Europe's constitution should belong to the people

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The Independent Online

Imagine that the drafters of the American constitution had written: "We the people and the states of America establish a union which shall administer certain competences according to the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality."

Imagine that the drafters of the American constitution had written: "We the people and the states of America establish a union which shall administer certain competences according to the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality."

And so on for 16 tortuous articles written in tone-deaf bureaucratese. Would that have inspired a young nation with the high ideals of the American dream?

The problem with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is that – right down to the mock aristocratic title – he represents old Europe: de haut en bas. His chairmanship of the convention charged with drawing up a new constitution for the expanded European Union implied a bias towards more of the same.

So it has proved. The draft published this week has been hailed by British diplomats among others as a success because it is essentially a précis of the several treaties creating the union. That might have prevented another lurch towards centralisation, but it does little to address the faults of the existing structure.

The abiding problem of Europe's present constitution is that the citizens of the member states – as opposed to those of the countries joining next year – feel alienated from it. This is not merely a question of language, important though that is. It should be possible to express the governing principles of the union in plain words that mean something, even in translation, to all its citizens.

There are important questions of how the peoples of Europe can hold their leaders to account – through the European Parliament and through enforceable checks and balances. But these are ignored in the draft.

Above all, the draft shows scant understanding of the need for the peoples of Europe to feel that they "own" the union. They support its fundamental purposes, but feel that its design has been imposed on them from above. Where, when we need them, are our James Madisons, George Washingtons and Benjamin Franklins?

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