Righting the EU Constitution

The prospect of multiple referenda on the European Union Constitution has dramatically altered the betting on ratification. Both europhiles and eurocrats shudder at the prospect that rejection in several member states, particularly in a large one, might kill the project, leaving the Union to muddle through with the Nice Treaty. On the other hand, if the protagonists are patient, the winds of democracy could lead to a stronger constitution, free of the risks of economic and judicial nightmare that some aspects of the present draft entail.

The EU urgently needs to democratize its procedures and reorganize its institutions to ensure that this year's enlargement does not lead to bureaucratic deadlock. The draft Constitution provides acceptable answers to many questions of governance. But the elevation of the Social Chapter, previously a list of good intentions, to the status of fundamental constitutional rights, threatens to encumber workers and businesses in the member states with burdensome judicial proceedings and expensive social entitlements written by judges in Luxembourg whose last word is beyond appeal.

The inclusion in Part II of the draft on "social rights" - such as the right not to be unjustly dismissed, or the right to receive old-age pensions, unemployment compensation, and health benefits (regardless of cost) - is in no way necessary to the functioning of the whole. These social protections are laudable, but all have a cost.

The very term "social right" is a misnomer. If something is a "right," then cost is not an issue. For instance, no economic cost is too great for the defense of freedom of speech. The desirability of generous public pensions, on the other hand, cannot be dissociated from their cost to taxpayers.