December 14, 2003

Don't mention the superstate in Brussels

On the really important, but sadly neglected, issue in the European "constitutional" debate:

There is an elephant in the drawing room. As EU leaders work themselves up about voting weights, numbers of commissioners and other trifles, they are tip-toeing around the enormous fact that the document in front of them will transform the EU, de facto and de jure, into a single state. On the day the constitution enters into force, all previous treaties will be dissolved. The EU will cease to be an association of states bound together by international accords, and instead become a single polity, with its own jurisdiction, legal personality and constitution. It is the most important development in the EU's 47-year history, yet no one wants to discuss it.


This is surely no way to build a new state. Supporters of the EU constitution are fond of invoking the American precedent. Yet it is impossible to imagine the Philadelphia delegates ignoring the question of where the line should be drawn between the federal government and the member states. On the contrary, this was their main preoccupation, with the happy result that most powers were indeed reserved at state level. In the EU, the absence of such a debate has meant that the process "defaulted" to the ultra-centralist vision of the European Commission and Parliament. The result is a constitution that few of the governments much like, and that is further removed than ever from the people. That is Europe's tragedy; and, of course, Britain's, too.