The European Union is about to enter into the final phase in the long, complex process of creating a European constitution. In this phase, perhaps the most perilous of all, the Constitution will be brought before the parliaments and peoples of Europe for approval—at least eleven member states will have referendums on the issue. In many of those states, we can expect a fierce debate that will inevitably invoke the most basic issues and purposes of the European Union. Maintaining a sense of balance in those debates will require an awareness of the purposes that the Constitution was supposed to serve and the mechanisms through which its framers intended it to achieve those purposes.
I use the word “Constitution” here quite advisedly. From a legal standpoint, the Constitution is a “constitutional treaty” no different from the Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice Treaties that have preceded it. But politically the word “Constitution” is important to demonstrate the determination of European governments to create from the European Union a political entity that embodies more than just intergovernmental agreements. This goal underpinned the original December 2001 decision by the heads of State and Governments to convene a Constitutional Convention, and it forms the basis of the various countries’ desire to see the process through the ratification stage.
The idea for the Constitution began also as a reaction to the impending reality of enlargement of the European Union. The Convention on the Future of Europe that originally drafted the treaty began its work nearly three years ago specifically because the EU was on the threshold of its largest, but probably not its last, enlargement. Since the Convention began, ten new members have entered the Union. But the EU still has, with 25 members, the same basic institutions as it had at the beginning when there were only six members. The recent enlargement also made the Union much more heterogeneous in terms of wealth, geography, and history.
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