The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content. The draft constitution resulted from a political desire to simplify European institutions, rendered inefficient by recent expansions. It was about creating more democracy and transparency within the European Union. It was about opening the way for a "Constitution for the people of Europe".
These goals were reflected in the composition of the treaty-drafting Convention which brought together representatives from the European Parliament and national parliaments, from the governments of member states, as well as from the European Commission. The debates were very public. The resulting draft constitution was a new text and replaced all previous treaties.
For the Treaty of Lisbon the process has been very different. It was the legal experts for the European Council who were charged with drafting the new text. They have not made any new suggestions. They have taken the original draft constitution, blown it apart into separate elements, and have then attached them, one by one, to existing treaties. The Treaty of Lisbon is thus a catalogue of amendments. It is unpenetrable for the public.
In terms of content, the proposed institutional reforms – the only ones which mattered to the drafting Convention – are all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon. They have merely been ordered differently and split up between previous treaties. There are, however, some differences. Firstly, the noun "constitution" and the adjective "constitutional" have been banished from the text, as though they describe something inadmissible. At the same time, all mention of the symbols of the EU have been suppressed, including the flag (which already flies everywhere), and the European anthem (Beethoven's Ode to Joy). However ridiculous they seem, these decisions are significant. They are intended to chase away any suggestion that Europe may one day have a formal political status. They sound a significant retreat from European political ambition.
The concessions given to French opponents of the constitutional treaty are more symbolic than substantial. The expression "free and undistorted competition" has been taken out at the request of President Sarkozy. It reappears at the request of the British, in an annexed protocol to the new treaty which stipulates that "the internal market, such as is defined in Article 3 of the treaty, includes a system guaranteeing that competition is undistorted".
Far more important are the concessions made to the British. The Charter of Fundamental Rights – an improved and updated version of the Charter of Human Rights – has been withdrawn from the draft treaty and made into a separate text, to which Britain will not be bound. In the area of judicial harmonisation and co-operation, Britain will have the right to duck in and out of the system as it pleases. Having already weakened all attempts at further European integration – such as by refusing the title of Minister for Foreign Affairs – Britain has also been allowed to be the odd man out whenever it feels like it.
Otherwise, the proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary.
The Brussels institutions have also cleverly reclaimed the process from the – to them – unwelcome intrusion of parliamentarians and politicians in the work of the original drafting Convention. The institutions have re-imposed their language and their procedures – taking us even further away from ordinary citizens.
Now comes the ratification process. There should not be any big problems – except in Britain where a referendum would obviously lead to a "No" vote. Elsewhere, the complexity of the new text, and the apparent surrender of all sweeping ambitions, should be enough to smooth over all difficulties.
But lift the lid and look in the toolbox: all the same innovative and effective tools are there, just as they were carefully crafted by the European Convention: a stable Presidency; a streamlined Commission; a Parliament with genuine legislative rights; a Foreign Minister, even if he has been given another inadequate title; decisions taken by a double majority of governments and citizens; and the most advanced charter of fundamental rights in the world.
When men and women with sweeping ambitions for Europe decide to make use of this treaty, they will be able to rekindle from the ashes of today the flame of a United Europe.
The writer, a former French President (1974-81), was president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which drafted a new constitution, 2002-03Reuse content