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Speech by Gisela Stuart MP

Gisela Stuart MP

On: EU–US Impact of the new Constitution

13 July 2004

“Thank you for inviting me to speak to your group tonight. The topic of the evening is “the impact of the EU constitution on our relationship with the US”. The title, which I admit I chose myself, sounded deceptively straight forward until I sat down to draft the speech.

It is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it is not easy to determine who we mean when we speak of Europe, and secondly to predict the future impact of a Constitution which mainly allows for processes to take shape is difficult.

I asked myself “who is us”. I encountered this problem first during my time as representative of the British Parliament at the Convention on the Future of Europe. We spent two years putting together the first draft which was handed over to heads of governments last year. I served on the thirteen member strong Presidium, chaired by Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

Being German by birth and British by choice, there were occasions when I made a particular point in German. When I used the word “we” colleagues invariably looked puzzled – when you say “we” do you mean the Germans or the British. A rather revealing reaction I thought, given that we were supposed to be there to help build the “new Europe”. Even amongst us we were not “Europeans”. The rainbow of Europe still glittered in all its national colours.

The second question invites me to predict the future of the Constitution, something politicians are rarely good at, and even those who have helped to write the document itself don’t seem to be better at it. No lesser figure than Alexander Hamilton commented on the outcome of the Philadelphia Convention “A shilly-shally thing of milk and water, which could not last”. More than two hundred years on the American Constitution has lasted extremely well; and there have only been 27 amendments.

But there is one undeniable fundamental difference. The American Constitution was drawn up in order to create a single nation and define the powers of the government which was to serve the interests of that nation.

But with this Constitution Europe has given itself a government – but a government that is still in search of a nation. 

“The draft formulates what the EU wants and what it is. It is a government which lacks a nation from which it could draw legitimacy. That is its design fault. There is still no European demos, no European identity going beyond the sum of its national components. The Europeans remain dependent on America as their protective power; there is no EU without the USA. The new Constitution establishes the EU as a sovereign legal body which remains superior to its member states. From the legal perspective, the EU has become a state-like construction. The constitution is full of commitments on issues which Brussels should not be dealing with.”

This was not written by a British euro sceptic, but is a direct quote from last week’s edition of the influential German newspaper “Die Welt”.

Alistair Cooke’s “Letters from America” helped us in Britain to better understand the United States.  If I may be so presumptuous I shall attempt a “Letter from Europe”.

Let’s look back at some of our shared history. The forty-one years from 1948 to 1989 witnessed an extraordinary catalogue of events as history unfolded and there is a tendency now to see the collapse of communism as inevitable, but it wasn’t. At key moments in the story some politicians acted with vision, and perhaps more importantly, courage.

In the last act Gorbachev certainly, but in earlier scenes it was the likes of Bevin and Marshall, Adenauer and de Gaulle [certainly not an easy man, but impressive in his resolve during the Cuban missile crisis] Brandt and Schmidt, but underpinning all was the knowledge that America stood ready to defend Europe. The relationship was not always easy, nor was it motivated entirely by American altruism, but east and west Europe would not be at one in the way they are today if at critical moments in history American presidents, notably Truman, Kennedy and Reagan, had not acted in the way they did.

The Cold war and Europe’s role in it passed through many phases, but I would dispute one assertion often made, namely that the European Union has kept the peace. The EU [and its previous incarnations] can claim many achievements to its name, but it was NATO and the American umbrella, that really kept the peace.

Indeed, before Messina or the Treaty of Rome, the Pax Americana had already provided the security assurances that Western Europe needed, and it was obvious that there would not be any fighting between countries of the region. Furthermore, the democratic regimes installed after the war appeared well rooted, and Western Europe enjoyed increasing prosperity.

Despite this, the desire for further political and economic integration with supra national rather than national emphasis continued. This was something that Britain was reluctant to embark on, but the Americans were keen to encourage it as they saw it making some sort of contribution to resisting the advance of Soviet Communism.

And America wanted Britain to be part of the club. Neither Eisenhower nor Kennedy offered much encouragement to the proposals from London for an association of EFTA and the EEC as part of a broader Atlantic Union.

This caused some irritation in Britain where the government felt it reduced its bargaining power with the EEC, but the fact was that America was a significant, if largely passive supporter of European Integration.

The Cold War provided the framework for Europe’s identity and the emergence of a new European ideology that sought to identify Europe with the defence of freedom, a convenient way of underscoring its alignments with the free world and distancing itself from Europe’s recent Nazi and fascist past. Its intellectuals stressed the origins of what they regarded as distinctly European values in a symbiosis of Christendom and Roman law. The Christian democrats, the great winners of post war European politics needed this kind of history particularly badly because Catholic political sentiment before the Second World war had certainly not been overly concerned with freedom and had often taken an authoritarian and anti-democratic line.

The rapprochement of Catholic thought and parliamentary democracy that took place after Hitler’s defeat thus required a new reading of history.

There were and continue to be competing visions of Europe.

Some see Europe as an alternative power block to the United States, whilst others – particularly in Britain – stress the economic benefits whilst denying the political dimension of the Union. The majority view across Europe would be to describe it as a union of nation states which only acts collectively when it is in the interest of the majority of the member states to do so.

In a Constitution you would expect the power to derive from “the people” – not so in this one. It is the “high contracting parties” which sign this document on behalf of their citizens. Ralf Dahrendorf highlighted this contradiction in his article in Monday’s Die Welt – when he lamented the use of “constitutional language” to describe intergovernmental relationship.

The root of the problem is the failure of Europe to come to terms with the events of 11/9 – the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. And similarly America has not fully digested the implications of its crisis which occurred with 9/11 and challenged many if its own cherished assumptions.

The enemy could no longer be neatly identified as Country X and when it turned to its traditional allies for help it found that they had gone AWOL. It is true that NATO for the first time in its history invoked Article 5, but this united front did not last for long.

Viewed from America, when it came to taking military action in Iraq, it felt let down by those from whom it had a right to expect support. France indicated that it would veto any UN resolution whatever the text and Germany’s Joschka Fischer stated that he “remained to be convinced – and I am not convinced”. How different from the Cuban missile crisis, when de Gaulle declined the offer of “evidence” from Kennedy with the words “a French President does not require proof from a President of the United States”

Europe’s geopolitical importance depended on the Cold War, and when that was over, it had to find a new place for itself in the world, which so far it has failed to do. Europe is confused about itself. It looks to the past because it is doesn’t like the look of the future. And the Constitution reflects that “angst” and confusion.

America wants a Europe that is economically successful, that can contribute to global defence and that is stable and democratically accountable. And that is what Europe wants for itself as well, except that it is going about it in a way which seems incomprehensible to the outsider [and many an insider as well for that matter].

Taken in aggregate Europe has an aging population, stagnating economies, outdated social models and rapidly deteriorating military capabilities. Rather than facing those challenges the Constitution entrenches all those failings.

But this is not the fault of the Constitution as a document – the document simply reflects the state Europe is in.

The US has separation of powers. The EU has developed instead a system of institutional balance based on overlapping jurisdictions: The legislative, executive and regulative powers are shared by many institutions, so much so that the distinction itself between legislative and executive acts are blurred, something that would have had James Madison turn in his grave.

The world of global economies and large flows of private capital requires flexibility. There are few “pan European” solutions to economic problems – and this was recognised by heads of governments when they initiated the “Lisbon process”; a process which compared best practice and introduced benchmarking. There is no mention of this in the Constitution. But what it does do is increase the ability of the Commission to push through regulations and directives and many of the new countries which came in this year are burdened with regulations which reduce their competitiveness.

“Since the early ‘90s the EU has been very active in regulating labour and financial markets, product quality among other areas. Many more of these regulations may now be adopted by qualified majority. In the EU, the majority of highly regulated member states tend to try to impose their high level of regulation on the minority of less regulated member states – a strategy known to economists as “raising rivals” costs. The Constitution makes it easier to do so.

Decisions on industrial policy, services of general interest, the management of structural funds, and regulation of the European Central Bank are also moving the QMV – thus increasing the odds for government interference.

… The Constitution is a recipe for ever tighter regulation. It would impair Europe’s competitiveness in the global economy…”

These are not my words, but the conclusions arrived at by the European Constitutional Group of the Academic Advisory Council of the German Federal Ministry of Economics.

The Constitution did not make any changes to the substance of existing policies, what has been changed are the mechanisms of decision making. This is a pity, because for example the Union entrenches all the outdated articles of the Common Agricultural Policy. The policy made sense in 1957, but now it consumes 50% of the Unions budget; European farmers could not feed their people if they were ever called upon to do so and to make matters worse, it damages the third world.

Henry Kissinger used to ask “when I want to talk to Europe who do I call?” On the face of it the Constitution does resolve his problem. It creates a President of the Council of Ministers, which represents the Nation States, and a European Foreign Minister. The Constitution also creates an Armaments Agency, which co-ordinates military spending across Europe, as well as a European Diplomatic Service.

But this assumes that there is – or can be – such a thing as a European common foreign policy. We are far from one. In the Balkans we appeared to arrive at one – but only after 250.000 people had died. And the Balkans is far from resolved.

Over Iraq there would not have been consensus whatever the EU structure. We might have been able to avoid the disagreement to be less public, that’s all.

The bottom line is a simple one. If Europe wants to be a serious player in defence it has to increase its spending as well as co-ordinate it better. If the current trend of cutting defence spending continues, it will not be as question of choosing to work with the Americans; Europe will be technologically incapable of working with the US.

Even the much talked abut European Rapid Reaction force is little more than a mirage. There are more than 2 million soldiers in uniform across Europe, yet when it comes to finding 60.000 soldiers capable of being deployed, Europe struggles to find them.

Politically Europe will not be a superpower. Super powers only get to be political super powers if they are held together by a strong sense of national identity or perhaps for a period by the force of authoritarian rule – Europe has neither.

It cannot become a military superpower either because there is not the slightest evidence that the generality of countries in the EU are prepared to devote the scale of resources to maintain their own security or carry out military actions on their own continent, let alone a world role to match the US.  

The Constitution can only deliver what Member States whish it to deliver and what it is possible to achieve at European level. And this is where the real problem lies. Member States kick problems they can not solve at home “up stairs” and thus set the Union as an institution up for failure. The current model is riddled with insoluble contradictions.

For the Americans this is all very confusing. Europe does things “back to front”. It seeks economic/monetary Union before it has political union. It creates a government before it has a nation. And it creates institution without the supporting political will to make them work.

If I understood Robert Kagan correctly, he argues that the US is increasingly willing to use raw military and political power to tackle perceived global threats to its security. In contrast he says Europeans now instinctively prefer a rule-based system of international law where military action is legitimised only by multinational institutions, perhaps reflecting the way that the relationships between the countries of Europe have themselves evolved since the end of the Second World War.

I am not wholly convinced about this as it seems to me that the reluctance of Europe to will the end without the means has a longer history: appeals to the so-called international community echo those to the League of Nations and too often reflect an excuse for doing nothing.

But whatever the irritations created in the past couple of years between Europe and America, we should not forget our mutual interests. For example, whatever the present perception in America or Europe that the United Sates has the power and inclination to go it alone – and in my view it has the power but by tradition and history not the inclination – and whatever the hypocrisies and cant and posturing within the chambers of the international community, the entire global economy relies on a defined system of rules, established through institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the like. And this is an international system of order on with the US economy also depends.

And America should not take everything in Europe at face value. It is an old continent, but it has been less stable politically than the Great Republic. A bloody Civil War in America confirmed the Union. Europe’s two Great Wars were not civil wars in any real sense of the word, but in so far as they were, those wanting to create a single union, lost.

Likewise with constitutions, the American constitution has lasted for two hundred years, with the exception of Great Britain’s unwritten constitution the record for much of Europe is that constitutions follow regimes: the Fifth Republic of France has after all only existed since 1958. My guess is that the EU Constitution is more likely to follow the European and not the US example, and to repeat Mr Churchill’s much used phrase: this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”