Do not re-open the debate about the text of the draft constitution

Federalist Letter to the Intergovernmental Conference

Issue number 12, 2 October 2003

Do not re-open the debate about the text of the draft constitution

Dear Members of the IGC

Now that the European constitutional convention has completed its work, responsibility for the text passes to the Intergovernmental Conference. Representatives of the 25 member state governments will meet over a period of several months to review the draft constitution, along with representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The UEF will address Federalist Letters to the members of the IGC for as long as it meets, to remind them of their responsibilities towards the citizens of Europe and to raise important issues at stake in the future of Europe. The first of these issues is the need for clarity and simplicity in the way that Europe is governed.

It is important, therefore, that the text of the draft constitution proposed by the Convention should be adopted with the minimum of amendment in the IGC. Perhaps there are some technical changes needed for the purposes of consistency, but no more than this. Certainly there should be no changes of political substance. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, it should be recognised that the draft constitution is a good text. It may not be perfect – federalists will clearly state that the draft has imperfections – but overall it represents progress towards a democratic and united Europe. Nothing better could have been produced given the current state of European political and public opinion. The European Union with this new constitution will be much better than it was under the Nice treaty.

Secondly, the Convention met over sixteen months, with plenary sessions and working groups, with literally thousands of documents and proposals presented for debate. The possible alternatives to the current draft have already been considered and rejected – there is surely nothing new to say that might find agreement amongst the members of the IGC.

Furthermore, the governments of the member states have already taken part in all those debates and decisions in the Convention. They have had all the chances they needed to put forward their opinions and have heard the responses from the other member state governments already. Re-opening the debate on the text in the IGC will merely repeat the same discussions amongst the same people.

This is not just a matter of principle, it is also a matter of practical politics. The draft constitution, as has already been said, is a compromise. There were many different points of view and interests to be acknowledged – that is a major reason why the draft text is not perfect. It would be a mistake for any member state government to think that it can get its preferred changes made to the text without other unwelcome changes being insisted upon by other member state governments. The outcome of the convention was a careful balance; it should not be upset now

The issue though is not just a matter of practical politics, it is also a matter of principle. The Convention was an open public process, with participants from governing and opposition parties in member states parliaments, from the European Parliament and the European Commission, with contributions from civil society and the wider public. The IGC, on the other hand, is a closed private process. No-one will know or be able to follow what is going on. This must mean that the Convention is surely more legitimate than the IGC as a place to debate and take decisions about the future of Europe. The Laeken declaration itself said of the citizens that “they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.” This perfectly describes the present situation – the IGC should refrain from exaggerating all the things that citizens do not like about Europe.

And finally, respecting the outcome of this convention means that the next convention will be able to have a much better debate about the future of Europe. One of the weaknesses of the convention was the way in which it was clearly overshadowed by the subsequent IGC – the meeting between Blair and Giscard D’Estaing, for example, that removed the word “federal” from the text. Defending the outcome of the convention now will ensure that the next convention – to be held in five or ten years time – will be able to address the future of Europe in a more honest and decisive fashion. And if there are two qualities needed most in the Europe of today, they are honesty and decisiveness.

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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