Why the European constitution should be welcomed

Brendan Donnelly speaking at the European Social Forum, 2004

Speech by Brendan Donnelly, Chair of Federal Union, at the European Social Forum, 15 October 2004

The European Constitution is an attempt to codify and improve the workings of the European Union in the face of enlargement. It is not an attempt to refound or fundamentally restructure the Union, which will continue to work after the Constitution is adopted in a very similar way to its present operations.

I support the adoption of the Constitution for two main reasons. First, I see the European Union until now as having made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to peace, prosperity and stability in Europe over the past fifty years. To vote against this codifying Constitution now would be a political rejection of all the successes of the Union since its creation. Second, to the limited extent that it does change the workings of the European Union, these changes are in the direction of greater democracy, transparency and efficiency, all of which I welcome. The enhanced roles for national parliaments and the European Parliament in European law-making; the obligation on national Ministers to meet in public when adopting European law; the simplification of legal and administrative procedures; and the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights—-all these are worthwhile and laudable developments in the Constitution which build constructively on existing arrangements.

Two main sets of criticisms are directed at the Constitution by its opponents, criticisms of an institutional nature and criticisms of a political nature. Under the first heading, there are those who believe that the modest institutional changes brought about by the Constitution are inappropriate, either because they do not go far enough or because they go too far. Under the second broad heading fall those who are unhappy with what they see as the underlying political and economic values of the Constitution, which they see as incompatible with their own. A brief comment can be made which is relevant to both sets of critics.

If this European Constitution is not adopted, the European Union will revert to its existing arrangements, which themselves reflect a specific set of political and economic assumptions. It is with these existing arrangements (most recently amended in the Nice Treaty of 2000) that the Constitution should rationally be compared. If a voter or a political party believes that the existing situation is preferable to what is on offer in the Constitution, then it certainly makes sense to vote against the Constitution. It makes little sense, however, to vote against the Constitution because it goes insufficiently far in a particular political, economic or institutional direction. The Constitution represents a sometimes painful compromise between the European Union’s member states. If it is not ratified, there is no chance of its being renegotiated to produce a fundamentally different text. There are a number of issues on which there is as yet no consensus between Europe’s member states (both governments and electors.) The European Constitution could not be expected to resolve of itself all these outstanding issues. Such resolution will only come about by continuing political debate in and between the member states. The apostles of extreme market liberalism and of state-supported corporatism alike will be disappointed by the European Constitution. The Constitution does not and cannot resolve their political differences. It can at best offer a better framework for these differences to be contrasted and debated. If it does that (and I believe it does,) then it deserves support from national parliaments and national electorates.

I should conclude by saying that the ratification of the European Constitution should be particularly important to those concerned by the imbalance produced in world politics by the unchallenged predominance of the United States of America. The rejection of the Constitution would mark a setback in European attempts to provide a counter-balance to the American “hyperpower” in its isolated position which is not even to the benefit of the United States itself. The neo-Conservatives in Washington hope that Europe will remain divided. The non-ratification of the Constitution will confirm them in their view that Europe cannot be united.

This speech was given by Brendan Donnelly, chair of Federal Union, at the European Social Forum in London on 15 October 2004. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

About the Author