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Europe's Constitutional Future

Last week, the President of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, submitted a so-called "skeleton" for a future Constitution of Europe. All the ingredients of a constitution - values, principles, the rights of citizens, the competencies of the Union and its constituent institutions, etc - were included. This document arose despite the fact that the Convention's mandate did not empower the delegates to produce a constitution. According to the Nice Declaration, which I drafted as one of the participating prime ministers, we were only to simplify and restructure the EU's basic treaties.

As the C onvention worked, our mandate was transformed due to various pressures. These came from member countries, from civil society organizations, and from letters, documents, and email messages from across Europe. Democratic pressure changed our mandate. When even the Foreign Minister of Britain, a country happy with its centuries-old "unwritten constitution," claims himself eager to have a written European Constitution, something truly has changed!

Yet, scholars such as Ralph Dahrendorf and Joseph Weiler suggest that a European constitution does not make sense because a democratic constitution presupposes a paramount common identity that is absent in an EU where individual national loyalties still prevail. Others, such as Robert Dahl, argue that democracy requires smaller communities based on shared interests and personal relations. For them, Europe may be too big to forge truly democratic institutions.

Such theoretical objections must be set against the fact Europe already exists - indeed, decisions are made everyday on the European level which determine our lives. We may dislike it, but the EU is part of our system of government, like municipalities, regions, and nation-states. So the question is not whether Europe exists, but whether we are satisfied with the way it functions. If not, can we fix it, and is a constitution the way to do it?