The EU Constitution

This evening (who says that Ephems is behind the times?) the meeting to approve Giscard d’Estaing’s enormous new draft constitution (265 pages of tightly-packed PDF file on the Web) for the European Union ended in an acrimonious failure to agree.  The unfortunate Irish, as the incoming EU Presidency, now have to try to pick up the pieces.  The official British government line has ‘matured’ as this controversial document has undergone successive scrutinies.  At first it was little more than "a tidying-up exercise" to collect past treaties and agreements into a single document.  Then it was some necessary adjustments to enable the EU to cope with its immense impending expansion from 15 to 25 members.  Finally it was a fight to the death by a determined team of Blair and Straw to defend Britain’s historic right to control its own tax, foreign and defence policies.  The initial "tidying-up" version included a rather impatient dismissal of mounting pressures for the constitution, once agreed by governments, to be put to a referendum in the UK, as it will be in several other EU countries.  Now Mr Blair seems to be equivocating on the possible case for a referendum, although as of now there’s no agreed constitution to hold a referendum on.   Jack Straw is surely right in saying that failure to agree now on the draft constitution is not a disaster.  Clearly there will have to be procedural changes, some controversial and of real importance, to accommodate EU expansion.   But it’s far from obvious that we need a vast new treaty masquerading as a constitution and containing the sort of windy, grandiose French abstractions which, translated into more pragmatic English, reveal their emptiness, pretensions and lack of connection with the real world.  Meanwhile Europe has had a bracing foretaste of what to expect when Poland takes its place as one of the half-dozen biggest member states of the EU, having seen the Poles doggedly defending themselves to the point of a breakdown of the entire conference against any attempt to reduce their voting power in the Union to a level roughly commensurate with their population.

In case I might be thought to have exaggerated the awfulness of the bloated sentiments that we’re being called on to endorse as part of our legally binding constitution, here’s a sample:

"Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilisation; that its inhabitants, arriving in successive waves from earliest times, have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason,


Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, the values of which, still present in its heritage, have embedded within the life of society the central role of the human person and his or her inviolable and inalienable rights, and respect for law, 

Believing that reunited Europe 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…"

A pretty rum description of a continent which has been characterised from the earliest times by savage internecine conflict, the unutterably cruel practices of religious wars, the Inquisition and the Holocaust, racism and xenophobia on a grand scale, the relentless persecution of immigrants, the imposition of colonial rule on much of the rest of the world (sometimes by measures harsh enough to make one’s teeth ache), the infliction on its poor of such inhuman hardship that whole generations have been forced to flee to other, more hospitable continents in which to try to rescue their lives, and wars on such a gruesome scale as to have dragged in Americans, Asians, Africans and antipodeans to share the horrors inaugurated by the "continent that has brought forth civilisation" ( © Giscard d’Estaing).   Presumably it looks better in French.