Man Without Qualities

Thursday, May 26, 2005

O, Now He Tells Them

From the Times of London:

May 27, 2005

Constitution is in a mess, the Briton who wrote it says
By Bronwen Maddox

What started out as a simple statement of principles turned into a monster out of control

THE European Constitution should still be praised for setting out Europe’s common values, and defining the powers of the institutions that run it. But key sections “got out of control” in two years of drafting. Its authors took on too much, and tried to solve problems they were not equipped to tackle. They were too ambitious, and they started two years too late.

That is the verdict of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, one of the main authors of the tome which polls suggest will be rejected by French voters on Sunday, very likely followed by the Dutch on Wednesday. “Why did it get so big? We tried to do it all,” he said yesterday.

It is impossible now not to ask what went so wrong. The constitution was supposed to be a simple statement of the principles uniting the people of Europe, which would clearly set the boundaries between the powers of the EU’s institutions and those of its member states.

Instead, thrashed out between 2001 and 2003, it became a 336-page monster, engulfing almost every treaty the EU had devised. Watching the struggles of the French and Dutch “yes” campaigns, it is hard to see how politicians imagined it would be easy to champion.

Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French President, is formally recognised as the constitution’s author. But it is hard to overstate Kerr’s influence as his Secretary-General. .... He now mounts a defence of the constitution that is, in essence, a defence only of “part I”, the first of its four chapters. The short (53-page) section includes a statement of principles, a definition of the powers of institutions and rules for voting in a union of 25 members.

“The object of the exercise was to produce something which would look a bit like part I”, he says. It would set out “the purposes, the values and the institutions, defining Europe by those not by geography”. ....

“Looking back, it was a mistake to take on ourselves the task of producing the whole constitution. We should have stuck to part I and handed the rest of the task to the Council [of Ministers], saying, ‘now you apply this across policies’. But we tried to do it all.”

He thinks that “the parts that got out of control were defence and foreign policy”, as well as some of the legal framework. The 181-page “part III” is particularly at fault, he now feels.

“It is an extension of part I into actual policies with not enough excisions. We didn’t want to knock out bits.”

Part III contains almost every existing treaty, including the Growth and Stability Pact, the hugely controversial financial rules for countries which have adopted the euro currency.

“We were the wrong body [to tackle that]”, he offers, because of the financial complexity and political sensitivity. “We couldn’t have amended it.” ....

Looking back over the whole exercise, he concludes: “I don’t think we did it incompetently. But it would have been easier to sell to the public as a short, 60-article, institutional treaty.” ....

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