Getting a European Constitution
via EU-wide Referenda

Looking into the idea of a pan-European referendum

, by Sofia Tyligada

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

Getting a European Constitution via EU-wide Referenda

The existence of a Constitution will be an important step forward on the path towards a federal Europe. Wisely and prophetically it has been said that if the European Constitution will not bee adopted, a European Union (EU) of two or more gears would become a reality. As the idleness proceeds, this is becoming more and more a fact. Intensive conversations have taken place within JEF and elsewhere regarding the conduct of a pan-European referendum during the European Parliamentary Elections of 2009 in order to escape the present bog.

Different views, however, exist about the context. Referendum on the present European Constitutional Treaty? Referendum about a possible new European Constitution (which will previously be agreed upon)? Or a referendum on a Constitutional Assembly for the compilation of a new European Constitution?

In my opinion, the present European Constitution should not be put for consideration to the EU citizens as it is again. It has been voted down by two nations and people are by now mistrustful towards its context and the Union itself.

The EU should be flexible and show that it has alternatives. What’s more, voters will fret and be confused even more if they are called to vote for a new Constitutional Assembly. This cannot form a logical base for a referendum in such a complicated pattern as Europe.

The attitude of all the “intellectuals” and others dealing with the European affairs for a year now was to wait for Germany. Everyone anticipated that the German Presidency will undertake initiatives and bold political decisions with specific timetables and planning for the European Constitution. The hopes of all the ambitious ones though begin to evaporate since Germans themselves speak of a simple status of a “mediator role” for Germany. Chancellor Merkel spoke about a “historical chance”. But how are we going to seize this chance if we just go on discussing without any initiative, without audacity to move on towards something new.

The best proposition seems to be the direct resumption of negations about a change of the current European Constitution with great attention regarding the formation of the Constitutional Assembly. The need for a different Constitutional Assembly is imperative. The one from which the present constitution was created (the so-called European Convention) has been criticized as ineffective, against the enlargement, even anti-democratic. A cut-down technocratic constitution of 350 articles was created (having little from everything, therefore nothing) within a process of constant archival of consensus.

In my opinion a constitution should include the means of governance of civil authority (in this case the distribution of authority between the EU and its Member States) and the relation with citizens alone. This may be achieved either with greater participation of civil society, which is admittedly difficult, or if the compilation in whole be done by the European Parliament, the only directly-elected EU institution.

Moreover, the new draft should be small (100 articles the most), clear, easy to read and in this way resembling more a real constitution. Furthermore it should include an article for the immediate implementation of the two most important treaties (Treaty of the European Union and Treaty of the European Communities), so as not to be repeated and confuse the reader. Also it should be specific as for the general principals of the Union and the guarantee of the Human Rights (as they are in the present draft- in the first two parts) and the participation of people should be encouraged even more (see European Citizens’ Initiative at the present draft). Only that way, with a simple and specific text, the European citizen will understand what he/she votes. How did we expect from a citizen to vote conscientiously “yes” in a complicated text of 350 articles?

But even when (and if) we will have achieved the editing of a European constitution in the form we want it, we should be very careful on how to launch it. Of course, good political campaigning is required but also how to give the reasoning required.

I acknowledge that a referendum should not be a cure-all, but it’s certainly the most pure form of democracy and the safest way of justification of a decision.

Something as important as a political unification with a constitution requires the broadest acceptance possible.

People are suspicious and we could all agree that it is a common but serious political mistake to underestimate the voters. Plus, we cannot afford to lose again. We should engage in fights we can win.

The proposition of a pan-European referendum together with the Elections of the European Parliament in 2009 is the ideal solution to put the EU back on track in a time when thoughts of re-nationalisation of community policies come back.

If we were to put it bluntly, the European Council has no vision, no ideas and no proposals at present. We are now celebrating a long rising period of 50 years. Let us hope that in the next 50 years, we will not be discussing the adoption of a European constitution but the reform of an existing one. Only then will we actually be living the European dream.


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