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A Little Bit of the U.S. in the Future EU?

A "United States of Europe"? Hardly. Though the drafters of the new European Constitution may borrow inspiration from America's founding fathers, their work is an entirely different animal.

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The EU constitution drafters won't be chanelling Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison (l. to r.)

The bedside reading of the man responsible for leading the drafting of the new European constitution was the biography of one of America's great political philosophers.

The lawyer, thinker and one-time U.S. President John Adams was a champion of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which set the United States on the path to the drafting of its first constitution ten years later. European Union Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing is nearing the completion of a similar political journey right now, heading a 105-member convention charged with drafting the document that will define an expanded Europe's future.

In speeches, d'Estaing, a former French president, often invokes the work the U.S. draftsmen carried out in the hot summer of 1787. At the same time, the 77-year-old Frenchman makes clear that the relatively modest goals of the European Union are clearly different from the original intentions of the United States' founding fathers.

"Our aims are not as grand as theirs: we are not building a nation," d'Estaing said in a speech introducing the first draft of the EU Convention earlier this year.

Fledgling country vs. established power

The white-wigged delegates drafting the U.S. Constitution in 1787 wanted to lay the foundation for a powerful and unified country that would hold a prominent place on the world stage. For its part, the European Union is already powerful -- with an economic might rivalling the United States -- and it is an established member of the international community.

"This is not a convention about something fundamental, in a substantive sense, the way the American constitution was, which aimed at making it defensible and economically viable in a hostile world," said Andrew Moravcsik, professor of government and director of the European Union Program at Harvard University in a DW-WORLD interview.

Still, it isn't without its complexities, either. In the words of Giscard d'Estaing, the task facing the drafters is trickier.

"We are a Europe of many nations, and with strikingly disparate dimensions, territorial, demographic, wealth and living standards," he said in a recent speech. The differences will become only more obvious when the Union expands in 2004 to include countries from the Baltic coast to the Mediterranean Sea.


Who's got the power?

As during the summer of '87, the convention is addressing important issues of whether to centralize the power of the European Union, or to maintain the system of checks and balances that give the Union's national governments the option of going their own way on issues such as foreign policy or defense.

America's founding fathers decided to take the former route. The federal government in Washington took charge of the country's foreign policy, trade and defense. The states, meanwhile, were given the responsibility of caring for their internal prosperity, ceding say on America's role in the greater world to a federal government.


The EU, in Giscard d'Estaing's words, plans to do just the opposite. The division over America's military invasion of Iraq highlighted the strong belief the EU states such as Great Britain and Germany have in exercising their sovereignty on the international stage. It is only in areas of economic integration and the common currency the euro that the EU capital in Brussels holds sway.

Making the EU make sense

If first drafts are any indication, there will be little substantive change to the way the European Union functions and works. The intention of the convention is to streamline and clearly define the role of the EU's various institutions, not get mired in the grander visions of federalism that dominated Philadelphia convention. "The EU is progressing at a far slower pace compared to how the US moved towards a federal structure," said Daniel Keohane, at the Centre for European Reform in London. "The federalist elements of the EU will get more power in the years to come. This constitution certainly won't be the end of it."

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  • Date 06.06.2003
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3ipo
  • Date 06.06.2003
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3ipo