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Europe

Courting the Constitution

Europe is no leader in the game of creating hot gossip but the constitution sure has the continent chattering. The question is, does anyone really know what their tongues are wagging about?

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What's behind the pretty picture: Sense or Non-sense?

At 500 pages, it's not exactly a page turner and even politicians, bureaucrats and journalists struggle to keep their interest alive as they wade from the front to back cover. Deutsche Welle Brussels correspondent, Bernd Riegert, went the whole distance.

Although plenty of colleagues in Brussels confessed to not having completed the whole thing, it is worth a read, not least for its imaginative use of language. Clause I,24 (4), for example, talks colorfully about the Passarelle clause -- or gangway clause in translation -- which although conjuring up images of jungle rope bridges, turns out to be the transition from unanimous to majoritarian decisions which the European Council can make in certain cases.

Bavarian State Premier, Edmund Stoiber, who has been calling for greater participation of German states in Europe, recently revealed the difficulties involved in trying to explain the concept of the Passarelle clause to mere mortals when he tied himself up in knots on German public broadcaster, ZDF. Perhaps he, too, is but a mortal.

A matter of time

The President of the European Court of Justice, Vassilios Skouris, says mortal or immortal, there's nothing to worry about, and that it will simply take time for the semantics to give way to constitutional comprehension.

Europäischer Gerichtshof in Luxemburg

European Court of Justice: home to constitutional law-making

He's already looking forward to combing through the wording when the first complaints come rolling in, but that said, the European Court of Justice is not expecting anything too drastic. In fact, much of the great oeuvre is comprised of existing agreements that were written in Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice.

The 59 articles diligently laid out in part I of the enigmatic epic describe the future division of power in the EU and exactly how the various institutions are expected to work together. They might not pack the punch of a bed-time thriller, but collectively the articles offer some interesting insights into the EU vision.

Simplification or complication

Picture the image of an altogether more democratic, easy-to-lead Union. That, at least, is how German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his right-hand man and Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, are pitching the paper, which one can only hope was read to the end by the two men.

The institutions, which mean the Commission, the Council and the Parliament, will essentially be left as they are. Brussels will gain an EU foreign minister and an EU president, neither of whom will be allowed to exercise much by way of decision-making skills. The latter though, will be given the noble task of providing Europe with a face.

What will change, however, is the electoral process, which will introduce the concept of double majorities. It is not an easy procedure to implement, nor has the model been honed to perfection, but with time, the idea is to increase majority decisions.

An emergency measure

EU Verfassung EU-Gipfel in Thessaloniki

The draft constitution

The thing about this constitution is that it was born out of an emergency which arose from the inability of the then heads of state and government to agree on a sensible electoral process during a meeting in Nice in 2000.

Having failed, they passed the problem to a convention which, to everybody's astonishment, came up with a draft text within a very short space of time. That, in turn, was diluted and complicated by the EU higher-ups, who then chose to bask in the glory of its completion as if it were theirs for the taking.

C'est la vie politique. Although there may be clauses, paragraphs and even pages which fail to illuminate, this long-winded odyssey through the corridors of our continental bureaucracy does deserve some praise.

Nein, Ja, Nein

France is divided on constitutional vote

Educational institutes attached to the EU have been offering willing listeners the opportunity to attend a series of seminars in the name of deeper understanding. A total of twelve for the truly devout, but who in Europe's name is likely to attend them?

A recent survey of members of the German parliament, the very same who just two weeks ago gave their stamp of approval to the constitution, revealed their euro-knowledge was lacking. It seems to be a continental illness. Of those poised to cast their vote in referendums in France, the Netherlands and Britain, only a handful will actually have read the constitution by the time they slip behind the ballot box curtain, and even if they had, it would be unlikely to alter the wary path of their conviction.

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