Rhein on Energy and Climate

When politicians get bored or frustrated with the jobs for which they are appointed they often “invade” new fields for which they have no particular competence.

This seems to be the case with Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister. At the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Copenhagen, March 10-12, he has proposed a new EU constitutional initiative, without receiving much applause from his colleagues. Only one third of them thought the idea worth while pursuing. But this meagre response does not seem to have impressed the minister, who is keen to organise a follow-up meeting with like-minded colleagues in the next few weeks.

Five main arguments plead against taking a new initiative for EU constitutional reform at the present moment.

  • The Lisbon Treaty has entered into force just three years ago, after almost one decade of extremely painful labour. Constitutions are written to last for decades or centuries! Even the EU constitution, designed for a political entity in transformation should not be changed every few years.
  • The Lisbon Treaty has repaired most crucial shortcomings of its predecessor, the Amsterdam Treaty.

The European Parliament has become the joint legislator with the Council, which now decides by qualified majority on almost all legislative acts. A President of the European Council appointed for two and a half years replaces the rotating European Presidencies at the level of heads of government, thereby creating more continuity at the top governance. These changes have enhanced the efficiency of European government.

  • The main shortcomings in the European Union derive much more from a lack of political will than from an inadequate legal framework.

There is plenty of space to amend the Lisbon Treaty by changing practices or, if absolutely necessary, by amending specific articles. Nothing prevents foreign ministers to abandon the consensus rule and replace it by qualified majority votes!The same goes for the unanimity provision for tax issues.

  • A new constitutional debate will deflect the EU`s attention from more urgent political and economic reform tasks.

The fiscal, financial and economic crisis is far from over. Europe needs to become much more competitive and innovative. Its energy revolution is just in the beginning. It has not digested the last two waves of enlargement. It continues to face explosive job crises in several Camembert states. Its structural policies need to be amended. Its external borders are not sufficiently protected against illegal immigration. The EU Commission needs an big overhaul.

Thus there are plenty of “chantiers” to work on before engaging in another comprehensive constitutional exercise.

  • Last not least, Europe has over the years become more like federal state than most of us realise. Citizens have become weary of more Europe. A new constitutional debate might therefore backfire, unleashing national reflexes throughout the Union. Why should rational politicians take such risks?

The 28 foreign ministers should fully focus on developing an effective common foreign policy. The EU external image and effectiveness is worse than ever, despite the newly created External Action Service, which excels more by bland declarations than convincing action.

Moreover, the constitutional changes that Westerwelle suggests are anything but convincing.

  • Why would a European President elected by all EU citizens be more effective and legitimate than one the Heads of government choose among them?
  • Why would a European Constitution adopted by an EU-wide referendum provide more legitimacy to the European polity than one adopted according to 28 ratification procedures? Even such a constitution offers no guarantee for creating the common political space that Europe needs so badly.
  • Finally, why would a new constitution make the EU more democratic and efficient?

In conclusion, this is not the moment to start writing a new constitution. We should exploit the margins of manoeuvre the Lisbon Treaty offers to all actors and repair the political, economic, social and fiscal damage that has been done as a consequence of the crisis and inadequate crisis management. Most of that repair work does not need constitutional changes.

Let “think tanks” review the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and consider really worthwhile changes. By 2020 Europe might perhaps be in need for another comprehensive constitutional exercise.


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