Monday, December 20, 2004

How Americans see it

The American commentator in this case is, in fact, a French citizen who has lived in the United States for thirty-three years. So, his views can be seen as well-meaning American. Jean-Loup Archawski is a retired businessman and a member of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Study Group on America and the West.

He has produced an interesting though somewhat bemused analysis of the European Constitution, clearly attempting to explain the inexplicable. Mr Archawski can be described as both an insider – presumably his links with France are closer than the average American political analyst’s – and an outside commentator. After all, he does not live there. Also, he knows that his audience, that small part of the American public that is interested in European politics, is unlikely to find its way through the maze of it.

His analysis is, therefore, of some interest. He makes the usual point that this is not a constitution as has been understood until now. A constitution ought to be a brief and precise definition of the various parts of the state, their relationship with each other and the relationship between the state and the individual. The European Constitution is not brief, seriously imprecise and goes far beyond the usual scope of such a document.

As Mr Archawski puts it, echoing (probably not realizing that he does so) certain points we have already made on this blog about the managerial style of governance:
“The form of suggested governance is neither a confederation nor a federation. The document reads more like the by-laws of a very large corporation or a bureaucratic behemoth rather than like a constitution organizing the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”
That is, in many ways, the point at issue. This is a behemoth, a leviathan; one that is not and cannot be, given its size and propensity to increase endlessly, a democratic, accountable, truly constitutional political system. Even in business terms this is out of date. Mergers do happen, of course, and the Commission is on the look-out for them, not wishing to see monopolies anywhere but at the heart of the project. But many seriously overgrown giant companies have found that they had to demerge to restore some kind of efficiency.

Mr Archawski tries to explain the various executive and legislative branches of the EU, pointing out the convoluted legislative process and calling attention to, among others, Article I-32, which gives legislative force to various supposedly non-legislative rulings. Rightly, he sees that this leaves “the reader fearful of the possibility of arbitrary edicts”. For some reason he does not mention the fact that the sole right to initiate legislation remains with the European Commission, which is often described by American commentators as the European executive, though the lack of any separation of powers ought to ring alarm bells.

The paper comes to the conclusion that the Constitution is so convoluted and full of internal contradictions because of the nature of the negotiations that produced it. Mr Archawski echoes the “many people” (who are they, one wonders) who think that this Constitution has no chance at all of being ratified in the 25 states. Therefore, the most likely scenario, in his opinion, and the most attractive one is the reappearance of the document in a slimmed-down, clarified version. Something like the American Constitution, one assumes.

That would define more coherently the role of the Foreign Minister and of what the foreign, security and defence policies of the EU are likely to be – clearly a subject of some interest and growing concern to Americans. It would, perhaps, define the roles of the various governmental bodies. It might even, though Mr Archawski does not go into this, roll back some of the powers that are being aggregated in the EU structure at the expense of national legislatures, individual businesses and organizations and, in fact, individual citizens.

All of this could happen, but I think this is another one of those famous Tales of Porcine Aviation. It is extraordinary that, having grasped the basic problem about the EU, Mr Archawski can actually move on to that kind of an uninformed optimism.

The structure of the European Constitution, its size, detailed instructions and necessary vagueness about details is essential to the whole construct. Just as the EEC was never intended to be a free market and, thus, there is no point in suggesting we move back to it, so the European Union is not intended to be a carefully balanced federal structure with well defined government powers.

Its intention has always been to have as few definitions as possible – a very sensible course of action if you want to take over powers without anyone much noticing what you are doing. Its plan for expansion is ill-defined, partly because of an inability to put together a common foreign policy, there not being any common interests. Its structure is ill-defined, to allow more scope for future integration. And the last thing the authors of that wretched document wanted was an understanding either on the part of the member states or of individual citizens what their precise role and rights are.

If, for some reason, this Constitution is not adopted, the chances are there will be another committee that will tinker with a few details. The next document will not be any simpler or, if experience is anything to go by, shorter. Au contraire.

In the end, we have to come back to the most crucial question of all, one that Mr Achawski does not ask: what is the point of all this.

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