Please tell me about this new European Constitution

I recently read an article, “German Greens and Pax Europa,” by Paul Hockenos, in The Nation, July 19/26, 2004, discussing Joschka Fischer, who is Germany’s foreign minister (since 1998) and also leader of its Green Party (which, since 1998, has governed Germany in coalition with the Social Democrats). (I started a GD thread about this article: “Could a “Pax Europa” emerge to rival the “Pax Americana”?” – Towards the end it says:

!!! First I’d heard of this! For some reason, EU affairs don’t get a lot of press coverage in the U.S. I knew the Europeans were talking about a constitution, but I didn’t know they’d reached the point of drafting one.

Euro Dopers, please fill us in: What’s in this constitution? How would it be different from the EU as currently organized?

First, let me say that I didn’t even read it. The thing, despite its name, isn’t really a constitution. It’s rather a long and complex treaty reorganizing the european institutions, and in particular the decision making-process, due to the extension of the EU from 15 to 25 countries. It has been first drafted by a (non elected) convention, and then modified and watered down during lenghty negotiations between the member states. The main issue was what would constitute the qualified majority required to adopt an EU regulation. The result is quite complex (a given %age of the countries representing a given %age of the population, with at least a given number of countries voting for it, a minimal number of countries required to constitute a blocking minority and some other subtleties).

It also settled (temporarily at least) issues like the number of members of the European commission, which decisions have to be decided at the qualified majority, unanimously or left up to the member states, somewhat reorganized the (turning) presidency of the Union, created a " EU ministery of foreign affairs" (sort of), drew the limits of the co-decision power of the EU parliament, included provisions about the decisions concerning the Eurozone, allow member states to “go ahead” alone if they want to implement a stronger integration despite the oposition of a minority, fuse the treaties which created the various european institutions (common market, european economic community, EU), and a number of other things.
So basically, it’s mostly a new treaty reforming the EU institutions, which was necessary since the current rules were unoperable with a much larger number of countries, and would bring the EU to a complete halt. Of course, it includes various articles and provisions about rights, or the color of the EU flag, and such things, but still it doesn’t deserve the name of “constitution”, especially since further evolution of the insitutions will be necessary in the future.

The EU official website has a bunch of interesting and informative stuff on it (provided you find international affairs “interesting”).

Here’s a speed reader to what seemingly everybody except clairobscur forthrightly calls a constitution.

Note the last paragraph:

This has caused the Vatican to be extremely upset, as stated here.

And Church & State magazine wrote in its July-August issue:

I’m curious as to what in practice this might mean.

In the case of a reference to God, exactly nothing. Everyone has made the required noises to demonstrate to their constituency that they have the heart in the right place, and that’s that. A preamble to a treaty is there to express lofty sentiments, not legally relevant provisions.

Well… it’s a different kind of constitution than the US-style ones. What I mean by that, is the US Constitution is pretty much concerned with limiting the actions of the government, defining the Federal government via what is and isn’t Federal, and how the Federal parts work (congress, executive, etc…)

The EU Constitution seems more intent on codifying everything under the sun- that’s why it’s something like 400 pages, while the US Constitution is much, much smaller (something like 15, IIRC).

I got chewed out by a former British MEP during my study abroad based on my critique of the upcoming constitution as a boondoggle that will cause more problems than it’ll solve.

In the case of the EU this is both true and false simultaneously. Generally the preamble is not of any binding value, and is just used to say why the treaty is doing what it does. However the European Court of Justice has decided that it will interpret European law teleologically and so if it feels that the actual effect of a provision contradicts the aims set out in the preamble of the treaties, then it operates on the presumption that the preamble is to carry enought weight to displace the legislation. A lot of european legislation on rights protection has come about through ideas expressed in the preamble rather then any sure basis in the treaty.

The constitution is really a case of bad naming by the EU rather then it actually being a constitution. Its a redraft of the treaties upon which the EU is based, and is designed to streamline the EU and to accomodate decision making in the enlarged EU where decisions that currently require the consensus of all members are unlikely to work with 25 nations and their disparate agendas.

Govermentally the main changes are that of adopting qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, in which 50% of the countries who constitute 80% of the population of the EU would have to agree to the provision before it was considered passed. The European Commission would be streamlined so that it would have a full time president and the members of the commission would be rotated through the member countries rather then keeping the current system which is one seat for every nation, and an extra seat for the big countries. The European Parliament would be closer integrated into the legislative system of the EU to combat a perceived democratic deficit in the EU.

The new treaty is so large, because the law created by the ECJ is being reincorporated back into the treaty. That means that as terms have been defined and tests created, theses tests are being fomalised by being integrated into the treaty, instead of making it like the US constiution which just enumerates general principles.