The constitution is dead, long live the constitution! Did European elites simply oversell a modest document? Is there a real crisis of legitimacy? Andrew Moravcsik explains the meaning of "no" and others take issue with himby Andrew Moravcsik / July 23, 2005 / Leave a comment
A category error by Andrew Moravcsik
It was not the substance of the constitution that attracted opposition but its style and symbolism The people of France and the Netherlands have spoken. The constitution is dead, Turkish membership is too, and progress in areas from services deregulation to Balkan enlargement will now be hard. Yet for the chattering classes the result was an opportunity to repolish long-held positions. In the face of implacable opposition to Turkish membership, the ever liberal Economist blithely interprets the referendums as evidence that Europe has gone too far, too fast—except, of course, on enlargement. Timothy Garton Ash, perennial optimist about the reconciliation of Britain’s transatlantic and European vocations, spies another promising moment for Blairite diplomacy. The court philosopher of continental social democracy, Jürgen Habermas, calls on European leaders (read: his former student Joschka Fischer) to recapture the “idealism of 1968” by leading a leftist movement against neoliberal US hegemony. With quintessentially French misanthropy, Serge July of Libération accuses French politicians of opportunism and French voters of racism. Across the Atlantic, neocon kingpin Bill Kristol, undeterred by the massive protest vote against economic reform, calls for rejection of the welfare state, open borders to immigration and an embrace of America.
It is time to view Europe as it really is. Far from demonstrating that the EU is in decline or disarray, the crisis demonstrates its essential stability and legitimacy. The central error of the European constitutional framers was one of style and symbolism rather than substance. The constitution contained a set of modest reforms, very much in line with European popular preferences. Yet European leaders upset the emerging pragmatic settlement by dressing up the reforms as a grand scheme for constitutional revision and popular democratisation of the EU.
Looking back in 50 years, historians will not see the referendums as the end of the EU—not even as the beginning of the end. The union remains the most successful experiment in political institution-building since the second world war. Historians will see instead the last gasp of idealistic European federalism born in the mid-1940s, symbolised by the phrase “ever closer union,” and aimed at establishing a United States of Europe. It is time to recognise that the EU can neither aspire to replace nation states nor seek democratic legitimacy in the same way nations do. The current EU constitutional settlement, which has defined a stable balance between…