Archive for the 'Constitution' Category

After the Irish no – where to now?

14 June 2008

My two cents:

  • As I said yesterday, the current system of institutional reform in the EU is unreasonable and unfair because it makes decision-making impossible. So let’s ditch it.
  • Before attempting to reform the Treaties again, we need to agree on a new procedure to ratify Treaty changes first.
  • My proposal would be to do this by a single, EU-wide referendum. A positive result would require reasonable majorities of the form: at least x% of all voters and at least y% of the voters in at least z% of the Member States should vote in favour, with x,y,z at 50 or more.
  • The percentage of Member States where a Yes-vote is required (z) would be somewhere between 50 and 80% of the total number.
  • In return for the EU-wide referendum, which gives every citizen a direct say, all Member States abolish (the possibility of) constitutional referendums at home for EU Treaty changes.
  • Let’s carry on with the Nice Treaty for the time being, that is: until the new ratification system is in place. As Carl Bildt also pointed out on his blog, Nice does seem to work better than expected.

Oh no, not again…

13 June 2008

A few thoughts after the Irish ‘No’:

  • National politicians and national media still have a major communication problem concerning the EU. European politicians too, of course, but they cannot solve the problem. Only those who already have the voters’ ear can do that.
  • The irony of constitutional safeguards: Current legal constraints on the powers of governments prohibit the creation of legal structures that would offer better legal constraints on the informal powers that governments already have created for themselves.
  • The democratic paradox: The smallest of Member States can veto a Treaty change supported by all other Member States. Isn’t this the dictatorship of the minority?
  • If the issue was costs to tax payers or delivering concrete results, Irish voters would have voted ‘Yes’, massively.
  • Nor can it be that the EU undermines symbols of national identity, like (in Ireland’s case) non-alignment, prohibited abortion, and low corporate taxes, as Ireland has opt-outs on the first two and tax decisions require unanimity in the Council.
  • Perception, then, is everything.
  • Today is Friday the 13th.

Update: First reactions by AFOE, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey.

EU presidency: the quiet candidates (II)

14 March 2008

Philip Stephens of the Financial Times writes in so many words that the new president of the EU (Council) should be Tony Blair after all, instead of one of the lesser known candidates. This is not a time for “faceless competence”, he says, for Europe needs someone who is taken seriously by McCain/Obama/Clinton, Medvedev/Putin and Hu Jintao.

This leaves one wondering when was the last time Tony Blair was taken seriously by the American president – the “Yo, Blair” incident perhaps?

Unbearably Blairite in its arrogance is also the following passage:

[Juncker, Fogh Rasmussen and Ahern] are bright people. Small countries can produce brilliant politicians. Putting aside a personal prejudice against EU institutions being forever run by Luxembourgers, I am not quarrelling with these candidates’ competence. But it is no disrespect to say that none is exactly a household name. Their candidacies seem to speak instead to a deliberate paucity of ambition about Europe’s global role. How seriously would they be taken by John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Imagine the reception from Dmitry Medvedev when Mr Juncker turned up in Moscow to protest against his decision to turn off the gas. How much weight would these candidates carry even in Europe?

First of all, being unknown now is not exactly a problem that cannot be overcome: Hands up who (outside Illinois) knew Barack Obama before he decided to run for the US presidency.

Secondly, any future president meeting fellow world leaders will be speaking on behalf of the EU, not his home country. The size of the latter will not make much of a difference at this stage. Maybe it does during the appointment process or while EU countries are trying to forge a common position (which requires unanimity), but the precise point Stephens makes about Luxemburgers indicates that being from a small country may actually be an advantage then.

Of course Europe needs someone with stature, but what Stephens seems to forget is that it has to be the right kind of stature. Blair’s is tarnished not only by his handling of the Iraq war, but – more importantly – by his reputation of being all spin and no results for most except the first few of his ten years as Prime Minister. The British EU presidency in 2005 was, if not a failure (there was an agreement on the Financial Perspectives after all), at least a disappointment.

What matters in the end is that Europe’s future president has the personality, vision and above all the diplomatic skills to make a success of the job. I am afraid Tony Blair has proved to have none of these.

EU presidency: the quiet candidates

9 March 2008

Thomas Lefebvre of Le croche-pied has a good list of possible candidates for the future EU presidency (and other posts), with their pros and cons. Others (1, 2, 3) have, of course, also discussed this and there is even an internet petition going on against one of the candidates.

The names mentioned most often for the post that is newly created by the Lisbon Treaty are those of Tony Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker and Anders Fogh-Rasmussen. Which raises the question whether any of these three will ever hold the post. After all, experience often shows that names mentioned early in the selection process for a high-profile political position get so much time to be subjected to debate and criticism, that the nomination in the end goes to a less controversial (i.e. less debated) candidate.

So then, who are the quiet candidates who are more likely to become EU president than any of the top three? There are a few selection criteria (preferentially an experienced and well-regarded statesman/-women from a small country that is in the eurozone but neither too atlantic nor too federalist) which are impossible to fulfill all at the same time. With this in mind, and in no particular order, here are a number of suggestions:

  • José Luis Zapatero. That is, if he loses the elections today, but even if he does not there is always a chance he accepts. A socialist, but not too badly. From southern Europe, but well-regarded in the north. From a large country, but not from one of the big three (Germany, France, UK). Won a referendum on the defunct constitution.
  • Jean-Luc Dehaene. Belgium’s folksy and pragmatic former PM and one of Europe’s elder statesmen. One of the vice-presidents of the Convention that wrote the EU Constitution, but (unlike Guy Verhofstadt) too smart to become one of its figureheads and champions. Since then professional mediator in political conflicts in Europe and at home. Life motto: “Problems should be solved only when they arise”. The fact that he is a christian-democrat could work in his advantage.
  • Wim Kok. Former PM of the Netherlands and another of Europe’s elder statesmen. A pragmatic social-democrat, very Third Way though not as blatantly as Tony Blair. Chaired the High-Level Group in 2004 that more or less revived the Lisbon Strategy. Escaped the 2005 referendum disaster in the Netherlands by losing the elections in 2002.
  • Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. Latvia’s former president. Popular on the world stage, as proved by her serious candidacy at the time for the succession of Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General. A balanced political profile as a moderate conservative who spoke out in favour of gay rights (no small thing in Latvia). Fluent in French as well as English, which would certainly help her getting support from France. Pretty atlanticist to the extent that she spoke out in favour of the Iraq war. This could work against her, as well as the fact that she is not (yet) from a eurozone country.
  • Martti Ahtisaari. Former Finnish president. His Kosovo plan did not quite hold out as planned but this does not seem to have damaged his image as Mr Fixit on the international stage. From a small country, eurozone, no controversial views known. Seems a perfect candidate.
  • Carl Bildt. Currently Sweden’s foreign minister and another heavy-weight from the north. Like Ahtisaari with extensive Balkan experience, which may also help him get the post of Europe’s High Representative if he does not become President and if Solana does not succeed himself. A moderate conservative. Author of highly readable blogs in both English and Swedish.

    Any other suggestions?

Belgium proof that the EU will never work?

18 October 2007

Déviation - wegomleggingAlthough progress is now being made on the less controversial dossiers (discussions on constitutional change and social security should start later this week), the political crisis in Belgium is not entirely over yet, as foreign media will be delighted to hear. But do cultural and language differences really make the country fall apart?

Some analysts think it is, and some even put Belgium on a par with Yugoslavia as proof that rising nationalism will tear the EU apart. In this view, both Belgium and the EU are elitist projects doomed to fail due to lack of support from ordinary people:

If Belgium does go down it will provide only the latest and starkest reminder of the endurance of ethnic nationalism in modern Europe and the corresponding failure of elitist supra-nationalists to forge larger identities holding any real meaning for ordinary people. (FT)

But this is way too easy. First of all, I am not at all convinced that the differences within Belgium are too big for Belgium to continue as a country. And secondly, I very much doubt that the rise of ethnic nationalism in Belgium is a bottom-up process (it was not in Yugoslavia either, by the way). (more…)

Towards a new federalism?

18 July 2005

Die Zeit’s Bernd Ulrich calls it “his fourth act of patriotism”: Gerhard Schröder’s decision to seek new elections for Germany’s lower chamber of parliament (the other three being: German participation in NATO’s Kosovo war, Schröder’s refusal to take part in the Iraq war, and the belated, but much needed, reform of the German economy known as Agenda 2010). There is, says Ulrich, a simple logic behind it: The government has to go, in order to allow the Agenda to continue. And whatever the outcome of the election, two things are clear: the Greens will not be in the next government, and neither will Schröder. Ulrich is probably right on all these accounts.

What is interesting, is that there are many parallels between Schröder’s political problems in Germany and those of the EU as a whole: In both cases, economic and social reform is badly needed. In both cases, the reform process has stalled. And in both cases, the main cause is a constitutional arrangement that is very similar.

So here is part one: Can German federalism teach us something for the debate on the EU’s constitutional future? The topic of part two will be: Does Swiss economist Bruno Frey have the solution? (more…)

Idea crisis or leadership crisis?

21 June 2005

Commenting on the French referendum results, I wrote:

As motivating ideas behind European integration, uniting again what had been separated and all men will be brothers should be equally appealing in 2005 as they were in 1945 and in 1989. What the EU does seem to lack these days, as opposed to its early years, is leaders whose magic is able to unite the masses behind those ideas.

After the resounding Dutch ‘no’ to the EU Constitution and last weekend’s EU summit, I still believe this is the case. Here is why:

Polls conducted shortly after the referendum reveal that both French and Dutch voters support the general idea of EU integration. Whatever the right-wing (nation-state oriented) EU-sceptics say, no less than 72% of French voters are in favour of continued integration. Similarly, 84% of Dutch voters support the EU in some form or another, whereas only 16% could be considered EU-sceptics. Other, more extensive polls published only recently (France, Netherlands) confirm these figures. In short, the French and Dutch votes were directed against this EU, not against the EU. This is an important conclusion to begin with. (more…)