The EU constitution is unglamorous, but it is what most governments wantedby Andrew Moravcsik / March 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Book: The Accidental Constitution Author: Peter Norman Price: EuroComment, ?29.99
Why was there a constitutional convention for the EU? Federalists hoped to circumvent the haggling and vetoes of national states. European parliamentarians hoped finally to realise their dream of an active and engaged pan-European citizenry. Pragmatists hoped to combat rising apathy and cynicism towards the EU by radically simplifying the treaty of Rome and more clearly delineating national and central prerogatives. Everyone gambled that an open, web-savvy 21st-century re-enactment of Philadelphia in 1787 would engage citizens and politicians of all stripes, sparking an epochal public debate on the meaning and future of the EU.
It was not to be. Two hundred conventionnels came, they deliberated and, 16 months later, little had changed. Few Europeans were aware of the convention’s existence – and only a handful could explain what happened there. Only Eurosceptics paid attention, exploiting public ignorance to breed conspiratorial suspicion. Testimony from civil society was requested, but only professors showed up. A conference of European youth was called, but only would-be Eurocrats attended. So the task of preparing a constitutional draft was left, as tasks so often are in EU affairs, to parliamentarians, diplomats and Brussels insiders.
No wonder, then, that the resulting document is so conservative. It is a constitutional compromise that consolidates a decade or two of creeping change. Council and parliamentary powers expand slightly at the expense of the technocratic commission. Co-operation in justice and home affairs, energy and a few other areas is bolstered a bit. The balance between large and small countries is tweaked. Qualified majority voting and the rotating presidency are streamlined to facilitate decision-making with ten to 15 new members. Rather than the bold concept of a constitution, the goal became a deliberately ambiguous constitutional treaty – and one which is even more complex than the treaty of Rome. None of this changes the EU’s deep-set technocratic culture of incremental compromise.
Now, six months after the convention closed, Peter Norman of the Financial Times has written its first history. This fact-filled, reliable and balanced account is about as good as “real time” history can be. It displays most of the inherent virtues, and a few of the vices of that genre.
The virtues are considerable. The EU is an innately drab establishment, but Norman does his best to give it colour and grandeur. The conventionnels, he writes, came “from Finnish Lapland,…