Saturday, December 13, 2003
24 Hours

Last night, I was attending the Putney Debates where Russell Walters of the Democracy Movement gave a clear and objective talk about the European Constitution (where I shall link to the obligatory Searchlight article warning of the dangers of people like us to the democratic structures of the European Union).

Walters pointed out the centralised and unifying force of the proposed European Constitution, with its dangers to the continued existence of British institutions through powers that allowed further involvement of European law on hitherto domestic policymaking areas such as education, health and social security. Now, a day later, the more immediate threats and possibilities of a ratified Constitution have been postponed for a while.

However, arguments were dominated by a literal reading of the Constitution and the probability of a war if the European Union were to implode under the pressures of absolute economic decline, nationalism and our coming demographic downfall. Whilst the ideological trend towards centralised integration has been consistent, its institutional expression has mutated from Weber's bureaucratic rational state, with power vested in the Commission, towards the institutions of the political elite, the Council of Ministers. With the strengthening of the latter body, the geopolitical struggles that underpin the European Union's policies have become more transparent and more fractious. If the Constitution were to be ratified in some form, its unitary underpinnings would, in the short term, be counterbalanced by the political jockeying of Member States, horsetrading with each other, over political issues. In the longer term, if or when more powers over tax, defence and foreign policy were centralised, this counterbalance could diminish in importance.

Any reading of the European Constitution has to balance what is written with the practical expression of these clauses in institutions and legal practice. The incoherence of the document gives few clues as to whether the immediate trend favoured strong centralisation or indeed promoted the very gridlock it was designed to prevent - a possible outcome. I might add that, at no point, does it adopt the repatriation of powers or more influence for Member States.

We are left with scenarios that debate the dynamic of further integration under the proposed Constitution but agree on the thrust of the ideological programme adopted by D'Estaing and the European Convention.

The final possibility that must be faced is the implosion in violent conflict that accompanies the end of most multinational state structures. Given the history of Europe as the cradle of nationalism, the chances of avoiding a conflict amongst these nations are poor, if the spoils of the state are a source of competition. How fitting that even the possibility of such wars becomes an additional moral resource to oppose the continued existence, in its present form, of the European Union.


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