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FIVE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM A FAILED CONSTITUTION

Marcel H. VAN HERPEN

Director, Cicero Foundation

Now that the Dutch have voted no the European Constitution can definitively be considered dead and buried. It is, therefore, time for the European leaders to assess the reasons of its failure and the lessons to be learned. There are, I think, at least five lessons.

* First Lesson:

Call a treaty a treaty and a constitution a constitution. Calling the treaty a constitution was a big mistake. It suggested that the changes in the treaty were a big leap forward towards a federal unity, while, in fact, they were symbolic and rather small and had almost all an intergovernmental character (EU President, EU Foreign Minister, voting procedures in the Council).

* Second Lesson:

Avoid symbolism. The Convention and the Constitution were meant to celebrate the entrance of the ten new member states. This celebration was unnecessary. The first enlargement in 1973 with the UK, Ireland and Denmark, brought in about 70 million people, which is approximately the same number as last year. This first enlargement, however, was not an occasion for big words and impressive gestures, but a pragmatic event.

* Third Lesson

Remain pragmatic. European integration has always been a process of small steps. Let us continue to do so. The energy put into the Constitution would have been better spent in implementing the Lisbon Agenda (after having scrapped its bombastic aim of the EU becoming the first knowledge economy of the world by 2010).

* Fourth Lesson:

Do not make big projects in a time of economic recession. It was, for instance, no accident that the 1970s - a time of an economic downturn and two oil crises, was on the European level a time of institutional stagnation and 'eurosclerosis'. The European Single Act and the Treaty of Maastricht that gave new oxygen to the European Community were the result of an improving economy in the second half of the 1980s.

* Fifth Lesson:

If ever the EU wants to make a Constitution, it must not only be a real leap forward to a federal unity, but it must also use a carrot and stick approach. A EU-wide vote should be organised on the same day in all EU member states and the constitution should be declared accepted if 80 percent of the member states, containing 80 percent of the total population, have accepted it. Countries that reject the Constitution should remain outside and not be able to block its implementation.

Paris, 1 June 2005


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