Europe's Constitution-building exercise is facing challenges thrown up as part of the very democratic process the document aims to uphold. The DOSEI research project has kept tabs on Europe's progress towards legal consolidation through a Constitution and recently reported its findings in Brussels.
“Understanding how constitutional decisions are taken in the EU is of great societal and scientific relevance,” note Thomas König and Simon Hug about their forthcoming book ‘Policy-making Processes and the European Constitution: A Comparative Study of Member States and Accession Countries', which documents the findings of the three-year DOSEI (Domestic Structures and European Integration) project.
|The European Constitution is still an open book.|
© European Commission Audiovisual Library
“These decisions have substantial effects on the sovereignty of a growing number of European nation states and on the lives of European citizens, independent of the ratification and coming into force of a Constitution,” the researchers add.
The European Union is built on a unique institutional system. Democracy and the rule of law are the cornerstones of this system. Through its role as the instigator of EU law reflecting Member States' needs, the European Commission upholds the interests of the Union as a whole. Each national government is also represented within the Council of the European Union, while the European Parliament is directly elected by EU citizens.
The Constitution was drafted between 2002 and 2003 via the Convention on the Future of Europe which was an assembly of 108 people led by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The EU-funded DOSIE project spent from 2002 until very recently gathering the positions of the main actors involved in the drafting, coordination and negotiations for the Constitution, at both national and EU levels.
Where to from here?
The Constitution aims to bring together the many treaties and agreements on which the EU is based, while defining the powers of the EU, and reforming its institutions. Ostensibly, the document seeks to confirm the Union as a legal body with the power to sign international treaties as a single bloc instead of as separate Member States – thus improving democratic efficiency and transparency and presenting a united front to outside actors.
This is the intention. Whether it was adequately communicated to voters in France and the Netherlands, who rejected the Constitution in recent referenda is another question. In the lead up to its final conference on 20 June, called ‘Europe at Crossroads', DOSEI predicted that the treaty for the Constitution, although already signed by Member States in 2004, would face many hurdles before being ratified.
“In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith,” quipped the former US senator and known multilateral politician James William Fulbright. Researchers in the DOSEI (Domestic Structures and European Integration) project perhaps tacitly acknowledge the irony of this statement as they reflect on the subsequent setbacks to the Constitution.
“After the negative popular votes in France and the Netherlands, the outcome of the ‘Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe' remains an open question,” notes DOSEI on its website. Thirteen countries already ratified the treaty, and most countries – except the UK which has shelved its referendum plans – favour continuing this process. “[These] events are neither surprising nor unknown,” say the DOSEI researchers.
A history of setbacks can be documented. In December 2003, the intergovernmental negotiations were postponed and it was only thanks to electoral defeat of the Aznar government in Spain that the Irish Presidency managed to reach a compromise on the treaty – later signed by all governments in October 2004. Previous examples of failed referenda – the Danish ‘no' (in 1991) to the Maastricht treaty and the Irish objection (in 2001) to the Nice treaty “show that negative popular votes … finish neither the ratification process nor European integration”. Luxembourg's ‘yes' to the Constitution earlier this month is a case in point.
EU and external sources