Thinking about Constitutions

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

This
‘European Essay’ by the Federal Trust contributes to the debate on
the European Constitution from the UK’s perspective.

Foreword by Brendan Donnelly, Director of Federal
Trust

“This is the first of the Federal Trust’s European Essays for
2005. Its content could not be more timely or telling. Over the
next eighteen months, and particularly after the General Election
expected in May of this year, a vital constitutional question will
be moving inexorably to the top of the political agenda, namely the
promised referendum on the treaty ‘establishing a constitution for
the European Union.’ The campaign surrounding that referendum will
inevitably range across the whole spectrum of arguments,
statistics, misunderstandings, misrepresentations and caricature
which comprise ninety percent of the European debate in this
country. It would be a brave prophet now to foretell the
outcome. 

The lecture of Professor Edward which follows is not conceived
as a partisan contribution to the incipient debate on the European
Constitution. The Constitution’s critics and its friends will find
the lecture equally informative and stimulating. In a remarkable
mixture of history, analysis, methodology and interrogation,
Professor Edward seeks to refine and reinforce his audience’s
ability to think coherently and effectively about constitutional
questions. He rightly has little patience with the lazy idea that
constitutional thinking and speculation have made little or no
contribution to the present state of the British polity. Keynes
tells us that ‘practical men’ are often unconsciously in thrall to
the ideas of long-dead economists. Many current British politicians
who pride themselves on their pragmatism appear to stand in the
same relationship to long-dead lawyers and political
theorists. 

It is undoubtedly true that one reason why the institutional
structure of the European Union can provoke in the United Kingdom
(perhaps particularly in England) such resentment and
misunderstanding is that it often confronts us with unwelcome
questions about the appropriate relationship between various
elements of British domestic governance. Cardiff and Edinburgh, not
to mention Birmingham and Liverpool, may well wonder whether the
British government practices domestically the principle of
subsidiarity to which it attaches such importance in the European
context. English Regional Assemblies have now disappeared from the
political agenda for the foreseeable future. But the constitutional
questions to which they were designed as an answer have not.
Professor Edward’s lecture encourages us to think more confidently
and creatively about the whole gamut of constitutional questions,
regional, national and European. The more politicians and
commentators who follow his encouragement in the months leading up
to next year’s European referendum, the better.”

This Federal Trust ‘European Esssay’ is in fact
the revised text of a lecture by Sir David
Edward
, Honorary Professor at the University of
Edinburgh. Click here  to read the essay

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