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The Brussels Broadcasting Company

Posted by Richard Monday, June 21, 2004

BBC News Online has looked at "some of the myths and realities of the constitution", in a Q&A format. As befits the alternative meaning for its initials, it somehow finds that the constitution is not at all threatening.

We have reproduced its somewhat facile Q&A session, and added some comments of our own, in italics. Comments by readers would be welcome.

Will this lead to a United States of Europe like the USA?

No. The EU constitution is a balance between the demands of those who want more integration and those who want to preserve the rights of the nation states. In some areas, the constitution widens the areas of joint action to be decided by majority voting, into immigration and asylum policy for example. But in other areas, member states can still go their own way (in defence and foreign policy and tax, for example).

Not yet. But the EU constitution represents yet another attempt by the integrationalists to extend the power of the EU in fulfilment of their long-term ambition to create a United States of Europe. As with previous treaties, they have not got all they want, but the constitution represents a significant step towards that goal. And, once they have got the constitution “in the bag”, they will be back for more.

The EU will now have a president and a foreign minister in addition to its parliament, supreme court, civil service, flag and anthem. Is it not therefore a state?

No. These institutions are for specifically European Union functions, and some sound grander than they are. The EU in fact already has three "presidents" - of the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. What is new is that the Council Presidency, a post currently held by one member state for six months, will become a permanent position. But the powers of the president will be limited. He or she will not be comparable to the US or French presidents.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck… it is a duck. Despite this, the current national attributes of the EU do not, in themselves make a state, but they represent the milestones achieved in pursuit of that aim.

Does a Foreign Minister mean a common foreign policy?

Not in the EU. There is already a "high representative" for foreign policy and although the new post will be a bit grander, the foreign minister will be able to speak for the EU only when there is an agreed policy - over the Middle East peace process for example. If there is a disagreement, as over Iraq, he or she will be powerless.

The pursuit of a common foreign policy, binding on all membere states, has always been the "Holy Grail" of the European integrationalists. The appointment of a European Union Foreign Minister brings that goal one step closer.

Does the constitution confirm that this is a Europe of nation states?

No. It confirms that the European Union is a compromise. The nation states have given up some of their rights - over the internal market, foreign trade, agriculture, fisheries and the environment for example. So they are not entirely sovereign, by choice. If they want to be entirely sovereign, they can leave the Union.

It confirms that the integrationalists have not yet achieved their final goal. It is a compromise only in the sense that the member states have not given up quite as many powers as the integrationalists demanded. And, to be pedantic, it is arguable as to whether it is the "nation states" which have given up their powers, or their governments. In the latter event, have the people been given the "choice"?

How much does the constitution change things?

It will lead to more qualified majority voting, but the basic institutions will remain. Opponents say that the constitution will lead to further unnecessary integration and that it opens the way to more; supporters argue that such integration is limited and necessary for the common good.

It increases the power vested in the European Union institutions, and gives nothing back. The basic institutions remain but it absorbs the previously intergovernmental European Council into the maw of the European Union as a fully-fledged institution, defining its roles, procedures and powers, thereby making heads of state and government subordinate in important respects to the Commission and the European Court of Justice.

The constitution says that its law is supreme. Will the EU impose its law?

The procedures by which laws are passed have not fundamentally changed. Laws will still be proposed by the executive body, the Commission, and agreed jointly by member states and the European parliament. EU law is supreme in those areas where it has the right to legislate, but that has always been the case.

But a lot more policy areas have been passed to the Commission – so there will be a lot more laws covering many more fields. Furthermore, progressively, the Commission is moving into the field of enforcement – outwith the constitution. This may be happening slowly, but it is also a fundamental change. And the Commission is not the homely "executive body" in the sense that the BBC would like to convey… It is a fully-fledged government of the EU.

Will the Charter of Fundamental Rights interfere with national laws?

The Charter sets out a list of rights from the right to life to the right to strike. The UK government was worried that it might affect national industrial relations laws and says that it will not do so, but the Charter has yet to be tested in the courts.

The Charter most certainly will be tested in the courts – the ECJ is waiting to get its hands on it, and there are few who doubt the outcome.

This won't be the end of EU arguments, though?

No it won't. There will always be tension between those who want to go further and those who want to hold back. Some supporters of a federal Europe might forge ahead in some new areas like tax harmonisation and social security, as they have done with the single currency, the euro. The show goes on.

This gives the game away… "there will always be tension between those who want to go further and those who want to hold back". The trouble is that the process of integration only goes in one direction. Powers which are ceded by nation states are never returned. Each step towards full integration is followed by another, and another, with no end point in sight. The constitution is simply another step on the way and after that, there will be another, and another. This is why the constitution must be stopped.