The past decades have seen tremendous changes around the world, with rising public and private actors, new and more global threats, and ever more interconnectedness. Yet, European Union institutions have remained largely the same. In order to face this new world and its challenges, we need a new Union, rooted in profoundly reformed, stronger and more democratic institutions. Here is a proposal for a European Constitution.
In the presidential election debate opposing her to then-candidate Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the leader of the French Front National – France’s main far right party – explained her intention to return to the “true intent” of the European project: “a European alliance of free and sovereign nations”. The most striking element, however, was not so much this blatant misreading of the project set in motion by the fathers of Europe over sixty years ago, as much as the absolute silence that followed such a falsehood. So used have we become to the status quo and current climate of Euro-scepticism that we seem to have forgotten our original purpose.
The reason for our European Union
As we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the 1963 Élysée Treaty sealing Franco-German peace and friendship, it seems fitting to set the record straight: the European project, of which the European Union is the current accomplishment, was at its core a federal project. Aristide Briand, Winston Churchill, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak, Altiero Spinelli. These names resonate in the halls of our institutions with the promise of unity and prosperity. We owe them our long-lasting peace and must not betray their vision for narrow national interests. All of them were convinced federalists.
Yet, for decades now, our European institutions have remained stuck in first gear. Failing to achieve game-changing reform, the heavy machinery of treaty creation stalled in 2009 with the Treaty of Lisbon. Fewer steps forward than steps backward have since been made, as the ripples of the 2007 subprime crisis and Arab Spring have led States to respond to one emergency after another the only way they know how: by shrivelling back to their self-interest.
Instead of being the opportunity for more solidarity, balanced with strengthened EU oversight, the euro crisis saw the triumph of the staunchest supporters of austerity. Instead of showing the EU’s best self, the migrant crisis has revealed the Union’s fears and insecurities, and the widening gap between its proclaimed principles and its actions. Finally, the undying habit of national politicians of taking sole credit for the Union’s successes, blaming it for all their failures, and using it as a bargaining chip in their national manoeuvring has created a climate of constant euro-bashing and undermined the public trust, contributing to a rise in nationalist movements and culminating with Brexit.
How did we get here? Turning away from vengeance and retribution, we were promised so much after World War II. We came together, pooled our resources, and extinguished the prospects of war. We had finally realised that unity trumped rivalry, and that therein lied the key to our success. So, what happened?
It seems that we have let our self-interest get the better of us. We have prioritised form over matter, our borders and national sovereignty over a better and shared future. For the first time in our history, however, we were not bound by conquest, war, or the marriage and succession of the powerful to define our political community. Instead, we could decide not only of the laws that govern us, but also of coming together with others under common laws. By and large, we chose the status quo.
Faced with the possibility of joining our countries, we remained separate. We created a common executive, but did not allow the people to elect it. We created a Parliament, but denied it the power to make laws. We designed a decision-making process, but retained a blocking need for unanimity for all major decisions.
Content over form, values over borders
There is, however, no historical determinism and the countries we live in were not somehow destined to become the way they are, but instead took shape through happenstance. They have not always existed, have changed drastically in their borders and political systems, and will continue to do so over time. As so many have in the past, they may even cease to exist or change to the point that current observers would not recognise them.
But we must not fear this change. This very fear of change is what leads us to the wrong priorities. To seek, above all, to maintain our borders and a nominal sovereignty, instead of upholding our values and our identities. In a changing world, where the combined forces of globalisation and technological change are drastically affecting our way of life, we cannot maintain the recipes of the past in the hope of avoiding change. Standing still in the face of adversity may seem noble, but he who stands in the way of a tidal wave cannot hope to survive.
Instead, we must accept and welcome this change. Embrace it, and ensure that we remain ahead of the wave, strong in our values. With more numerous countries developing and catching up, multinational companies juggling between States and legal codes, and threats to the idea of democracy springing up worldwide, we cannot remain idle, isolated, head in the sand. Democracies have stability and legitimacy on their side, but they remain vulnerable to nationalism and populism. We have gone down this road and paid a heavy price for it; we must not make the same mistake again.
So, what are our values? Solidarity, justice and freedom. How do we ensure them? Through democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This, and not fixed borders, is what we must preserve above all in this changing world.
A Constitution, a new foundation
How can we do this? The answer is simple: the very same way we already do at the national level. In each country, we ensure – or strive to ensure – these values through coherent public institutions that work for all: an elected and accountable executive, an elected and empowered legislature, and an independent and efficient judiciary.
This is the beauty of values and principles: they transcend administrative boundaries. If we believe in democracy, we must will it at the local level, at the national level, and at the European level. If we seek justice, we must want for our next of kin, our fellow citizen, as well as for anyone across the border. European institutions are no different from other institutions: they will only work for the true benefit of all if they are coherent, democratic and accountable.
In order to ensure coherence, democracy and accountability, nation-States have adopted constitutions that present their values, and organise public institutions. Likewise, at the European level, we need a constitution to enshrine what we stand for and set up the coherent, democratic and accountable institutions that we choose for ourselves. This is what this European Constitution proposes.
A constitution is both a legal and political document. In the political house we inhabit, the constitution is the foundations, the walls, the roof. It provides a frame, yet it does not fix the way the house will look like. Likewise, the constitution gives us the structure and the tools for our political system, but it does not forever decide of our laws. We give ourselves a constitution, and then give ourselves the laws we think best. A constitution must be concise and flexible, so that we may adapt to changing times.
And herein lies one of the reasons the 2005 “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” was destined to fail. With its forty-four titles and sections and its four hundred and forty-eight articles, not only did it give everyone something to disagree with, but it tried too hard to set in stone the needless complexity of the current treaties, which, as we go along, have become more bloated and obscure. As the EU today, it was unreadable.
Our proposal for the future of Europe
The proposed Constitution is concise, clear and focuses on what really matters: our values, our principles, and the organisation of our institutions. The rest, as in any democratic country, will be openly discussed, debated, and decided by our elected representatives. We will have shared laws, yes, but this time adopted by all and for all.
Some will say a constitution and a federal State would be the pinnacle of “Brussels” and technocratic oppression. This could not be further from the truth. Current European institutions give little voice and power to democratically-elected members of Parliament. Instead, power is given to an unelected Commission and to a Council where the strongest and richest States hold the most power. This system is skewed in favour of the already powerful and no democratic country would ever accept such institutions for itself.
What this Constitution proposes instead is a simplification and democratisation of our institutions. A new European Parliament, directly elected by the people at the local level, will represent their interests. A Senate, directly elected by the people at the State level, will represent the diversity of the States, and provide more fairness for States with smaller populations. The executive will be composed of a federal government – led by the party or coalition having won parliamentary elections – and a President, directly elected by the people, who will stand above party politics and ensure the cohesion of the whole. This is not a loss of sovereignty, this is a transfer of sovereignty to truly democratic institutions.
A Europe by the people and for the people
Who is to gain from this new system? You, me, all of us as a society. All those who gain from democracy, from transparent institutions, and from proper representation. All those who want their voices heard without affording a lobbyist. These institutions are designed to do away with backroom deals, closed doors, and strong States imposing their will on others.
The Franco-German couple is useful so far as it moves integration and policy-making forward; it is, however, unacceptable as a pre-requisite for all decisions, as there is no democracy in that. Just like you would not accept your fellow citizen to have more voting power than you simply because he has more money, this system will bring fairness in our institutions and protect the general interest of the many against the special interests of the few. Because we already share common interests and a common destiny and can no longer tolerate institutions that do not work for the benefit of all.
Finally, this document is not meant to be imposed on us. It was drafted to the best of our abilities, weighing the pros and cons, and seeking to make the best emerge. But, as any law should be discussed and amended before it is adopted, this text is made to be discussed. Many in the EU are already convinced of the need for a federal Europe, despite the topic not making headlines; many remain to be convinced.
This is why it is published here and made available to all. This is why, in a spirit of openness and complete transparency, it was concurrently sent, in March 2018, to over 700 entities, including all executives of the European Union – Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ministers for Foreign or European Affairs –, all legislatures – Parliaments, Senates, National Assemblies, regardless of their denomination –, all political parties sitting in national parliaments – pro-Europeans as well as Euro-sceptics, all across the political spectrum – as it was given us to identify them, and to most newspapers and news agencies across the Union.
Because beyond the exact content and wording of this proposed European Constitution, there lies the most important goal of this publication: that the people see that something different is possible and accessible, that we can choose for ourselves, that we can draft simple, open and transparent institutions, that we can understand, discuss and adopt them even if we are not lawyers or politicians. That we are not fatally bound by our past, and that, if we seek not simply to preserve but to promote our values and our identities as we cherish them, then we can forge a new way for ourselves and for the generations to come.
Fifty-five years ago, we celebrated France and Germany coming together; today, we may open together a new page of history, for all of us, from the emerald plains of Ireland to the Balkan mountains of Bulgaria, from the sun-drenched coast of Portugal to the boreal forests of Finland, and finally start building the true Union that binds us together.