Sunday, June 20, 2004

Constitution and Disunion

(A translation of a Le Monde editorial from 6/19/04)

The agreement on a European Constitution by the twenty-five heads of state and by the government of the Union is good news for Europe. Those who have called this event “historic” are not wrong to emphasize that the rules which the Union has just agreed upon will reinforce—as Jacques Chirac has pointed out—the Union’s ties and its weight on the world stage.

Europe had to give itself the means to function with twenty-five (and soon twenty-seven and, later, perhaps more) members. If there had been no changes to its leadership structure and decision-making mechanisms, Europe would have been paralyzed. It is therefore a matter for celebration that Europe has finally reached an agreement, even if the process was not flawless.

Nonetheless, this positive result does not erase the Twenty-Five’s failure to appoint a new president for the European Commission—a president who will succeed Romano Prodi in a few months. Not only does this set-back tarnish the success of the agreement on a Constitution, but it emphasizes the profound division that was already illustrated by the Constitutional debate. The Union with twenty-five members is extremely disunited, and its capacity for action is severely compromised.

Can the future Constitution give back to the Union some of its lost vigor? Nothing is less certain for at least three reasons. First, this document, in order to become binding, must be ratified by the national parliaments or, in the case of referenda, by the voters. Given the recent results of the European elections, this will not be an easy sell. Second, the agreement on the Constitution was reached only with difficulty and as the result of conflicts between member states. These disagreements have left scars. Third, in numerous areas and particularly as a result of the British, the Constitution backed away from some of its more community-focused tenets, requiring a re-thinking of the Constitution’s purpose.

Of course, the reforms introduced by the agreement—the new posts of a president of the European Council and an EU Foreign Minister, a reduced number of commissioners in the EU Commission by 2014, a new equilibrium of voices in the Council of Ministers, the broadening of the vote to a qualified majority—are significant. They may contribute to a more efficient Union. But without a strong will to overcome the differences between States in the interest of the greater good, the Constitution—regardless of its virtues—will not be enough. The fruitless search for a new president of the Commission demonstrates that this will does not exist or that, if such a will does exist, it is too weak to infuse into Europe the vigor that she needs.

The gulf that appeared during the Iraq war was still apparent in the confrontation between the French-German couple, to which Belgium aligned itself, and Great Britain and her allies. These fractures are the principal cause of Europe’s weakness today.

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