The Lisbon treaty v the American Constitution

The Lisbon Treaty presented by Lech Kaczynski (picture European Commission)

By Richard Laming

Published in The Times, 3 June 2008

Sir, In comparing the Lisbon treaty unfavourably with the US Constitution of 1787 (“Jefferson: a lesson for Europeans”, June 2), William Rees-Mogg is not comparing like with like. It is true that there are strong parallels, but there are also important differences.

In addition to the simple parallel that they both attempt to unite diverse and sovereign states under a shared rule of law, each of them should also be understood as part of a unification process rather than as a single, one-off event. The US Constitution was the successor to the previous Articles of Confederation and also the New England Confederation of the 17th century. Indeed, it is not the last word on American governance, having been amended 27 times since then. Similarly, in Europe, the Lisbon treaty is a set of amendments to treaties that have already been amended several times, in the Single European Act and the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice.

The crucial difference between the two documents is that they represent different stages in that unification process. The US Constitution is considerably more advanced than the EU treaties, being based on the decisive recognition by its member states of the need to endow the shared institutions with the same standards and principles of democracy as apply within the member states themselves. While the Lisbon treaty represents progress in that regard compared with the treaties leading up to Nice, there is still some way to go. Wider study of the Federalist Papers might well reassure Europe’s political leaders that more democracy at the European level is possible without compromising the diversity of the member states, which is after all what federalism really means.

Richard Laming, Director, Federal Union, London SE1

Read the letter as a pdf at 080603times

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