultural safety net. Berlin must go beyond just presenting an improved version of the rejected treaty. It will not get away with that. People want a constitution that will save them from current ills and enable them to ride on the wave of globalization. If it takes a European constitution to do that, why not get one?