Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Constitution of Nine Lives

The BBC reports what many of us already knew, that the vote against the European constitution by the electorates of Holland and France is seen as a snag, not a verdict:

The corpse of the European Constitution is coming back to life and staggering around the EU's corridors of power.

Buried by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, it has been resurrected by the EU's German presidency and put on the table of a summit in June.

Germany aims to produce a "roadmap" pointing the way to ratification by 2009, and has the full support of another 17 of the EU's 27 member states, which have also completed or all but completed ratification.

Meanwhile, both leading candidates for the French presidency have been laying out their plans to turn France's No into a Yes, once they have been elected.

Economists often like to invoke the notion of "revealed preference," through which we reason backwards from choices to preferences. It is also sometimes useful to reason backwards from choices to philosophy. Two electorates of EU nations decisively rejected the constitution last year. The reasons why Europeans oppose it vary – some thing it portends a future that is too liberal, some worry about a Europe that is too socialist. In both cases the root cause is the same – an unwillingness to surrender to unaccountable Eurocrats the basic decisions over how distinct societies are to be governed.

That this verdict will in the short term be ignored, and the contemptuous language with which it is dismissed - Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the lead drafter of it, dismissed the French population as not "rational" – suggests that the EU is simply not a project based on a belief in consensual government. If it were, the constitution would be dead. It is rather nothing more complicated than a power grab, an effort to put people who went to the right schools and climbed the right routes to power in charge of more and more of the lives of almost a half-billion people. Ultimately this effort, I predict, will be futile. The U.K. in particular will never consent to the kind of planner’s-dream contraption that the constitution promises. But the process by which it goes down to defeat, an optimist can hope, will be a useful lesson to Europeans in the dangers of leaving governing to the experts.



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