Sunday, April 25, 2004

Myth of the Week

This is the first of a series, designed as a campaigners guide to debunking the Europhile myths used to support the EU constitutional treaty.

Tony Blair: "The new constitutional treaty is designed… to answer the challenge of enlargement". Commons statement, 20 April 2004

There is no more pernicious a myth than the constant refrain, trotted out from Blair downwards, and faithfully retailed even by the Eurosceptic press, that the constitution is necessary to deal with enlargement. And the most obvious and easy response is simply: “what was Nice for?”. We were told that the Nice Treaty was necessary for enlargement and now, with another treaty in the offing, we are again being told that it is necessary for enlargement.

Therein, in fact, lies the clue to unravelling the myth. The constitution is not necessary for enlargement: enlargement is the excuse for the constitution. Exactly the same excuse was used in 1969 when Britain, Ireland and Denmark were set to join the original Community of Six Рwhen Pompidou used élargissement as the excuse for establishing the EEC budget, on which relied the handsome CAP payments that his farmers were going to enjoy. One way or another, every time a significant enlargement has been proposed, it has been used as a justification for further integration.

The Europhiles’ case for a constitution as a response to this current round of enlargement might be more convincing if it had suddenly been dreamed up after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, when the prospect of absorbing the former Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe became a reality.

But the truth is that the quest for a constitution predates even the EEC and its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community. It was a dream of Coudenhove Kalergi, in 1931, when he wrote his book the United States of Europe, and it was a central part of Altiero Spinelli’s ‘Ventotene Manifesto’, written in 1941 under the title Towards a Free and United Europe.

This latter document was to become one of the basic texts of the European federalist movement and its thinking was clearly reflected in the European Movement’s submission to the Hague Congress in May 1948, from which the Council of Europe emerged. At that time, even, the federalists were determined to set up a constituent assembly – a convention by any other name – in order to draft a constitution for Europe, the text of which bears a remarkable similarity to that which has been drafted by Giscard.

Despite the best efforts of the federalists, however – mainly through the blocking actions of the British – there was no progress on the idea, although it was reactivated again in 1952 when the first meeting of the European Coal and Steel Assembly turned itself into a constituent assembly, with a view to drafting a constitution for Europe. This was effectively blocked not by the British by the French Parliament, which turned against the idea of a “European Political Community”, whence Monnet went ahead with his plans for what became the Treaty of Rome.

As always in Community affairs, however, the idea of a constitution was not dead, but dormant. It took until 1979, and the first direct elections to the European Parliament, for the idea to be resurrected – its author no less than Alterio Spinelli, now and MEP. By 1984, he and his colleagues in the European Parliament had produced a “Draft Treaty for a European Union”, which was a constitution in all but name, and again bears a remarkable similarity to Giscard’s current draft.

At the time, however, it was considered too ambitious and Mitterrand advised Spinelli to go implement his plan in “bite-size” chunks, to avoid scaring of the more Eurosceptic nations and leaders, one of whom was by then Margaret Thatcher. Spinelli took the advice, from which emerged – with the help of a new Commission President, Jacques Delors, the first “chunk”, disguised as a treaty to establish a single market to keep Thatcher off-guard, but given the revealing title of the Single European Act.

Part two of Spinelli’s master plan for a constitution came in 1990, with the Maastricht Treaty, again carefully disguised so as not to give the game away. By 1997, however – on the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, Giscard was in Philadelphia, home of the US constitution, predicting the “miracle” of a convention to establish “this charter of the European Union”.

It took four years, at the Laeken declaration on 2001 for Giscard’s “miracle” to appear, with his appointment as president of the Convention drafting a European constitution, thus realising an ambition of the federalists that was over 30 years old. But, terrified that their plan should be revealed for what it was, a premeditated attempt to create a United States of Europe, the federalists have resorted to their familiar tactics of deception, relying on once again on “enlargement” to justify a plan which existed all along.

Perversely, the constitution – if it happens – will not resolve the institutional stresses brought about by the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 nations. The core problems of trying to manage disparate nations, each with their own agendas, remain. But that is hardly surprising. The constitution was never intended to achieve this, whatever Blair and his fellow travellers might claim.

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