In reply to the letter sent out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to her 26 European counterparts, the Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) take a stand on 12 questions concerning the future of the Constitution.
In their open reply letter, available on www.jef.eu [and here on my website], the Young European Federalists underline both the advantages of the current version of the Constitution and the most urgent needs for further improvement. They strongly urge for the parts I and II of the current text to be upheld in their entirety while including new topic fields, in which the Union has progressed over the past months.
JEF Europe’s president, Jan Seifert, commented on their initiative: “We take this questionnaire as an opportunity to speak out symbolically and publicly as an organisation representing 35,000 young political activists who are concerned about their European future. The consultations on the future of the Constitution must be taken out of the closet and into the public thereby involving the interested civil society and parliamentarians. Unfortunately, the German presidency has not yet dared to do so. It is now high time that Chancellor Merkel’s ministries get actively involved in preparing her proposed civil society hearing together with the European Parliament.”
Seifert added: “The European Constitution was a long necessary step forward in terms of institutional changes and one that provided for wider legitimacy thanks to the Convention method preparing it. We are concerned that Europe is falling back to the disastrous Nice-style IGC negotiations, hence giving way for deadlocks, ill-suited compromises and above all excluding the citizens in the drafting procedure. Instead we call for a second mini-convention to review the text where necessary and then put it up for a European consultative referendum in 2009”.
The Young European Federalists have for long condemned the fact that a tiny minority of states keep the whole Union from progressing further. By lobbying for the abolishment of the unanimity principle for further treaty changes they support the idea that states who cannot agree on new steps can join the Constitutional Europe later.
Answers to Chancellor Merkel’s questions:
1. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States not to repeal the existing treaties but to return to the classical method of treaty changes while preserving the single legal personality and overcoming the pillar structure of the EU?
One of the key advantages of the Constitutional Treaty was that its form is simple and logic. There is no need to give up this achievement. The experience of the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties showed that the classical method is no more able to give adequate solutions. What Europe really needs is an easily understandable, coherent institutional basis as the Constitution with its parts I and II offers. Future changes to the Constitution cannot be based on intergovernmental bargaining but must stem from a more legitimate, democratic process. It is only that way that Europe can bring the citizens aboard and does not risk to alienate them completely in the long run.
2. How do you assess in that case the proposal made by some Member States that the consolidated approach of part I of the Constitutional Treaty is preserved, with the necessary presentational changes resulting from the return to the classical method of treaty changes?
Parts I and II of the Constitutional Treaty are inseparable and they form the basis of any re-negotiated text together with the provisions on future Treaty changes laid out in part IV.
3. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States using a different terminology without changing the legal substance, for example with regard to the title of the treaty, the denomination of EU legal acts and the Union’s Minister for Foreign Affairs?
To agree to the fundamental necessity of institutional reform and still deny it on the ground of semantics is not a very serious or responsible approach. The current EU Treaties are constitutional just as much as the Constitutional Treaty is a Treaty. Europe has a certain amount of sovereignty under the existing Treaties just as it would have under the Constitutional Treaty.
Kissinger asked for a phone number to Europe, something a European Foreign Minister would provide the world with. Keep the language simple and clear for the European citizens and the rest of the world – Europe needs and wants a Constitution and a Foreign Minister.
4. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States not to include an article relating to the symbols of the EU?
Contents are more important than symbols. However, European symbols are frequently used and they stand for the picture Europe wants to portray of itself. An ambitious Europe should not undervalue its own role but codify its own symbols. Nevertheless, the symbols could also be defined through organic law – as should be the case for the current provisions of part III.
5. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States not to include an article that explicitly restates the primacy of EU law?
The primacy of EU law as a legal principle is necessary in order to ensure a strong, efficient and transparent European jurisdiction and it is especially important for guaranteeing certainty of law to the main actors in the common political space, the citizens. Not to include this article will be a step back with respect to the current legal framework. The new institutional set-up must be a step forward. In light of the strengthened competences of the Union and in line with the goal of having a clear constitutional framework, it is absolutely essential to include such an article in the future legal framework.
6. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States that Member States will replace the full text of the Charter on Fundamental Rights by a short cross reference having the same legal value?
We strongly suggest for future constitutional texts to include the full text of the Charter on Fundamental Rights in order to both demonstrate the importance the Union attributes to this very important topic and to communicate to the citizens the role of the Union as guardian of fundamental rights in Europe. It is absolutely necessary to further enhance the standing of individuals in this domain of the legal system and to give them right of action for violations done by member states or the EU institutions. Furthermore, the Union should become a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights as soon as it has its status as a legal entity.
7. Do you agree that the institutional provisions of the Constitutional Treaty form a balanced package that should not be reopened?
Yes. The text as it was prepared by the Convention was a valuable compromise. But the world has changed since and issues such as climate change (energy and environment) as well as the fragile international political situation call for even more integration in these policy areas.
8. Are there other elements, which in your view constitute indispensable parts of the overall compromise reached at the time?
The constitutional nature of the European Union will and should always evolve further, paralleling the challenges Europe is facing. Therefore, it is important to keep open the option of further constitutional evolution and improve the involvement of citizens and parliamentarians in future Treaty changes. This should be achieved through the proven Convention-method and reaching even further by submitting future Constitutional changes to a new majority ratification system as it is also used for international Treaties (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol or the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions).
9. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States concerning possible improvements/clarifications on issues related to new challenges facing the EU, for instance in the fields of energy/climate change or illegal immigration?
The Constitution needs to create the institutional structures that allow Europe to meet the challenges of the 21st century such as energy/climate change and migration. Without this, any reference to these issues are empty words. Institutionally this requires the EU to move towards simple majority voting in crucial areas and create a single European and Foreign policy as suggested by the Constitutional Treaty. But in addition to these institutional make-overs the Constitution should make it clear that these issues are European competences and solutions are impossible to achieve if not taken jointly.
10. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to highlight the Copenhagen criteria in the article on enlargement?
Article 58 together with Article 2 of the Constitutional Treaty refer to the respect and promotion of the Union’s core values and the accession procedure. This is sufficient and there is no need to have special reference to the Copenhagen criteria.
11. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States to address the social dimension of the EU in some way or the other?
The EU’s social policy-making capabilities have not been strengthened to the extent to which the abilities of member states have declined. People have legitimate worries about the lack of a legal substance in EU social policies. The necessary and further realisation of the four freedoms through the EU-level should be paralleled with appropriate measures also with regards to more traditional social policy-making. The open method of co-ordination does not fulfil this precondition of democratic, deliberative decision-making. With the introduction of new instruments like flexible framework directives Constitutional parity could be given to the economic and social integration of the EU. A second dimension is the strengthening of individual social rights as foreseen with the necessary inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
12. How do you assess the proposal made by some Member States applying opt-in/out provisions to some of the new policy provisions set out in the Constitutional Treaty?
Opt-in/outs can never be a good long-term solution because they make the EU incoherent, thereby making it less transparent and less democratic. Instead it makes much more sense to think about ways to integrate the biggest current opt-out areas (Schengen, EMU, Prüm) into regular parliamentary scrutiny and to work further towards making all member states participate in these policies. It is also worth remembering that despite its existence for several years now the provisions for enhanced cooperation have not been made use of. The need for the EU today is not to go back behind what has already been agreed by all governments in the 2004 IGC but to think about further ways to move ahead in energy, environmental and migration policies. Should not all member states agree yet to pool their powers institutionally, the method of enhanced cooperation can be applied here as a first step towards a common solution.