chapter  18
13 Pages

Europe’s constitutional imbroglio

WithGÉRARD ROLAND

With hindsight, the simple existence of a text for a European Constitution should have been seen as a very unlikely event. A few years ago, the prospect of the enlargement of the European Union to 25 had raised fears that the EU would simply become a large free-trade area and that the post-Second World War European project of peace on the continent via a closer political integration may never materialize. Europe had lost its historical opportunity in the aftermath of 1989, claimed the pessimists. The Nice Treaty had made decisions on voting weights in the European Council and on the number of seats in the European Parliament after enlargement. It seemed inevitable that decision-making would become much more difficult in the enlarged EU (Baldwin et al., 2001). However, a seemingly unimportant event, the institution of a Convention to establish the Charter of Fundamental Rights, was to have deep-reaching consequences. The Belgian presidency prepared a declaration, the Laeken declaration, destined to renew the impetus for reform and to move farther ahead than the bland Nice outcome. The most revolutionary act would prove to be the abandoning of the traditional instrument of the intergovernmental conference (IGC) and the decision to mandate instead a Convention to prepare these reforms. Intergovernmental conferences are always composed of country representatives who have in mind only the interests of their country. This leads often to quite inefficient bargaining. The convention was to be composed not only of representatives of national governments but also of members of the European Parliament and of national parliaments. Even more interestingly, it included representatives from the accession countries which, at the time, had not yet officially entered the EU. Members of the Convention were to act not as country representatives but as conventioneers trying jointly to prepare a draft Constitution. Despite a very strict deadline and a sometimes idiosyncratic presidency by the aging former French president Giscard d’Estaing, the Convention fulfilled its task. The IGC that took place in the fall of 2003 could not

make any progress over the work of the convention. The rejection of the referenda by a large majority in France on 29 May by 54.7 percent of the votes and on 1 June in Holland by 62.8 percent came all the more as a bitter blow to most observers of the European Constitutional process.