A constitution to rule our lives

Irish Democrat Dublin correspondent and prominent anti-euro-federal campaigner Anthony Coughlan warns that the recently published draft EU constitution threatens to undermine democracy throughout Europe

“THE CONSTITUTION and laws adopted by the Union institutions shall have primacy over the law of the member states.”

So says Article 10 of the new EU constitution, now being prepared in Brussels, which aims to put Britain and Ireland formally and officially under the rule of EU power.

The superiority of EU law over national law has never been stated in an EU treaty before, although it has been claimed in the case-law of the EU Court of Justice, but not recognised by various national constitutions.

Giving constitutional recognition to the superiority of EU law means that the once sovereign EU member states formally surrender their national independence and democracy and become like provinces or regions of an EU superpower/superstate.

This European empire-in-the-making is effectively under the political hegemony of France and Germany, who decide all key policies between them and are able to block initiatives by other members whenever they wish.

An earlier draft of Article 1 said that the EU will administer common competencies ‘on a federal basis.’ The word ‘federal’ was dropped as liable to alarm people, but this is nonetheless the constitution of a highly centralised federation, that is, a state or kind of state.

The constitution proposes a five-year president to represent the EU, rather like the American president represents the US. It proposes an EU foreign minister and an EU public prosecutor, who will be able to charge people in every EU country with offences.

It abolishes the national veto in all but a handful of policy areas, thereby entailing a further massive shift of law-making power from elected national parliaments, where people choose those who make their laws, to EU politicians and bureaucrats who are collectively responsible to no one.

The central purpose of the constitution is to give a new legal basis to the EU. Up to now the EU has been constitutionally the creature of its member states, established by treaties between them, with agreed supranational elements.

Large areas of policy, such as foreign affairs and defence, as well as justice and home affairs, are still ‘intergovernmental’ rather than supranational. This means that the unelected EU commission has not yet acquired the sole right of legislative and policy initiative with regard to them.

Article 4 changes that by giving the EU legal personality for the first time, distinct from its member states. Everyone is made a citizen of this new EU entity, in addition to their national citizenship. One can only be a citizen of a state.

As Article 10, quoted above, makes clear, the EU thus becomes constitutionally superior to its member states, rather than being legally their creature. The EU itself becomes effectively an international actor like a national state. Henceforth it will sign treaties on its own behalf, that are binding on its members.

It can deal supranationally with all policy areas. The constitution also sets out an obligation of ‘loyal’ co-operation of member states vis-à-vis the Union. The word ‘loyal’ is another indication that it is the EU, not its member states, that is superior.

The constitution sets out EU competencies, which are not simply pan-European, but national. They affect everyone in each country. They include monetary policy for the eurozone, trade policy, agriculture and fisheries policy, transport policy, energy policy, environmental policy, industrial policy, public health policy and policy relating to freedom, security and justice (Articles 11 and 12).

Articles 13 and 14 grant the EU the right to ‘co-ordinate’ foreign policy, defence policy and economic policy in general.

The constitution contains a list of “exclusive EU competencies,” that is, powers, and a list of “shared competencies,” where power is divided between the EU and its member states. In jurisdictional disputes it will be the EU Court of Justice decides, whose case-law shows that it is committed to extending supranational EU power to the utmost.

The constitution has been drafted by a convention of 105 presided over by Valery Giscard d’Estaing -- the man who when president of France once accepted a bag of diamonds from the despotic and cannibalistic African ‘emperor’ Jean Bedel Bokassa.

At Nice three years ago, where the last EU treaty was signed, France’s President Chirac insisted Giscard get the job.

Giscard clearly had the outline EU constitution written in his head from the beginning. Unsurprisingly, it proposes changes to the EU rules that are highly favourable to the big states, France and Germany in particular.

Thus it provides for an end to the rotating six-monthly EU presidencies, which periodically gives smaller EU members like Ireland a position central stage. It provides for an end to the principle of each member state having a vote on the EU commission, the body of unelected technocrats that proposes all EU laws.

The constitution provides that only half the commissioners have votes at any one time and that any EU law must be backed by the governments of countries with half the EU’s population. Again, this favours the big states, particularly Germany as the EU’s biggest.

An EU constitution could have been an occasion for introducing some democracy to the EU. The Laeken declaration of the EU member governments, which led to the convention, actually stated that an EU constitution should help democratise the EU and bring it closer to citizens. The proposed constitution does the opposite. It means more centralisation, more bureaucracy and more loss of control by national parliaments and governments.

Small wonder that the influential Economist, a magazine that supports the EU, ran a headline in one of its June issues, ‘Where to file the EU Constitution’, over the image of a rubbish-bin.

The constitution could have proposed ‘repatriating’ powers back from the EU to national parliaments -- over the Common Agricultural Policy, for instance, which raises food costs for everyone, costs half the EU’s budget and leads to the dumping of massive EU food surpluses on Third World countries, ruining their farmers and preventing their trading themselves out of poverty by exporting their agricultural goods to protected EU markets.

Most of the 105 members of the convention that drew up this document were committed euro-federalists. They see an EU constitution as a further giant step towards the EU superpower/superstate they regard themselves as architects of.

Fine Gael’s John Bruton and Labour’s Proinsias de Rossa, the former ‘sticky’, were the two representatives of the Irish Dáil on Giscard’s convention. A euro-federalist of the right and a euro-federalist of the left, these two individuals advocate the utmost possible extension of EU law-making by means of qualified majority vote (QMV) on the EU Council of Ministers.

Yet each such step entails a further shift of power and competence from elected national parliaments to national government ministers and their foreign counterparts, who make EU laws on the Council of Ministers.

National government ministers everywhere welcome this transfer of powers to the EU, for it means an enormous accretion in their personal power. The draft constitution proposes more of this. Abolition of the national veto transforms ministers from being members of the executive arm of government at national level, who are required to have majority support in their national parliaments, and amongst voters, for their policies and actions, into becoming one of 15 legislators on the EU council of ministers -- one of 25 in an enlarged EU.

There ministers lay down laws behind closed doors for 300 million people, on first-name terms with the EU’s political greats -- with Jacques, Gerhardt, Tony, Silvio and Romano. Government ministers get intoxicated at the prospect, even if their personal advance means less democracy and ultimately less power for their national parliaments and their own people.

This is at the root of their love-affair with the EU. It is why they cooperate so readily in emasculating their nation states. It is why it was ridiculous to see the likes of Bruton and De Rossa, or their foreign counterparts, who want to surrender ever more powers to the EU, as defenders of the prerogatives of their national parliaments on the convention.

Article 5 of the constitution makes British and Irish citizens into citizens of the EU. One can only be a citizen of a state. Article 6 proposes to give the new EU state the final power to decide what citizens’ rights are. It aims to do this by making the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was endorsed politically at the Nice EU summit in 2001, legally binding in EU law. This would entail a further huge extension of EU power, potentially affecting virtually every area of our lives.

Human rights cover everything -- due legal process, trial by jury, freedom of speech and assembly, labour law, property rights, family law, succession, rights relating to children, marriage, migration, asylum, drugs, abortion, euthanasia etc.

Naturally the EU should respect human rights, but that is quite a different thing from saying that the 15 judges of the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg should become the final deciders of what our rights are, as against national constitutions and supreme courts, and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which decide these matters at present.

If the EU is anxious to strengthen the protection of human rights, it could itself subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court of Human Rights that it established. But that is anathema to the Euro-centralisers behind the EU constitution, for it would subordinate the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The truth is that for the euro-centralisers the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has more to do with power than rights.

The only reason for seeking to give the EU a human rights competence is the desire to turn it into a kind of state, in which the EU court, like a national Supreme Court, can have the final say on peoples’ rights.

This is because the historical experience of national and multinational federations is that common human rights standards, enforced by a central legislature and a federal supreme court, can be a powerful weapon in subordinating national and local courts and constitutions to central rule.

There is much else in this EU constitution to alarm people. For example it empowers the EU to take steps to attain its objectives even when the constitution has not provided the necessary powers for doing so. The constitution is concluded for an unlimited period, without provision for amendment or alteration.

There will be much argument among the EU governments over the constitution’s proposals for a shift in the balance of power between the appointed EU commission and the EU council of ministers representing member governments.

The solution will be to keep both commission and council happy by increasing the powers of each. That can only be done by reducing further the powers of national parliaments and the peoples that elect them, which means less say and less democracy for you and me.

Democrats everywhere should sit up and take note of what the eurocrats are planning for them. Ireland’s constitution requires a referendum. British democrats should also insist that the British people be asked in a referendum whether they want themselves and their children to be ruled by this EU Constitution or not, before Tony Blair signs up to it.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-07-17 13:55:14.
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Copyright © 2003 Anthony Coughlan