The People Said No

Merkel manages to confirm every stereotype of pro-EU people: that they’re anti-democratic, that they’re hierarchical, and that they’re all about giving power to the bureaucracy.

I’m talking about her recent idea about resurrecting the EU Constitution. Back in the day, I thought it was a good idea. I still do. But the people said no, and without a public debate about the structure of a new constitution, trying to give it another try is worse than Bush’s signing statements. Bush will leave office in two years; a constitution is for decades.

“Failure would be a historic failure,” Mrs Merkel told the European parliament.

She rejected MEPs’ calls for debate on the constitution to be open to the public, saying it had already taken place. The crucial German-led consultations, leading to the unveiling of a “constitution roadmap” in June, would be confidential.

Germany is the most powerful EU country supporting a Europe treaty. But Mrs Merkel faces formidable opposition in Britain, France, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Her aim is to reach a consensus on what can be salvaged from the draft that was rejected, and to retain as much as possible of the original.

I know that the debate on the US constitution wasn’t open to the public, either. But that was at a time when franchise was restricted to white men who owned property; the people who could vote were well-represented in the Constitutional Convention. It wasn’t a problem that the US constitution was aristocratic because the government was intended to be aristocratic.

In contrast, European politicians say they support democracy. And yet, they shut out the people entirely when negotiating anything, preferring agreements among politicians to popular proposals.

After a constitution proposal fails, the correct thing to do to keep it going is to invite the parties who caused it to fail to the table, and to rewrite the document entirely. Merkel tries to appeal to governments that opposed the constitution, but not to any non-governmental organizations, to say nothing of ordinary people. Further, instead of a complete rewrite, what she proposes is making the smallest number of changes that will enable her to pretend the new document isn’t the same as the old one.

For example, take monetary policy. The EU constitution draft establishes a common monetary policy based exclusively on maintaining price stability. That’s how they do it in Germany – there’s a reason the German unemployment rate is 10% – but not in many other EU countries. For example, Britain’s monetary policy is politicized, which in practice makes its goals a mix of price stability and full employment. And yet, something that can sway the unemployment rate by 5-6% was never discussed in public; it was just assumed the German method should be extended to the entire EU.

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