Europe summit ends in chaos on constitution (The Observer/Guardian, Sunday December 14, 2003): The European Union was facing the gravest crisis in its 46-year history last night after radical plans to draw up a new constitution were abandoned because of bitter in-fighting between member states. As the flagship project was delayed for at least a year and countries started to talk openly of a 'two-speed Europe', Tony Blair was left insisting that the new constitution could still be made to work despite such an embarrassing setback. It is the first time such a major summit has ended without agreement and in such acrimony. The meeting in Brussels was abandoned early after four of the key players - France, Germany, Spain and Poland - made it clear that they could not come to an agreement on voting powers under the new constitution.
Forbes.com: WRAPUP 5-EU leaders seek way out of voting rights deadlock: European Union leaders were locked in intensive negotiations on the EU's first constitution on Friday with little sign key players were budging on the central dispute over voting power. EU president Italy, struggling to steer 25 bickering present and future member states towards agreement on a historic treaty, prepared the way for possible failure saying it would not accept a deal at any cost. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, chairing the talks, raced through the routine agenda in the first session to free up more time to focus on the new charter, designed to streamline EU institutions. But he warned the summit could fail. "The voting system is the obstacle that can block the whole agreement, and that is a pity," he told reporters.
After a series of private meetings with individual leaders to sound out ways out of the deadlock, the Italian leader sounded more optimistic. "I never make bets but I believe everyone is showing a willingness to find a compromise, one that will let Europe operate and make decisions," he said.
The core of the constitution debate is a bare-knuckle fight over how much power the four biggest states -- Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- will wield and how much integration EU leaders can swallow. The row pitted heavyweights Germany and France against two of the continent's medium-sized states, Spain and Poland, which are determined to cling to voting weight disproportionate to their populations granted in the Nice treaty in 2000.
Highlights of proposed new EU constitution (EUBusiness, 14 December 2003)
Apparently, Berlusconi was a bit mistaken.
So let me get this straight-ish: The issue is essentially that the smaller states want to prevent themselves from being simply overpowered by the larger population states. Hum. Now where on earth have I seen that type of argument before .... Oh, yes.
Federalist No. 37: Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government
.....To the difficulties already mentioned may be added the interfering pretensions of the larger and smaller States. We cannot err in supposing that the former would contend for a participation in the government, fully proportioned to their superior wealth and importance; and that the latter would not be less tenacious of the equality at present enjoyed by them. We may well suppose that neither side would entirely yield to the other, and consequently that the struggle could be terminated only by compromise. It is extremely probable, also, that after the ratio of representation had been adjusted, this very compromise must have produced a fresh struggle between the same parties, to give such a turn to the organization of the government, and to the distribution of its powers, as would increase the importance of the branches, in forming which they had respectively obtained the greatest share of influence. There are features in the Constitution which warrant each of these suppositions; and as far as either of them is well founded, it shows that the convention must have been compelled to sacrifice theoretical propriety to the force of extraneous considerations.
To put it more colloquially: been there, done that, literally wrote the book.
The current constitution gives smaller European states what the larger ones consider to be disproportionate representation in their councils. Whatever it is they were trying to do -- and the constitutions of the European Union are the most puzzling political melange one could imagine -- simple logic says that when you give the small a vote that counterweighs the large states, they're not going to give that up without gaining something in return that essentially does the same thing. Add to that the difficulties of making a federal Europe out of states that not only have a very long history of actual independence from each other, with separate languages and separate cultures, and you pretty much have a recipe for gridlock.
Key EU constitution issues (CNN, 12 December 2003): ..... Including God: Should the constitution's preamble mention God or Judeo-Christian values as part of the continent's heritage? Secular states such as France and Denmark say 'no.' Catholic Poland, Spain and Italy say 'yes.' Muslims and other religions cry foul.
... Why on earth would any sane person even bring this up as an issue for their new constitution? Surely it must be obvious to anyone trying to make a union of this polyglot that when you have countries which have different national religions, combined with immigration that brings other religions within the national boundaries, the only thing you can really say is something like, "We respect each person's right to worship as they will," and then sail on. Since the general idea is to create a secular superstate, you cannot reasonably acknowledge the role of national churches or national declarations of religion; it simply has no role within the function of the superstate. The actual statement on the subject in the proposed constitution -- "The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States." -- really does go about as far as you can, and somewhat further than it probably ought. One also points out that, if they're trying to acknowledge the role that religion has played in their history, the role of the Muslim church in Spain and the Catholic church in the middle east have hardly been entirely salutary -- to say nothing of that lovely period of history, not precisely yet concluded, that we like to call The Holy Inquisition, which wasn't kind to the other Europeans. You cannot enshrine in that type of document a sort of "Look how good faith has been!" without at least mentioning some of its excesses.
Interestingly, the new constitution also includes what is technically a secession clause. One wonders what kind of teeth it has. After all, yes, you can secede, but where do you go? Unless the seceding country is Russia, it will still be pretty much surrounded by Federal Europe.
In any event, Germany is apparently going to try to bully Poland into changing their position. Much as we have been bullying Europe in recent months, but with somewhat more teeth. That ought to be vastly interesting to watch. One supposes that France will try to have to bully Spain -- after all, Poland didn't scuttle the talks all on their own. And in the meantime, both France and Germany continue to flout the current constitution's rules by running much larger deficits than the constitution allows without turning to austerity measures.
Yes. Quite.Posted by iain at December 15, 2003 06:29 PM