Do we really need a European Constitution?

On January 1, 2013, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union—the TSCG or Fiscal Compact, for short—will take effect. It doesn’t sound too ominous, but in fact it will be the first time in the history of the European Union that part of a nation’s sovereign rights and power will be explicitly transferred to the EU.

The roots of the TSCG can be traced to Germany and France. In 2011, the German government asked for extensive reform of the draft European Constitution during the finest hours of the Euro-zone’s crisis. Then, in October of last year, French President François Hollande asked for new transfers of funds to the EU from its member states based on a revised social and political agenda.

So, is Europe now a federation of nations? Not at all.

As the MEPs Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt argue in their 2012 book, For Europe! Manifesto for a Postnational Revolution in Europe, Europe needs a federal revolution—and an end to the obsolete concept of the ‘nation.’

Surely now is the time when the EU most needs a proper constitution, to find a way to discover its true nature and to define the terms and conditions of supranational European authority.But the EU seems to have been built by default; and each prior failure or mistake becoming a good opportunity for “more Europe.”

This is reminiscent of the statements of the old Soviet apparatchiki, who in the mid-1980s continued to ask for ‘more Communism’ to save the USSR, without any apparent awareness of the reality that the Soviet state was bankrupt.

The euro provides a good example of this kind of blind allegiance to a concept. In the mid-1990s, at the euro’s creation, no monetary expert could really believe that a joint currency without the control of a central bank authority would be viable. But it went ahead anyway.

And so, too, with regard to the 2004 draft constitutional treaty, which was initially overwhelmingly rejected by referenda in Ireland and France. But then Europeans were given the Lisbon Treaty, which was presented as—and confused with—a constitution, even though it is really merely a compilation of treaties (and represents nothing more than an agreement to establish a relationship, a deal, or a process).

A proper constitution instead should give a definition, set limits on authority and be “owned” by the people. It should be Europe’s crowning achievement.

Instead, what we have had is an assortment of treaties, with increasingly anonymous and atomized citizens, and a Europe characterized by confusion and member states burdened with deficits.

So where is Europe? More importantly, what is Europe? Who are the Europeans? We still don‘t know. There is no definition of “Europe” and, apparently, no limits have been established to determine what is included—or, more importantly, what is excluded—in the idea of Europe.

“Europe” seems to be nothing more than an ever-changing entity, just like its political borders.

Dominated by such relativism, transferring any kind of rights to such an abstract and amorphous structure (which, incidentally, also seems wholly destitute of virtue) could be dangerous. The EU could easily become a refuge for all kinds of obsolete national bureaucracies.

One important question to ask is: What might the difference be between the role of the EU and the role of any other national bureaucracy? The very construction of the EU was based on a criticism of the nation-state and the wish to transcend it. But the nation also supplies education, health services and, ultimately, guarantees personal freedom.

The desire to get rid of something deemed “archaic” can be dangerous if there is nothing concrete to replace it. If you simply transfer sovereign national rights to a bigger political entity di Costanzo, cont‘d.without taking any precautions or establishing limits, you will end up building a superstate under a European flag, not a federation.

Where is our Europe? In ancient Greece, the Athenian Constitution described the basis of its democracy.

In the American Constitution, the first words specify, “We the people.”

In Britain, the crown itself is identified with its people.

In each case, the fundamental virtue of the political system—of each sovereign authority—is rooted in its identification with its people.

In the Lisbon Treaty, however, the people of Europe are merely a collection of abstract nouns: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” Such language suggests that those in the EU are invited to nothing more than an exercise in civility.

The Lisbon Treaty is as meaningful to a European as it would be to a South American or an African. It illustrates just how the idea of a dignified, virtuous citizen from each European nation can be transformed into an insipid, happy-clappy, corporate citizen, fearful of any sort of discrimination, definition, or limitation. But an authority cannot be for “all” or in support of “everything.”

The political virtue of a European constitution must be defined in order to preserve the freedom of each European citizen. But right now all we have is an amorphous European continent with no identity (political or cultural), no clear vocation and certainly no “European people.” So what must Europe do?

If we were to apply the principle of subsidiarity, then we could define the prerogatives of the nation (and recognize the virtues of having a federation). From such a perspective, the nation is no longer a problem but, rather, a solution. Given its sovereign independence and its autonomy over each aspect of society, it becomes the basis on which local democracy can function.

But subsidiarity—and democ-racy, for that matter—are well-known deficits of the EU. That is why Europe must be defined distinctly from the nation, and not as something above or beyond it. The EU can be neither a con-structivist utopia nor the result of a spontaneous generation of trea-ties if it does not first have proper ends or clearly defined goals.

There must be a Europe that develops from an engagement with fundamental questions about what people want and don’t want, and constructed on the basis of explicit principles that are written down and implicit ones that are derived from commonly held assumptions and values. In short, we need a new institutional understanding of the role of the nation-state and of the European federation.

The EU must be a work of definition; it must be the product of a process of limitation, of classification, of separation; and it must be rooted in the two millennia of common history shared among its member states—and cherished in the heart of every European family.

For the moment, though, Europe remains nothing more than a continent waiting to be discovered. And with this in mind, I myself am tempted simply to call for a modern Magna Carta to bring together free European nations within a proper federation.