the european constitutional failure 6.02.2005

Well, so far France and the Netherlands have voted "no" in popular plebicites against the European Constitution. While so far nine other countries have voted for the constitution, only one of those nine have had popular votes--the others have passed it in parliament and not by popular vote.

The fundamental problem with the European experiment is the same as the fundamental problem with the United Nations: both are essentially transnational governments whose representatives are capable of passing laws that are to some degree binding upon their member countries, but who are not popularly elected. Popular election is essential: without it, we wind up with rule by dictator or rule by bureaucrat. There is no "feedback" in the system, and it is possible for representatives who are not popularly elected to completely lose touch with the popular ebb and flow of events back home.

Beyond that, the European Constitution reads a lot like what you'd expect the Federation Charter to read in the Star Trek Universe: full of verbose high-sounding (almost "spacy") language attempting to cover everything. Unlike the preamble to the United States Constitution that runs about a paragraph and we memorized in civics class, the preamble to the EU Constitution runs seven paragraphs and reads likes the "findings" you see in many laws being written today.

A constitution should embody the "first principles" and "first laws" of a government. But the European Constitution's preamble looks more like a list of rationales rather than principles--though this may be more modern convention than anything else:
Believing that Europe, reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,


Of course the fundamental problem of the Constitution can be seen in the irony between how it came to be and how it is being rammed down the collective throats of Europe against the apparent will of the people (as seen by how it has been passed so far verses how quickly the French and the Dutch have rejected it), and the first (of 400-odd) articles:
Reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe to build a common future, this Constitution establishes the European Union, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common. The Union shall coordinate the policies by which the Member States aim to achieve these objectives, and shall exercise in the Community way the competences they confer on it.

It has become readily apparent to me that a quip I read somewhere has more truth than humor to it. To paraphrase (as I can't find the original quote), it's clear Europe has replaced it's kings and emperors with bureaucrats. It can be seen in the casual disregard and casual disconnect between the people of Europe and it's leaders, and it can be seen with the great demands made by many Europeans for greater Socialism. To Europeans, the State is a separate entity, and now that they have some say, they are demanding greater social support to care for them.

Here in America, we realize that the government is comprised of the people rather than imposed by God through the divine rights of bureaucrats whose ascendency over the Kings of old is superior because they are better educated. So unlike Europe, whose existing unfunded mandate would require mortgaging the entire continent of Europe (down to the last blade of grass) to fund, we realize in America that funding our Social Security mess is of primary importance.

The bureaucrats of Europe are only willing to give the people the impossible: since there is a great disconnect between the apparatus of government and what the people want of their government, there is disconnect between what the people are demanding and how those demands will be fulfilled. For example, Article II-15 guarantees everyone has the fundamental right to "engage in work and pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation." One wonders if that guarantee also has a guarantee of financial compensation for pursuing that occupation irrespective of market forces: would buggy whip manufacturers have the fundamental right to pursue a job (at a reasonable living wage) to make buggy whips?

And this fundamental right to work is elevated to the same level as the fundamental right to live.

Amongst the fundamental rights are a number of negatives as well--which makes me wonder if these guys even knew what a "right" is: for example, people have the fundamental right to the prohibition of reproductive cloning of humans? Not being allowed to do a thing is not a right--it is a prohibition. Phrasing prohibitions as "rights" turns the whole concept on it's head.

(And about that whole prohibition of reproductive cloning, let me note that this could also include embryonic stem cell research--since embryonic stem cell lines are preserved using reproductive cloning techniques. So while the Left in the United States gets all bent out of shape about a "Fundamentalist" President Bush, we have the "more enlightened" Europeans putting a prohibition against reproductive cloning in their freaking constitution as a "fundamental right" to the "integrity of the person"! Where is the liberal outrage?)

And let me note that one should always be leery of "fundamental rights" that have in them "escape clauses": any "fundamental right" with an escape clause is not a fundamental right at all. Case in point:
Everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss. The use of property may be regulated by law insofar as is necessary for the general interest.

This is not a "fundamental right", as it just takes a politician declaring that confiscation is "in the public interest." Of course we have the same problem in this country, as entire neighborhoods are confiscated so that the land can be turned over to Wal*Mart. But at least in this country a debate exists over the constitutionality of such actions--and many commentators here suggest that such "eminent domain" rulings erode the fundamental nature of this country. But in Europe, with this clause, no such debate could possibly take place--as it is a "fundamental right", apparently, for governments to confiscate a person's possessions in the "public interest", whatever that is.

When these fundamental rights include "the right of access to a free (work) placement service", as it is in Article II-29, one has to wonder how valuable all of these "fundamental" rights are.

Hopefully the rejection of the European Constitution will cause people in Europe to consider a third path between "Statism" and "Monarchy", and that is one of true Democracy. Unfortunately most of the bureaucrats and intellectuals of Europe, like many in the United States, have no friggin' idea why Democracy makes sense, or how.

And so, embedded in an intellectual environment which embraces relativism and revisionist history, where Marxist rejection of Capitalism is founded on economic principles that are at least a hundred years out of date are seriously considered for it's philosophical value, where distrust of large corporations run alongside the belief that nations are like corporations in terms of international competition (and so, the European Commons must eliminate such competition for the "common good"), it's no wander why these bureaucrats have crafted such a bloated document that was soundly rejected by it's people.

Perhaps someone should give these folks a quill pen and a hand full of pages, and require them to make their constitution fit on--oh, say, four pages. Just like ours.

posted by William Woody at 8:41 AM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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