Monday, April 11, 2005

For the Constitution

It is time to spring clean the European Constitutional House. To do so, I will divide the main arguments in two domains: law on the one hand, economics on the other.

The legal domain deals with several issues. Part 1 of the EuConst concerns the institutional arrangements. Part 2 concerns the charter of Fundamental Rights. Finally, Part 4 concerns various legal disposition, including the issue of revision of the constitutional treaty.

The domain of economics is dealt with primarily in part 3 of the EuConst. An observation is in order to dispel certain basic problems. Part 3 does not say anything fundamentally new: it gathers and organises previous texts and principles, which are part of the European construction.

If we compare the two domains, the first observation we can make is that the legal/constitutional domain introduces the major innovations. For the rest, the constitution makes the previous texts more transparent in that it unites them in a single text.

In this blog, Raphael argued against the constitution mainly because of its committment to a neo-liberal ideology. Raphael insists that this ideology, which is encapsulated in several articles, is at odds with a genuine left wing stand point. As a result, he argues, he wants to reject this neo-liberal ideology, which the constitution rigidifies.

Since we said that part 3 of the EUconst doesn't introduce anything new, we can safely conclude that Raphael wishes to reject the principles and the practices of the european economical order as they stem from previous treaties and practices. Thus, striclty speaking, he has no argument against this constitution. At best, he can say that the constitution rigidifies the past practice. But this is not a good argument, because the constitution does not rigidify things anymore than a treaty does. If anything, the Euconst makes it slightly more flexible, since it introduces few simplified revision procedures requiring the qualified majority as opposed to unanimity.

The core of the debates that is raging in France, therefore, doesn't concern the legal/constitutional domain, but the domain of economics. I'd like to put it this way: A French 'dirigist' political economy is competing with an UK liberal political economy. This opposition has been distorted in debates. First distortion: the French dirigist model is associated with a leftist position (see Raphael). But, as a commentator to this blog noted, this argument "rests upon the unwarranted assumption that a more integrated European market is at odds with “social justice” (or some other set of left-wing values)."

Coming from France, a country which strenuously protects its farmers through the CAP to the detriment of african agriculture, this is at least ironic. Now, moreover, France would like to protect its expensive services to the detriment of eastern competitors. The Bolkenstein saga is there to prove it. I personally challenge every Frenchmen to tell me why they do not like the directive on services. In any case, I honestly do not think that France has the monopoly of the definition of leftist values.

The second distortion to the dirigist/liberal debate is nicely captured in Srdjan's contribution: "To criticize the EU for being a neo-liberal construction tout court, undermines the complexity of this polity but also implicitly advances a fallacious argument that nation-state (EU Member States) have greater legitimacy than the EU. This argument is based solely on theoretical prejudicing in favour of the nation-state centred classical political theory."

To conclude, the EuConst is far from being an ideal document. On this, everyone agrees, including the very authors of the text. The arguments against it are, however, very weak. Unless you espouse a Franco centered vision of Europe where France (together with Germany) decides what part of the european budget goes for agriculture, and which public services should be screened off from competition, you'll find the opposite model (UK-liberal) more appealing. It is not the most appealing, it has its own defects which can be modulated and corrected.

I wish to end on a personal note. As a young European, who speaks Italian, French, and English, and has been trained in these countries, I could only find a good job in the UK market. It's not everything, but it is a great thing. My choice was between being unemployed in the continent or employed in the UK. I made my choice. What do you choose?

3 comments:

Raphaƫl Paour said...

Lorenzo's post requires, like Srdjan's, a proper answer. There is, however one point that should made right now. I will certainly not take the defence of what Lorenzo calls "France" since I don't understand what it refers to (the State, the people, the political/economical tradition, the promoters of the No at the referendum ? It should be made more precise because stated in the way it is in his post the generality of the argument makes me think of the anti-american discourses that confuse evry thing). But one great thing about the fact that people, from the left wing, have gone against their party hierarchy to call their fellow citizens to vote No, is that a great debate is now taking place. One that would never have taken place otherwise. And it is taking place precisely on the Constitution it self. For a good example see www.lemonde.fr where every day, parts of the constitution are debated by promoters of the Yes and promoters of the No.

http://www.lemonde.fr/web/vi/0,47-0@2-3214,54-637624,0.html

Today V. Champeil-Desplats argues for the no.

ken said...

With respect I have noticed that those who favour the constitution do like to separate out parts of the Constitution and then argue on those points alone, thus ignoring any influences that the other parts will make on the whole.

As Gisela Stuart who represented the Labour Party at Convention on the Future of Europe and was a member of the Presidium, said “the draft document from my experience at the Convention it is clear that the real reason for the Constitution – and its main impact – is the political deepening of the Union. This Treaty establishing a Constitution brings together all that has been agreed in the past and introduces significant new changes in the EU. It will be difficult to amend and will be subject to interpretation by the European Court of Justice. And if it remains in its current form, the new Constitution will be able to create powers for itself. It cannot be viewed piecemeal; its sum is more than its parts. The Constitution is not just about institutional arrangements, but also the balance of power, values and objectives.”
So you are missing the point when you say “Thus, strictly speaking, he has no argument against this constitution “. The argument against the constitution will take place on many different levels, it is not up to anyone to attempt to define an argument as unacceptable simply because it does not conform to their own interpretations.
The very fact that this document is a constitution will effect any decision made by the ECJ, because it will be basing its view, not on a treaty amongst separate sovereign states but from the point of the Constitution which will form the basic rules for an autonomous state of the EU.
The argument that as “Part 3 does not say anything fundamentally new: it gathers and organises previous texts and principles, which are part of the European construction” and should therefore be removed from the debate, presupposes that those previous texts and principles, have been accepted by the population of France or any other country. As the constitution has the effect of repealing all the previous texts and refounding the EU on the new Constitution, everything in that document is up for debate in a national referendum, if it is in the Constitution it is in effect new and open to agreement by the voters.
Unless each stage had been fully agreed by the voters, then there is no argument for assuming that anything which was in the previous treaties is acceptable in the Constitution. Of course an agreement to accept the principal of say, the supremacy of EC Law in and the ultimate say in the ECJ in 1975, when that law was concerned only with a very small part of trading policy, cannot be taken as an agreement for all of our national, including criminal law and our constitution to be subservient to EU Law.
The so called fallacious argument that nation-state (EU Member States) have greater legitimacy than the EU. This argument is based not as you say “solely on theoretical prejudicing in favour of the nation-state centred classical political theory." But on the very fact that we the voters cannot affect government based on the EU model, because there is no mechanism to allow the government to be accountable to the voters, that unaccountability is at the very core of many EUsceptic arguments.
If the EU was solidly based on democratic principals and was accountable to the voters, there would be no need to debate a constitution, which either established a Franco centred vision of socialist Europe or a (UK-liberal) vision of Europe, the voters themselves would decide that at elections, simply by voting for the party which most espoused their own views, thus by introducing a constitution that entrenches a particular political viewpoint is itself undemocratic and will disenfranchise large swathes of the population of the EU.

Lorenzo Zucca said...

Thanks for the perceptive comments!
To Raphael, I reply that he is right. The title of the post is not very clear and it leads to misunderstanding. By 'France', in my post, I mean a certain attitude towards Europe and towards the market. French elite in particular think that Europe should be a greater France, to cut the point short. Chirac's attitude towards small states and central-european state is but an example of an attitude that is tolerated, if not accepted, in France. Moreover, from the market point of view, there is a tacit agreement according to which a 'market where competition is free and undistorted' is not consistent with leftist ideal. I consider myself as sharing leftist ideals, but this is not a reason for me to call for a market where competion is not free and it is distorted. Put this way, it sounds like a caricature, but the way the French State has intervened on the market to save public and private companies with tax money was a distorsion of the market, and from my point of view an evil distorsion.

To Ken I reply that I partly agree with what you say, and partly think that I have been misunderstood. I agree on the point that the Constitution as a sum is more than its parts. Suffice it to mention the symbolic value of a constitution as opposed to a treaty.
But my dissection of the constitution in parts and domains has more value than simple repetition. First, I try to explain how the constitution is composed for those who may have not read it. Second, I try to identify, and define, the issue that lies at the core of the debate. I do not mean to say that part 3 of the constitution should no be discussed at all. It must be discussed, but not in an unfair way. To say, for instance, that part 3 makes the Union too liberal it is unfair, and also incorrect. Part 3 gathers previous texts, therefore the Union was already liberal if you want. But the Constitution in itself does not add much on this point.
Then I proceed to identify what is the real problem I see behind part 3. In my mind, as I said the issue at stake concerns the confrontation of a French-dirigist model v a UK-liberal model. And I tried to say why the latter is still better than the former.