May 27, 2005

Push until the bastards vote correctly

Posted in EU at 9:29 pm by billdawson

Try not to cringe when you read this release from the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) titled “Non, Nee, Ne, Nie or No – Consequences, Options, and Recommendations if the Constitution is Rejected” (PDF). I know nothing about the CAP, though from a quick jaunt around their website I would say they look like a more than respectable European think tank. Here’s their “Key Points” summary, but you should read the whole thing:

Key Points:

* A French No vote on 29 May 2005 would be a serious setback for the ratification process. However, the European Constitution would not be dead, neither legally nor politically.

* In case of a No vote in the constitutional referendum:

– the EU governments, the Commission, and the EP should declare as soon as possible that the ratification process will continue. The negative outcome of the referendum should be taken as an opportunity to intensify the constitutional debate on both the national and the transnational level.

– the referendum should be repeated within a year, as this will be the only way to eventually attain the entry into force of the Constitutional Treaty.

– certain provisions of the Constitutional Treaty should be introduced into EU practice even without prior ratification. However, only the entry into force of the new primary law can guarantee that the progress made in the Constitution will be implemented in full.

* If the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty should ultimately fail, it cannot be assumed that the non-ratifiers will voluntarily leave the EU. Since the extent of the ensuing “constitutional crisis” will not be particularly high, it also seems unlikely that the ratifiers will establish a new Union with institutions of its own.

* In case the ratification fails, the member states will intensify their efforts to implement as many of the innovations of Constitution I” into political practice by other means (Inter-Institutional Agreements, Rules of Procedure, “small” intergovernmental conferences, in the framework of future accession treaties). However, as a result of the legal and political constraints of the “Nice Plus” option, one can assume that the Treaty of Nice will be reformed in the shape of a “Constitution II” in a few years time.

* Until a new primary law is adopted, full use should be made of the potentials of differentiated integration within or outside the EU framework. The public discourse about the borders of Europe and the extent of European politics should be intensified.

Now I want to look at a few parts of the main document. First the authors review what they perceive to be some of the reasons for the Non movement in France. They list the following:

  • An opportunity to “punish” the French government for other policies;
  • The belief (on the Left) that the constitution “fosters the establishment of a neo-liberal Europe” (note to American readers: “neo-liberal” here in Europe means pro-business policies and a cutting back of the social state.);
  • A perceived loss of French influence in the expanded EU;
  • A negative attitude toward Turkey joining the EU.

After this summary, the authors state:

Although these issues have little or nothing to do with the actual contents of the Constitutional Treaty, they may have an adverse effect on the outcome of the French referendum. The numerous advantages of the new primary law have receded into the background. Yet even in the event of a No vote, it is hardly possible to call into question the fundamental desire of the French elites and the population for further integration. Since the majority of the French are pro-European, a rejection of the Constitutional Treaty will not be the result of “too much Europe”, but of “too little”. The French population is not fundamentally against a constitution, but it would rather like to have a different constitution. [my emphasis]

The argument that the peoples’ complaints have little or nothing to do with the constitution itself has been repeated over and over again. Those who use this argument are trying to make the point that the naysayers are tricking the general public, which by and large does not understand the issues. And I say: no, you — you “elites”, you who brush aside the public as being misled by evil “Euro-skeptics” — do not understand the issues.

Let’s take the Turkey issue first. Though it may be true that nothing in the consitutional document specifically touches on this issue, it is perfectly rational for a citizen who is concerned about Turkey-in-the-EU to conclude, “Whether or not the constitution is relevant to the Turkey issue, the issue itself is an indication that the EU is moving into territories that I am not comfortable with and, given that, the last thing I want to do is provide this institution with more legitimacy than has already been granted it with existing treaties.”

Now let’s look at the “neo-liberal” issue. First let me say, as an aside, that I think the French Left is dead wrong about this issue and that, if I were a socialist, I would oh-so-vote for this Constitution. The important thing for a Socialist vision of Europe is centralization. If I were a socialist, though I might fear short-term neo-liberal influence, I would swallow the pill, put as much centralization into effect as possible, then work to grab the reigns later if need be. But that’s beside the point. For though I do find the Left’s fears to be generally unfounded (or at least worth the risk), it is supremely arrogant for an organization of “elites” such as the CAP to suggest that this position has “little or nothing to do with the the actual contents of” the constitution. If we piece together a few of the paragraphs of the constitution itself, I think you will agree that any fears of centralized, extra-domestic decision-making in the realm of economic policy — be it too liberal or too socialistic — are fully justified:

Article I-12 – Categories of Competence

1. When the Constitution confers on the Union exclusive competence in a specific area, only the Union may legislate and adopt legally binding acts, the Member States being able to do so themselves only if so empowered by the Union or for the implementation of Union acts.

3. The Member States shall coordinate their economic and employment policies within arrangements as determined by Part III, which the Union shall have competence to provide.

Article I-13 Areas of exclusive competence

1. The Union shall have exclusive competence in the following areas:

(a) customs union;

(b) the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market;

(c) monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro;

(d) the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy;

(e) common commercial policy.

Article III-177

For the purposes set out in Article I-3, the activities of the Member States and the Union shall include, as provided in the Constitution, the adoption of an economic policy which is based on the close coordination of Member States’ economic policies, on the internal market and on the definition of common objectives, and conducted in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition.

Concurrently with the foregoing, and as provided in the Constitution and in accordance with the procedures set out therein, these activities shall include a single currency, the euro, and the definition and conduct of a single monetary policy and exchange-rate policy, the primary objective of both of which shall be to maintain price stability and, without prejudice to this objective, to support general economic policies in the Union, in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition.

These activities of the Member States and the Union shall entail compliance with the following guiding principles: stable prices, sound public finances and monetary conditions and a stable balance of payments.

Article III-178

Member States shall conduct their economic policies in order to contribute to the achievement of the Union’s objectives, as defined in Article I-3, and in the context of the broad guidelines referred to in Article III-179(2). The Member States and the Union shall act in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition, favouring an efficient allocation of resources, and in compliance with the principles set out in Article III-177.

[and so on, particularly throughout Article III]

Besides being a bunch of legal gibberish, somewhere in there is at least a heavy suggestion that the Union has a pretty big say — if not “exclusive competence” — in some pretty big economic areas.

But apparently those who think this are just being tricked by “Euro-skeptics”.

Back to the CAP release, which goes on to list the “Consequences of a French No Vote”. Note here that the very first “consequence” they list is framed as a non-consequence:

There will be a number of consequences if there is a French No vote on 29 May 2005:

* No end of the Constitution: Even in the event of a No vote on 29 May 2005, the new European primary law would not be dead, neither legally nor politically — even though many eurosceptics hope that this will be the case. A negative outcome of the referendum would merely mean that the Constitution cannot (yet) be ratified in France. However, this does not mean that the ratification process has failed and that the entry into force of the Constitution has become impossible. [my emphases are underlined; italics and parentheses are theirs]

Later, the CAP paper gets to their recommendations:

Recommendations in Case of a Negative Outcome of the French Referendum:

2. A second French referendum
In the event of a negative outcome, the May referendum should be repeated within one year, in case (and this seems probable) the Constitutional Treaty has been rejected by only a small majority of voters. As in Denmark after the initial No vote in the referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht, or as in Ireland after the initial rejection of the Treaty of Nice, a second referendum is the only way to attain the entry into force of the Constitutional Treaty.

A number of measures should be adopted in order to increase the chances of achieving a positive result at a second referendum:

* Intensive political marketing: One should design a more effective information campaign about the advantages and the limits of the Constitutional Treaty. Its primary task will be to counter the numerous “naysayers” who argue that the Constitution cements a neo-liberal Europe. It must be made quite clear that the Constitutional Treaty is not based on one specific economic policy concept. By including numerous social aims, values, and basic rights, the EU’s social dimension has been strengthened. However, in practice the Constitutional Treaty does not inevitably lead to a neo-liberal or a social Europe. The EU’s basic economic orientation is not determined by the new primary law, but on the grounds of concrete political decisions taken by the actors involved, in particular the member states and the Commission.

In addition to the measures outlined above, a second referendum could be linked to the question of France’s membership in the EU. Spelling out such harsh consequences of a No vote would limit the effects of superficial populism. However, the option of a French withdrawal from the EU does not seem realistic… Thus, a threat of this kind would not only fail to make its point, but might even have a negative effect on the outcome of a second referendum.

Let’s just be clear of the strategy here: shove it down the electorate’s throats. “Intensive political marketing” means nothing less than the government re-doubling their efforts — and their expenditures — to put every advantage they already have to work. And their sentence about the “EU’s basic economic orientation” not being determined by the new primary law shows me again that it’s they who do not get it, not the electorate. Even if the fear that acceptance of the constitution means immediate neo-liberal economics is irrational, what’s not irrational is the belief that once an economic course — socially-oriented, market-oriented, or whatever — is decided upon, the member countries’ abilities to continue with their customary or traditional or preferred economic principles could be seriously impacted.

And, by the way, if I am totally wrong about that, then it’s the wording of this monstrous document that is to blame, not I!

How do you like that last bit in the excerpt above about threatening the French people with exclusion from the Union? I like how the authors put the option out on the table — “Spelling out such harsh consequences … would limit the effects of superficial populism” — then kinda take it back as they responsibly point out that such a threat would be an outright lie! But, hey, it was worth mentioning, in case anybody wants to go down that road!

I won’t quote anymore, but just tell you that the last part of the document winds up with some suggestions of what could be done if ratification of the constitution completely fails. You should go read it to see if my description is justified, but here is what I think the several final paragraphs “sound like”: If ratification totally fails, we could implement most of the stuff in the Constitution anyway — but don’t tell anybody that, because then they might think “oh, so it’s not so important to ratify it after all”, which of course isn’t true … though, again, we probably could pass most of the stuff later using different laws…

Every reporter, every political hack, every columnist should be ringing up their favorite “elite” person in government and refusing to hang up until the basic questions are answered:

Is it important or not?! Will it be a “disaster” if it’s not passed, as so many pro-constitution scaremongers have been telling us? Can you explain why it would be a disaster? What would actually happen — concretely — if it did not pass?

Along those lines, here is an excerpt from an article at the EUObserver web site today:

If the French and the Dutch reject the EU Constitution on Sunday and Wednesday, they should re-run the referendums, the current president of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said.

“If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again”, Mr Juncker said in an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.

Mr Juncker stressed that a French No would be a “disaster” and excluded the possibility of imminent re-negotiations.

“The idea circulating in France that there could be an immediate re-negotiation (of the treaty) is absolutely unimaginable”, he said.

According to Jean-Claude Juncker, it would take “10 to 15 years” for another treaty to be established. [my emphasis]

There’s that “disaster” word again. How, why and for whom?!? Do we mean like a September 11th kind of disaster? Or a new Great Depression? Or something similar to Pompeii or the recent Tsunami? Or because the great goal of total unification will not have been reached, does it mean that European states will immediately go to war with each other?

So where are we at with the truth about the importance of this document? We have Juncker calling its rejection a disaster, we have the CAP — who clearly want ratification — suggesting that it’s not the end of the world if it fails, we have not-so-subtle threats from chancellors and presidents eager to remind us mysteriously that there is no “Plan B“, we have an Austrian MEP who wants to assure us that it’s not really a constitution, after all, but it nevertheless should be passed by the French because otherwise it would be a “problem for Europe”… Regarding that Austrian MEP and my blog entry about her, recall that these were the reasons she offered for voting for the Constitution:

* It strengthens us because of its codification of fundamental rights;
* It simplifies the “quorum” system — the voting structure within the EU;
* It strengthens the European Parliament;
* It provides a common foreign minister and thus a more unified stance in international policy.

Someone needs to take her aside and say, “Lady, that document contains six major ‘Parts’ (counting the ‘Final Act’), twenty-three ‘Titles’ and the main part of the document appears to end at ‘Article III-436’ [the numbering system absolutely confuses me]. Charles Moore’s printed copy is 511 pages long. You must be kidding me. 511 pages for those four little principles that you suggest are so important to us?”

[UPDATE: Mark Steyn has several other prima examples of ridiculous fear-mongering (shall we just call it lying?) by European “elites”. Example: “At the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp in the Czech Republic, Sweden’s European Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, declared: ‘There are those who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.'”]

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