June 14, 2008

On The Difficulties Of Adopting A European Constitution

Ireland voted against the Lisbon Treaty a couple days ago, scotching efforts to knit the European Union ever closer to a single political entity, a United States of Europe. Irish voters saw too many downsides to Lisbon, too many infringements on their individual lifestyles. Likely each voter had their own reason, and many Irish voted for the treaty, but the result was what it was.

The hand-wringing comes from the issue that Ireland represents less than 1% of the EU's population, and particularly EU advocates are suggesting that giving so small a proportion of people the right to have their way is profoundly anti-democratic.

But the EU is not like the USA. From the beginning of its revolutionary origins, there was a sense of commonality between the various American colonies, a sense of solidarity and mutual identity. People in Virginia took it personally when Boston's residents were shot by the redcoats. Philadelphians saw a threat to themselves and their way of life when North Carolina merchants had their cargo seized by the Royal Navy. This is not the case in the EU -- while Europeans identify with one another much more than they ever have at any point in history, Europeans still think of themselves as citizens of their nations first, and citizens of the EU second. What happens to a Spaniard is not necessarily something a Swede is going to identify with on a personal or emotional level they way it would if it had happened to another Swede. Canadians do not think of themselves as NAFTA citizens first and Canadians second; so too does someone born in Munich think of herself as a "German" first and an "EU citizen" second.

Politicians have had visions of a United States of Europe since at least Winston Churchill, and probably you could go back to Metternich. And other leaders have dreamed of a united Europe brought together under the sword and rifle; Napoleon and Hitler most prominently among them in the modern era, and Charles V and Charlemange most successfully. But if something like a united Europe is ever going to come about through democratic means, it must do so on a nation-by-nation basis, and everyone involved must see some advantage to coming together. The Irish get to say, "Hey, that might look really good in Paris and Milan, but it doesn't make much sense to us."

So EU advocates need to appeal to nations as well as to Europe as a whole. If Ireland doesn't get a decisive vote, then Ireland's sovereignty lacks meaning, and the more populous EU nations (France, Germany, the UK, Spain, and Italy) are simply imposing their will on the rest of Europe. The EU politicians make the mistake of thinking that all Europeans already think like them, in pan-European terms. They've lost sight of the fact that democracy consists of individual people, making individual choices, about what is in their individual best interests.

My real question: Adoption of things in the EU doesn't have to require the unanimous consent of every member nation. The British opted out of using the Euro, for instance, and kept the Pound Sterling because that works better for them. It's an inconvenience for EU citizens traveling to the UK, but they deal. Why couldn't some nations adopt and bind themselves to the Lisbon Treaty while others could not? Let's say only the Five Big Dogs in the EU signed on to Lisbon and the other EU nations didn't. If politicians in Sweden saw that Germany was doing better because of Lisbon, they'd get Sweden to sign on to it. That's the model used here in the USA -- a little thing I like to call federalism. Europeans are smart enough to understand this idea.

Another question: why are the various elections for EU referenda staggered around the various nations on various dates? Seems to me that staggering elections for various localities made sense in the days when information traveled from place to place on horseback, but now that the Euros have the internet and cell phones, it seems to me that every country could vote on the same day.

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