the Disillusioned kid: Constitutional Issues
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Friday, June 03, 2005

Constitutional Issues

One of my handful of regular readers keeps pestering me for some commentary on the European Constitution. As I wouldn't want to disappoint my adoring fans and because I can't actually think of anything to write myself I suppose it's as good as any other topic.

What strikes me most about the so-called constitution is the arrogance which seems to underly it. The text is written in the dense bureaucratic legalese familiar to anyone who's had the misfortune to study EU law and stretches to several hundred pages. The upshot of which is that no normal person is ever going to read it, let alone understand what it's all about. Despite this, our Glorious Leaders still expect us to take them at their word that its a good thing and trot along to the polling booths, like their obedient little lapdogs, to vote for it. Unfortunately for them, things don't seem to be working out that way.

Both France and Holland have held referenda (referendums?) on the treaty which have gone against it and several of the other countries planning referenda at some point in the future look likely to vote the same way and Jack Straw looks set to put the referendum in the UK, which was always likely to vote against, on hold. There is much worried talk in the echelons of power about the future of the constitution, even of the European project itself. Despite much of this being alarmist and frankly a little silly (Europe is unlikely to fall simply because it doesn't adopt this specific treaty as its "consitution"), it does point to something: that for all their discussions, negotiations and planning the architects of the treaty forgot one key element. The people.

That said, it doesn't go without saying that a vote against the treaty is neccesarily progressive. In the UK, the complete and abject failure of the radical left to make any impact on the debate on Europe mean that a no vote here would be a seen as a victory for the reactionary, racist, isolationist bigots of the Conservative party's right-wing, UKIP, Veritas and the BNP. This needn't be the case, however.

A number of commentators have argued that the French no vote can be seen as a progressive victory (see e.g. this, that and the other). Much of the left was actively involved in campaigning against the treaty, with socialist parties and trade unions being particulalry prominent. A friend who was in Paris in the run-up to the referendum reports that nearly all the anti-"constitution" graffitti he saw was progressive, although this may tell us more about the political leanings of Parisian graffitti artists than anything else. It is also worth noting that Parisian elites dispatched to the provinces to sell the "constitution" came back with the message that the debate there was radically different to the one taking place in the rareified political world with which they were more familiar.

It will suffice for me to concede that not being able to read French and being several hundred miles away I can't really be sure either way. That said, the very real difference between the situation there and in the UK cannot be stressed strongly enough. Here those progressive groups opposed to the treaty seem to have allied themselves with a bunch of Tories and corporate anti-"constitution" types. In my opinion, given the political context, this is a major mistake. We should be doing all we can to make our arguments distinct from those of the right and these differences are hardly of little consequence. Where they oppose it because of its liberalism, internationalism and provision of welfare we oppose it because of its neoliberal capitalism, militarism, attacks on social provision and class biases.

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