The debate about an EU constitution will never be resolved, so let's stick to the substantive issuesby William Wallace / June 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
The eu member states stand before some big developments. Within the next four years up to ten applicant states are hoping to join the EU. At the same time US policy-makers are turning their attention away from Europe; there are increasingly delicate relations with Turkey and Russia; organised crime is spilling over into western Europe from Ukraine and Belarus; and there are migrants struggling to enter the EU from weak and corrupt states in Africa and the middle east. This is the context for the debate about the long-term objectives of European integration as the EU becomes the core of a continent-wide political and economic order.
The next intergovernmental conference does not take place until 2004. But the communiqu? agreed after the exhausting Nice summit in December proposed four themes for governments to debate in the run-up to the European Council at Laeken this December, where the Belgian presidency hopes to publish a “Declaration on the future of the European Union.” These cover the delimitation of powers between the EU and national governments, “reflecting the principle of subsidiarity,” a simplification of the treaties “with a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning,” a review of the role of national parliaments “in the European architecture” and the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, proclaimed as a declaration without legal force at Nice. These are, in effect, the leftovers of Nice, not the key issues in reshaping the EU-let alone in defining the future of the wider Europe. And as so often in the history of west European integration, governments find it easier to discuss procedures rather than policies, to talk about the construction of a European constitution rather than what purposes and policies that constitution should serve.
Nevertheless, the debate which has now been vigorously launched within Germany does open the door to a broader debate on the relationship between policies, political interests and institutions-provided that political leaders can get beyond the confines of this post-Nice agenda.
The idea that 15 governments with divergent traditions can agree on a “catalogue of competences” which will allocate specific areas of policy to different levels of government may appeal to constitutional lawyers, but it is utterly unrealistic. The allocation of competences is itself part of the unavoidable and permanent battleground within any multi-level system. After the Maastricht treaty had incorporated the idea of “subsidiarity” into the EU…