Future of Europe

Berlin Declaration:
a Disappointing Birthday Gift

, by Michela Costa

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

 Berlin Declaration: a Disappointing Birthday Gift

The most recent and relevant political event in the long path towards a European Constitution was the summit held in Berlin on March 24-25. The political leaders of the 27 EU member states have met, on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the European Union, with the final goal of finding a way out from the impasse created by the French and Dutch citizens’ NO vote almost two years ago.

The semester of German presidency started with a high level of expectation, particularly towards the German Chancellor Angela Merkel; unfortunately, instead of the very hoped-for strong political steps we have been waiting for, we finally got just a low profile and basically uninspiring text, the Berlin Declaration.

The final message, delivered to the press by a smiling Angela Merkel after the Berlin summit, is in fact a pretty unsatisfactory one. Not only it mentions very shortly (in a 2-lines statement) the common will to “renew the political shape of Europe” before 2009 (without explaining exactly how), but even worse, it seems that the wise politicians in charge to revise the document of the European Constitution in the name of the European citizens do not wish to give us many details.

The result of the Berlin summit sounds in fact like a bad joke: “Europe is stuck? Don’t worry: a brilliant solution has been planned for all of you. The most skilled and clever people in the European continent – which means us, your Heads of State and Government – are going to take care of it. Just a little detail: you are not going to hear or know a lot about it”.

Are Europeans politically immature?

For their 50th birthday, Europeans probably deserved more than a symbolic toast to the huge achievements of the European Union; definitely more than a rhetorical (and not even particularly eloquent) declaration that for the moment sounds pretty much like a consolation prize. They deserved an honest, responsible and brave commitment by those countries that in fact already reached once an agreement on the constitutional text.

To face the constitutional crisis the European leaders should have engaged a deep political analysis on the meaning of the shocking percentage of “NO” votes reported in the French and Dutch referenda. In fact, the rejection of the European Constitution by a majority of the French and Dutch voters can be read and interpreted in many different ways. There is only one conclusion that one should not draw from the experience of the national referenda: that when it comes to international or European politics, it’s easier to shut up the citizens, because they are politically immature and unable to decide.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the attitude that seems to have been chosen by the European leaders, especially after the Berlin summit.

To change the text behind closed doors is a huge political mistake, an arrogant attitude of power and finally, not a very far-seeing strategy.

This paternalistic attitude is unacceptable. When 62% of Dutch people go to vote, the meaning is clear. They may be wrong, they may be manipulated, but there is one thing that cannot be more evident: they want to participate; they want to have a voice.

A Constitution “octroyée”

There is also the extremely important point about the legitimacy of European institutions. If the outcome of the intergovernmental conference, whether or not called “constitution”, will contain aspects of constitutional value, the text will necessary need some form of democratic approval. The old method of intergovernmental conferences behind closed doors is a huge step back compared to the method of the Convention, which has been adopted for the first text. It is definitely less democratic, and will heighten that lack of legitimacy that the European citizens have been blaming Europe for. If governments will not be bound by the pressure of public opinion (which at the end of the day means: their voters), it will be highly difficult to see the difference between this new text, which is not even likely to be called “Constitution”, and another international treaty.

At the same time, a new IGC seems to be a potentially perfect environment for the national states to try to re-open the negotiations, also on those topics which had already been fixed by an agreement. The first example of this attitude is Poland, with its new experiments of calculation of votes inside the Council by adopting the tool of squared roots of the population.

Not to mention the fact that it would not solve the problem of those states where referenda are compulsory, neither the so-called French problem. It seems that governments have not learnt very much from the lessons of Nice, when they agreed about a weak and unsatisfactory text that didn’t solve any of the EU problems and soon needed to be revised.

European referendum: let the citizens decide!

This new text cannot be just another treaty; it needs to contain at least the basic achievements of the former Constitution. Of course some of the most complicated articles of the Constitution – such as those referred to the already existing treaties (the acquis communautaire, in Part III) – could also be spared to the citizens. But the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the most meaningful articles about the attribution of power to the institutions, about the majority vote, or those related to the review and the future amendments of the text should not only be saved, but also be voted upon by the citizens.

This is the reason why we need - now more than ever - to bring the referendum campaign to a broader level. First of all, we have to force the European leaders to keep a high political profile, and not to sell the final goal of the constitution for another dismal international treaty.

Second, we need to build a coalition with other NGOs and actors of civil society, asking for a democratic vote of the Europeans: from the point of view of political analysis, a constitution needs at least some form of democratic approval. A pan-European referendum, held the same day in all the countries, should be called not only by the Young European Federalists, but also by all the forces of civil society that we will be able to reach.

The way our politicians are behaving may finally turn against them and, paradoxically, in our favour. The more they will act with arrogance, keeping under silence the European citizens’ future, the more the slogan of the federalist campaign, “let the European people decide”, may therefore sound meaningful, and the need for a European referendum be seen as a basic matter of democracy.


- Text of the Berlin Declaration, source: Homepage of the German Presidency


- Keeping the flag flying, 50 years on; source: Google images

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