Friday, May 27, 2005

"Europe is not ambitious enough"

Can't really argue with that. This is the problem with this bloody constitution - there's no vision behind it. There's nothing to inspire interest, enthusiasm or loyalty - even among the faithful. For a project as ambtitious as the breaking down of barriers between the disparate, once war-ridden nations of an ancient continent, you'd think they'd have at least tried to have given it a shot or two of pizzazz.

The trouble with this "constitution" (even the eurosceptic Scotsman accepts that it's really little more than "a 500-page pull-together of all previous EU Treaties") is, as I've said elsewhere before, that it's looking to sort out the present and the clutter of the past, not the future.

All good constitutions look to the future. They see what was wrong with the past and they try to make everything as perfect as possible.

So, in this constitution where's the drive for democracy? Qualified Majority Voting is kind of more democratic, but something tells me that's not what the critics meant. Yes, the elected European Parliament gains a say in far more areas, but where's the push for transparency in the Commission? Where's the insistence that national parliaments pay more attention to Brussels legislation?

Perhaps if Westminster was paying more attention they'd have spotted the working time directive a tad sooner, and have been able to do something. Perhaps if Westminster was paying more attention then Britain would cease to implement EU directives to the letter, sometimes causing problems, and find the more flexible interpretations that most other member states manage to run with. But MPs are not voluntarily going to take on more work - it's hard enough to get them to reply to constituents' letters or even make it to the lobby before the division bell stops ringing, so expecting them to read and understand complex EU missives and come up with alternatives without this being forced on them is somewhat unlikely.

Then, we might ask, why the need for one all-encompassing document anyway? The Treaty of Rome covered just six nations, yet each required opt-outs for varous clauses. The same has been the case with most subsequent treaties. Now that the Union has expanded to 25 members - including a number which have yet to recover from their decades of poverty and pillage under Soviet rule - how can anyone think that a "one size fits all" approach is the way forwards?

The coming of the Eurozone is the ultimate proof that the EU can function without everyone participating in exactly the same way. Why did the Convention which drew up this constitution not notice that?

If some EU states want to push ahead with political integration, and turn into the federal superstate of eurosceptic myth, why shouldn't they? There's no real practical reason why they have to take less keen nations along with them. So why can't there be an "A-list" membership, with various affiliate members at lesser stages of integration scattered around the edges?

What is the problem of allowing subsects to membership if we've already got the Eurozone? Why can't we set up something whereby if three or more nations want to band together with a different type of membership they can do so under the EU umbrella? That seems like a natural number - three BeNeLux countries, three Baltic states, the Scandinavian countries seem to agree with each other more often than not etc. etc.

That way everyone could be happy - sign up purely for those parts of the EU you want to - the only constant being the lack of trade barriers between all members. Then we could bring all the EEA and EFTA nations fully into the fold. Hell - we could even allow opt-outs in certain areas of trade and expand outside the continent if we wanted to. At the lowest level of membership it could simply be one step up from the WTO.

Instead, the attempt to impose uniformity on countries with so many little variants of interest, culture and history - yet nonetheless with a number of things in common and a number of shared interests - looks to be throwing the whole of the EU into crisis. Those countries who want to integrate further are being thwarted just as are those who feel integration may already have gone too far. With the current constitution, no one really wins - which is precisely why the opposition in France is largely on the left while in Britian it is largely on the right.

If you want a one size fits all EU, then the current constitution is the best compromise we're likely to get. But is that really what's best - either for the individual member states or for the EU itself?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

EU constitutional treaty referendum linkdump

The plan is to keep updating this with links to useful blog posts etc. with interesting things to say on the EU constitution and the ratification process, and whack a link to it in the EU Info section to the top left there for ease of access:

Actually Existing with a superb selection of quotes, everyone from Jurgen Habermas to Denis MacShane.

Hold That Thought has more detail on Habermas' latest take on the constitution, and here's the letter from Habermas and other German intellectuals to the French voters. For Habermas' old views on the need for a constitution from 2001, see here.

Meaders of Dead Men Left has a rebuttal to the above. And now there's a rebuttal of the rebuttal from Hold That Thought.

Eulogist of European Democracy explains in detail why he reckons the constitution is a good thing.

The World Socialist Web Site urges a "No" to prevent the entrenchment of bourgeois capitalism and aid the coming of the United Socialist States of Europe, something many on the right already claim it to be.

The superb Transatlantic Assembly on the myth of the "pro-European No", and again on French referendum pro-constitution propaganda,, yet again on the French left and the constitution, and once more on how the constitution doesn't really change anything. Hell, go and flick through their archives - there's a whole load of good stuff on the constitution there...

Is the French referendum a farcical piece of state terrorism?

Deutsche Welle reckons the EU can survive rejecting the constitution - just...

But EU president Jean-Claude Juncker reckons it'd be a disaster for the world and Timothy Garton Ash prays for a French Oui.

"Key thinkers" on the constitution - from Boris Johnson to Tony Benn. And part two.

The treaty text: why, who and what next - a handy Q&A - and some background to the constitution.

Why No? It's their economies, stupid.

Three vital ways to limit the damage in the miserable event of a 'yes'.

I wonder what he meant by that - the implications of the Dutch and French referendums against the constitutional treaty from a Conservative perspective.

Being Europe Par 2: After the Fall - implications for national politics.

EU, spell out internal disagreements - more implications.

Not the only fruit - the dangers of political short-termism and the future direction of the EU.

Le jour de glorie - the left and the constitution.

Good article (and ensuing discussion) on the Dutch referendum and the quality of debate over the constitution (and the problems with referenda in general) at Fistful by Frans Groenendijk.

And Diderot's Lounge chips in with a (rare, in this debate) decidedly rational take on the situation: To Suggest the French and Dutch Votes Pushed Europe into a Crisis is Nonsense

Open Democracy's series of articles on the constitution and the aftermath. A good range, but all .pdf downloads.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blair government in "we're a bunch of abject bastards who don't give a shit about you or your stupid so-called concerns" non-shocker!

ID cards are back today. 12pm sees the launch of the "new" bill. Grrr... More later, if I get a chance.

And, in other news, they've gone and made John "fuck off or I'll twat you" Prescott head of the cabinet committee on electoral policy:

"Mr Prescott has made it clear to colleagues that there is no question of reviving PR for parliamentary elections."
Oh, and:
"In another decision that signals his opposition to PR, Mr Blair formally abolish[ed] the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), he set up with the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown as a vehicle to discuss PR. The scrapping of the JCC slammed the door on the prospect of Labour-Liberal Democrat talks on voting reform and sent a powerful signal that relations between Labour and the Liberal Democrats have hit a new low. Mr Prescott has told colleagues: 'That's all dead now.'"
Grrrr... More on that later too, if I get a chance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The French referendum debate

The French press, unsurprisingly considering their hard-fought referendum is due at the end of the week, has been analysing the EU like never before, with major newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro devoting reams of copy to dissecting that damned constitution from every possible angle. It's a great shame more of the French discussion isn't filtering to this side of the Channel, 'cos there's some interesting ideas and interpretations being kicked around.

Le Figaro currently reports the two sides split 53% to 47%, to the "Non" vote's advantage, though also notes that 29% still haven't made their final choice with just four days to go. These figures are based on an expected turnout of 67%.

Meanwhile, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing - old adversary of Roy Jenkins while he headed the Commission and the man responsible for drawing up the bloody thing in the first place - has been on the attack to win his fellow countrymen over to his baby. He actually makes some rather good points (as well as some overblown and unjustified ones, which I'll neglect to quote), and ones which would apply just as well to Britain, with the appropriate name substitutions, as to France (my substandard translations):

"1. Il n'existe aucune possibilité d'aboutir à un consensus des vingt-cinq Etats européens sur les thèmes, d'ailleurs contradictoires, avancés au cours de la campagne du référendum en France par les partisans du non. Nos partenaires estiment que la Convention est déjà allée très loin – et pour certains trop loin – en direction des demandes françaises. Nous n'obtiendrons pas mieux. Nous obtiendrions sans doute moins."

"1. There is no possibility of a consensus among the twenty-five European States on the areas, which are often contradictory, advanced during the course of the French referendum's No campaign. Our [EU] partners feel that the Convention has already conceded much - and for some too much - towards French requests. We will not obtain better. We would undoubtedly obtain worse."

"2. Le projet de Constitution ne menace personne. Son seul objet est de corriger les défauts actuels de l'Union européenne, jugée trop compliquée, peu efficace, et insuffisamment démocratique. Le rejet du projet nous ramènerait purement et simplement à la situation actuelle, qui fait l'objet de toutes les critiques, sans nouvel espoir d'en sortir."

"2. The Constitutional project does not threaten anybody. Its only objective is to correct the current deficiencies of the European Union, which is considered too complicated, inefficient and insufficiently democratic. Rejection of the constitution would purely and simply take us back to the current situation, which is the source of all these criticisms, without any hope of relief."
Meanwhile, in Le Monde, Pierre de Lauzun (a deputy manager of the French Banking Federation, apparently) has an interesting alternative take where we'd all be better off scrapping the current constitution and starting all over again:
"Au fond, on sait que l'Europe ne se construit que sur la base des Etats-nations. C'est pour cela que ce qu'on appelle Constitution est un traité international. Mais on n'en tire pas la conclusion : le mythe de l'Europe substitution est une utopie, et l'Europe est d'abord la mise en commun d'outils, dont les véritables autorités politiques, nationales, ont jugé qu'il valait mieux les mettre en œuvre ensemble que séparés. Et, si on voulait aller plus loin, il faudrait définir positivement ce que les peuples d'Europe ont en commun, objectivement, et cesser de procéder par construction abstraite.

"Mais on a préféré poursuivre le mythe politique. Faute de contenu, la solution retenue est donc procédurale : prendre des principes abstraits et juger de toute décision à partir d'une déclinaison de ces principes. Le procédural et le juridique envahissent entièrement le champ du débat. Il ne faut donc pas s'étonner de l'indifférence, et parfois de l'hostilité des peuples, malgré leur bienveillance a priori. L'Europe est ce paradoxe d'une construction non démocratique mais à fondement démocratique. Elle reste plus le fruit d'une volonté des élites que d'une construction populaire. Chaque étape a été décidée en haut et ratifiée au mieux a posteriori. Démocratique, son fonctionnement ne l'est pas plus, malgré le'Parlement européen' : il n'y a pas de débat public entre deux équipes ou deux programmes, sanctionné par les urnes, dans un espace politique commun."

"At heart, they know that Europe is not built on the basis of nation states. It's for that reason that what they call the Constitution is actually an international treaty. But they do not draw the right conclusion from this: the myth of substituting Europe is a Utopia; Europe is above all the pooling of tools, whose true political authorities - national - judged were better to implement together than separately. And, if they want to go further, it is necessary positively to define what the people of Europe have in common, objectively, and to cease trying to proceed with a constitution that's so abstract."

"But they prefer to continue with the political myth. Lacking content, the adopted solution has become procedural: taking abstract principles and judging any decisions based on their variation from them. The procedural and legal approach entirely invades the language of debate. We should not therefore be surprised by the indifference and sometimes hostility of the people, in spite of their previous benevolence. Europe is the paradox of a being an undemocratic construction based on a democratic foundation. It remains more the fruit of the will of the elites than of the people. Each stage was decided from above and was ratified, as well as it could be, after the fact. Being democratic is not its aim, in spite of the European Parliament': there is no public discussion between two parties or two programmes, sanctioned by the ballot boxes, in a common political space."
These are just two small examples from one day's press coverage, and d'Estaing is probably a poor choice to give an indication of the level of debate. In terms of detail, genuine desire to understand the implications, and respect for its audience's intelligence it far surpasses anything this country saw in the run-up to the general election (remember Polly sodding Toynbee and her "nose peg" bollocks?), and has doubtless already surpassed whatever passes for a debate over the constitution in the run up to our own referendum - should it ever happen.

Of course, round the edges there is political spin from both sides, and on the extremes have been name-calling, muck-slinging and stupidness, but the central debate itself has not felt the need to resort to simplifying what is not a simple matter. There has been little of the recent British tendency to focus in on single issues at the expence of the wider picture.

The French people are being genuinely well served by their press and are responding with genuine interest and engagement as a result in a debate which, in this country, has yet to catch the interest of the Prime Minister, let alone the man in the street. Vive la france, as they say.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Supranational vs. Intergovernmental - the EU and the prevention of war

Hew BG asks in a comment, "what is your view on the Supranational / Intergovernmental question? The Yes camp (up to and including Barosso, Margot ) are currently conflating supranationalism and the peace in (Western) Europe over the last 50 years which is, to be generous to them, "stretching" the achievements of the EU."

My web connection's being a bit spacky today, and I've got a few deadlines so I can't do anything too substantial at the moment, and haven't got time to dig out links or the like. But in short, and off the top of my head:

Assuming we take "intergovernmental" to mean based on unanimous decisions and "supranational" to mean that states can be compelled by others to comply, I'd say Wallstrom/Barroso have a point - albeit a stretched and somewhat flawed one.

The World Trade Organisation, for example, is supranational and because of its powers of compulsion has helped to remove/reduce various tariff barriers over the years thanks to the added power of collective compulsion the supranational framework allows. The UN Security Council, however, working on the intergovernmental unanimity principle, has often been hampered by not being able to get agreement - notably over the Iraq war, Kosovo etc.

So a supranational set-up can certainly help get things done - it's akin to the principle of a parliamentary majority vote, only with nations rather than MPs. Intergovernmental decisions, requiring unanimity, can lead to stalemate and stagnation, and in turn to the breakup of the organisations which require them - viz. the current debates over the effectiveness of the UN and the collapse of its League of Nations predecessor.

You already know my views on nation states - outmoded and arbitrary. Nation states being allowed to maintain complete sovereignty and act purely in their own national interest can work to the disadvantage of other nations and the international community. Having some kind of supranational organisation which can put an extra bit of pressure on to stop them from pissing about is, in my view, very helpful. Being signed up to a supranational group is a rather more tightly binding check on rampant self-interest than mere bilateral / multilateral treaties - as the Munich Agreement is testimony to, such treaties are too easily easily ignored / rescinded / rewritten.

But having said that, in terms of war I doubt any agreement between nations is enough to prevent it if any particular state wants one badly enough - war is, after all, by its very nature illegal. The added threat of a vast number of allies instantly being dragged in (as via NATO) may help to stop anyone being stupid enough to launch one, but not necessarily.

This has gone on a bit, so to summarise: in my view, the EEC/EU has been a handy extra layer to NATO/the UN, but in legal terms not a vital one, in keeping the peace in western Europe. What it has helped to do is foster closer, friendlier relations between the governmental machines of the various member states, allowing closer dialogue than was previously the case. The more there is dialogue between nations, the less is the chance of war. In that sense I think the EU certainly has helped maintain the peace - but not, as I say, because of any specific legal agreements.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

New collection of EU resources

Top left-hand column, see? Click for a drop-down list of links and stuff.

I thought it was about time I started something like that, but being technologically illiterate that's the best I can do for now - contains some handy bits and pieces nonetheless, even if it is a tad Wikipedia-heavy at the moment. I am, however, trying to keep this to information which is as impartial as possible - so anything from either pro- or anti- sources will normally either be ignored or flagged up - unless it's from the EU itself, in which case it should be fairly obvious...

If you spot anything good that I'm missing (probably a lot at the moment, as I've only just knocked it up), let me know. Ta!

Films and the future of the EU

I've just updated The Unseen Movie Review with a selection of May and June releases. As I still haven't seen most of them, I can't guarantee that there aren't any spoilers, but I think I managed to avoid most major ones. Of the ones that I have since seen, I got Kingdom of Heaven slightly wrong - it does have a political agenda, albeit a rather lovey-dovey, hardly overly serious one, but it's otherwise a big, fun, stupid movie. Having seen Revenge of the Sith last night, with it's top-notch opening 20 minutes followed by another three hours of wooden acting, awful dialogue and frequent mind-numbing tedium interspersed with decently entertaining computer-generated spectacle (which nonetheless leaves you feeling all "meh"), it seems I got that one pretty much spot on.

If you want some political style stuff, I'll suggest you check out The Japan Times' EU Special - a handy guide to the French constitutional referendum plus the EU's relations with the Far East, all in .pdf format. Quite interesting stuff, if coming from a right-wing US-centric viewpoint, with some useful observations which are made more so by this coming from relatively dispassionate non-EU observers. Having siad that, one of the most interesting pieces is Agence France-Presse Brussels bureau chief Philippe Ries on what might happen if the French vote "Non":

"the greatest consequences of a negative result on May 29 would fall on France first. A defeat at the polling station would likely turn Chirac into a lame duck president for the remaining two years of his mandate. On the left, the current leadership of the Socialist Party would be thrown into total disarray. They would have succeeded in an internal referendum to deliver strong support for the constitution but failed to carry the momentum to the finish line. The reform process would stall for good, and paralysis would prevail until the next presidential election in 2007.

"At the European level, it could be as bad. A failure of France to ratify the constitution would of course send the wrong signal to the countries where the ratification is not a given. Some may consider the cause as lost and not even bother to carry on with the process. What would be the point for Tony Blair to call a referendum in the U.K. when the risk of being defeated would turn into a certainty?
"At the institutional level, the European Union would still function with the current rules, last updated in the dreadful Nice Treaty. The constitution anyway is not to be in force until 2009. But it would be without any doubt a huge political setback.

"France and Germany, already reluctant to accept the consequences of the last enlargement, as shown by their criticism of the new member states alleged fiscal and social dumping, might turn even more defensive. Common policies that are not so popular with the electorate, like competition or the monitoring of state subsidies, would become even more difficult to sell to the public, with the legitimacy of the whole process very much in doubt.

"Repercussions may be far reaching on the international scene. What would be the mandate of the European Commission for the achievement of the Doha Development Round if there is a political malaise at home? Protectionism within and outside Europe, in retreat for the past several decades, could well raise its ugly head again. The euro would likely not suffer in the short term, but its prospects of challenging the dollar as a key reserve currency would be darkened. People and governments in Europe would be even more reluctant to abide to the budgetary rules set in the Stability and Growth Pact.

"...One of the worst fantasies entertained by the partisans of the ``no'' camp who claim to be pro-Europe is that the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by France would force the 25 member countries back to the drawing board. While that is very unlikely, at least for a number of years, it is a certainty that the result would be even less to their liking. What would be exactly the leverage of a French delegation to better the compromise painfully elaborated at the convention? The pro-Europe 'no'' is at best an illusionand at worst an excuse."

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