How the EU could overcome the current Constitutional crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The present impasse over the Constitutional Treaty is different from its predecessors, because it represents a decline in public support for the EU with a large decrease in motivation on the part of European leaders, argue Olivier Costa and Paul Magnette in a May 2007 Garnet policy brief.

The authors claim that the crisis originates from changes that began in the 1980s, with the growing power of the liberal paradigm in Europe, the gradual weakening of common policies, and increased EU intervention in the field of values – such as anti-discrimination legislation on issues such as nationality, gender equality, religion and sexual orientation – which can provoke hostile reactions in the new member states. 

The crisis also has its origins in recent failures of the Constitutional process, such as the excessive ambition of the Constitution, the underestimation of opposition – both to the constitution and the Union in general – and the failure to consider an alternative in the eventuality of non-ratification, according to the authors. 

Most of the common propositions for overcoming the crisis seem unsuitable to Costa and Magnette. For them, the Constitutional approach is unrealistic, as it disregards the attachment of national leaders to their sovereignty. In contrast, the ‘gradualist’ option – which proposes retrieving some elements of the Constitutional Treaty step-by-step, or focusing on its institutional provisions – does not respect citizens’ wishes, claim the authors. 

The Garnet paper concludes by suggesting that a functionalist hypothesis be considered. This is based on the authors’ observation that the only successful attempts to revive European integration have thus far consisted of identifying a consensual political objective, and subsequently modifying institutional structures as far as necessary. They insist that these experiences are replicable on three conditions. 

Their first condition is that negotiations are divided up by beginning with one or two limited objectives, to be decided by consensus – such as the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, and the CFSP. They suggest that negotiations on more disputed matters – such as socio-economic issues and comprehensive institutional reform – be postponed to a later stage. 

The second is that alternatives must be arranged for the eventuality that the Treaty is not ratified by one or several member states. This, they suggest, could be done by implementing the Treaty among signatory states and differentiating between a core and a periphery in the Union. 

Their third condition is that consultation procedures are intensified prior to – and during – negotiations, including with citizens, social partners, sub-state authorities, and parliaments. 

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