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June 2005 Archives

June 3, 2005

They shouldn't have called it a "constitution"

Over at Crooked Timber, Maria Farrell has a brilliant rant on France's EU constitution referendum, with an entertaining and extensive flame war on economic policy, EU-US relations, and the (de)merits of the constitution in the comments.

A question, though: Has anyone actually read that thing they call a constitution?

Being German and living in Luxembourg, hence not entitled to any vote on this beast, I hadn't even tried (and hadn't paid that much attention), until last week-end. When I tried, I was disappointed. Human rights, which are by definition universal, come with irritating qualifications added to them -- "human rights, in particular those of minorities" here, "human rights, in particular those of children" there. There's a "right to security" to give the security guys bargaining material against genuine human rights. Elections are a lot of things, but not equal. The preamble isn't even understandable in either English or German -- you have to resort to the French version of the text if you want to understand what's meant. And there's, of course, much more on the hundreds of pages.

But what is the reason for my disappointment? I expected to read a constitution. Something crisp, with a brilliantly-worded catalogue of human and citizens' rights, with a separation of powers, with checks and balances, with proper democratic institutions (ok, strike that, I already knew that the new treaty would keep the last word with the Council). Less than 50 pages, please. What I read was an international treaty with some constitution-like elements glued to it, and badly.

Would anyone in their right mind give this thing the legitimacy and weight a constitution needs to bear? I'd hope not. Would much of the substance be a good treaty to enter into for the EU's member states, in particular when compared to the status quo? That might quite well be.

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