The experience of Europe should not be forgotten

Federalist Letter to the European Constitutional Convention

Issue number 11, 9 July 2003

The experience of Europe should not be forgotten

Majority voting should be included for future amendments to the European constitution

Members of the European convention have their last chance to make amendments to the draft constitution this week. They have achieved much in the last sixteen months, but there are still a few things to be done. And after the Convention has concluded, there are some very great things to be done.

Let us look into the future first, and then return to the present.

After the Convention has concluded, the final draft text will be forwarded to the heads of government in the IGC. They have the task of turning the text into a new treaty, which will in turn establish a constitution for Europe. It is a daunting task even to type these words, let alone to contemplate the creation of that constitution. But it is also an essential task.

It is important that the IGC does not try to reopen the debates of the last few months and renegotiate the contents of the draft text. What kind of wisdom will be visited upon the national governments in the next few months that has not already been displayed by them?

Representatives of the national governments have played a prominent role in the Convention, after all. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but a prominent role nevertheless. They have formed part of the broad consensus.

The public would not understand if an agreement reached by national governments in public – the draft constitution from the Convention – were to be rewritten by national governments in private later on. It would make a mockery of all the claims that Europe will be brought closer to the citizens.

So the national governments in the IGC should accept the Convention’s proposals without further amendment.

The public debate around ratification will be no less than that during the negotiation process; in fact it will probably be greater. Many of the terms of the debate have had to wait for the final draft text to be concluded. It was hard to express support or opposition to a draft that was not yet complete. Soon it will be: the debate can enter a new phase.

After ratification – it looks as if the draft text will be one that the federalists can support – then will come implementation. There are many aspects of the draft that can be interpreted in several different ways. Much depends on how the constitution is applied in practice. For example, who will be more important: the president of the Commission or the chair of the European Council? This is not clear. A lot will turn on whether political parties nominate and campaign for their candidates for Commission president. A president elected this way will be far more legitimate than an appointed Council chair. But will the parties act? That is what we mean by the implementation of the constitution.

And there is one final observation to be made. This draft constitution is surely not the final word on the democratic unification of Europe. There will be further stages in the process along the way, to improve the economic governance of the Union perhaps, to strengthen its foreign policy certainly. So how will amendments to the constitution be made?

At this point, it is important to remember the history of European integration. The successful aspects have been those that are based on majority voting of some kind. The failures have been based on the veto. We think that there is an important lesson here.

Future constitutional amendments in a Union of 25 or more member states will be almost impossible if they depend on unanimity. Even if the proposed amendments themselves are uncontroversial, the opportunity to cast a veto can be misused to achieve other ends, to the detriment of the democracy and efficiency of the Union as a whole.

So, returning to the present, we ask members of the Convention to support majority voting for future amendments to the European constitution. Perhaps the majority needs to be larger for such amendments than for normal legislation, perhaps it might only apply to some amendments and not all, but establishing the principle of majority voting here rather than unanimity is an important one.

It is a relief to conclude this Federalist Letter to the Convention with such a simple plea, after so many complicated discussions over so many months. And it ought to be simple, because that’s what the principle underlying the European Union is.

The success of the European Union is no fragile magic; it is based on the solid experience of history. The interests of the member states and their citizens are best served by shared democracy rather than shared hatreds.

Members of the Convention can finish their work knowing that they have taken the next step forward towards peace, prosperity and liberty. We thank them.

This “Federalist Letter” is issued by the Union of European Federalists as part of the “Campaign for a European Federal Constitution”. For further information and support:
UEF – Chaussée de Wavre 214 d B-1050 Brussels, Tel: + 32-2-508.30.30 – Fax : +32-2-626.95.01, E-mail: uef.european.federalists@skynet.be – Website: www.federaleurope.org With the financial support, but not representing the opinions, of the European Commission.

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