June 02, 2005

Dutch Reject EU Constitution

The Dutch have voted against the EU Constitution with over 60% of the vote and a similar turnout percentage. The French rejection Sunday no doubt emboldened them to come out and vote since they wouldn't bear alone the burden of rejecting the constitution. Apparently the Constitution is none too popular in the EU.

I'm a little more ambivalernt about it, since it seems as though people who reject capitalism and who reject progress from both the left and right find cause in opposing the EU, as well as people with concerns for markets and democracy. Of course, the actual constitution of the EU was horrendously stupid and complex.

The Euro Constitution is more 60,000 words long (in English), while the American Constitution is a tidy 4,608 words from the preamble to the last signature. The problem is that the authors, led by former French President Giscard d'Estaing, didn't know how to differentiate between a code of laws and statues and a basic constitutional framework. I'm sure they could've narrowed it down to 20k and still included most of the stupid ideas they meant to include. What's also funny to an American is that Giscard d'Estaing comes from the UDF, which is supposed to be a collection of liberals, radicals and republicans - in other words the closest things France had to small-government conservatives, but who aren't really very small-government at all (which is why Giscard d'Estaing's faction, named Liberal Democracy, switched to Chirac's party in 1998).

All that aside, the Constitution has several different kinds of problems: feel-good filler, economic controversy, and critical vagueness.

Feel-Good Filler

Let's just say that a lot of the feel-goodism is broad enough that I can get behind it, even though I'm no fan of the EU's track record in most areas thus far. They don't seem to realize that feel-good is great for a declaration of unity or something akin to the US Declaration of Independence, but it sucks for legal-constitutional language. Somebody has to interpret this stuff later and the law isn't supposed to be focused on making you feel good. Feel-good statements are intentionally devoid of most controversy and aim at bringing people together around values. The law has to set explicit limits so that people won't cross lines. Turning the Euro Constitution into feel-good filler deprives it of real value.

Critical Vagueness

The cousin of feel-good filler is the critical vagueness of the Constitution. For example, the union's values include this one, which comes second only to internal peace:

2. The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.

So which is it, free or undistorted? I could read undistorted to mean they're going to intervene wherver 'perfect competition' doesn't exist, or that they're going to leave the economy alone at any time. It depends on your economic viewpoint, whether marxist, keynesian, neo-classical, austrian or whatever. The economists don't even agree on distortion, so how can this be a legally binding statement? It needs to have a specific definition or understanding.

The wider part of vagueness is that there are a great number of languages covered by the EU, and constitutional language that means one thing in English could mean another in German and yet another in Greek. The result ought to be an even more specific use of language, to compensate.

Economic Controversy

Also connected to the feel-good filler is the inability to truly pick sides on the economy. The constitution of the EU commits it to free competition, to aim for full employment and to a social market. Well, which is it? Here are the values:

2. The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.

3. The Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.

I might think it was going to be a British, German, Swedish or Estonian economy depending on my point of view, just from these two segments. How would I know? They didn't pick sides. Later on they commit the EU to "free and fair trade," as well.


There's no really meaning to most of the rights contained in the Constitution. I would fear for my rights were I a European, but then I ought to have already been fearing for myr ights in such a case. This isn't really too big of a change in how the EU works. It already has supremacy in certain policy areas. All that really happens is some startings of a common foreign policy and common defense. The EU gets no new exclusive competences, but it does get 3 new shared competences (territorial cohesion, energy, space) and three new supporting comepetences (tourism, sport, administrative cooperation). They're also expanding the powers of the European Parliament and dropping the number of executive Commisioners.

I wouldn't know what to think of the EU Constitution if I had to vote on it because it's such a mixed-bag reform of the EU, which itself has a couple really good principles amidst a huge collection of horrible policies. I might vote yes because a rewrite would be even more tailored to the socialist objections, but the Constitution is abusively long - it's simply inaccessible for the average citizen to begin to understand. If I voted yes, it would be in a provisional way, to get to a better system and a simpler governmental style; if I voted no, it would be a rejection of the EU's socialism, bureaucracy, and disdain for everything and everyone.

Of course, were I a hypothetical European I'd apply to the US for citizenship, which is definitely the kind of voting with your feet where American freedom and capitalism has been beating European conservatism and socialism for centuries.


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February 17, 2010 2:43 AM  

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