TCS Daily

Unconventional Wisdom

By Alexander Stockton - June 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Brussels is not Philadelphia, nor does 2003 bear any resemblance to the end of the 18th century. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but what is happening in the Convention on the Future of Europe could have been, like Philadelphia, a new beginning for a new Europe. Could have been, but isn't.

When the convention convened for the first time, almost 16 months ago, its members were told by Chairman Valéry Giscard d'Estaing that there was no agenda; we were to be innovative, even daring. He lied: The convention's steering group has purposely overlooked the opportunity to consolidate and review the existing treaties, opting instead for a brand of legal simplification that has only succeeded in engendering a more perplexing and disjointed Europe. This is the Kafka-esque corollary of Giscard's reluctance to employ a drafting committee, which has precluded the establishment of a formal working method in formulating Europe's first Constitution. Amendments to the constitution, of which there were 1,600 for the first 16 articles alone, have only been included in last week's redraft, where they add to Giscard's original text.

Yet it is not only the working method of the convention that is permitting Giscard to impose his own agenda upon the assembly; he has flagrantly employed tactics that are not too dissimilar to those exercised by British Trade-Union delegates over 30 years ago. By repeatedly disclosing outrageous proposals for the Constitution's draft articles to the French press over the last four months, Giscard has aped the initial 50 percent pay claim of Trade-Union delegates. He has thereafter "negotiated" during hot-tempered meetings of the convention steering group that ensued, reducing each unfit suggestion to a less extreme position (the 25 percent claim). After appeasing the European Commission (the 15 percent claim), the amended articles are deemed acceptable to the majority of the convention who feel that as he has moved so far, he will not be convinced to adopt their position (the five percent claim).

It is therefore unsurprising that the convention has produced a supposed vision of Europe's future that reads more like an anachronism. Whilst paying lip service to the new enlarged Europe, Giscard's draft Constitution basically re-introduces the balance of power pre-Maastricht. The old, for them, is a comfortable Europe. It has ducked the requisite challenges of reforming the legislature and moreover the burden of the acquis communautaire. A full debate over sunset clauses, cost-benefit analyses, and the relevance of some of Europe's uniform laws covering an area from Lapland to Sicily, is an imperative. Moreover the economies of Europe are struggling, characterized by low growth, poor productivity and high unemployment. Nevertheless the convention has given little consideration to the economic future of Europe or the weight of regulation that the EU continues to impose. To make matters worse, the steering group's unwillingness to foster reform has been matched only by its tendency to announce spurious accords.

This was best illustrated by the farce that accompanied Giscard's solemn acceptance, in February, of a Working Party report on defense that saw common European defense and security policies and even armed forces, at the very moment that European governments were at each other's throats over the Iraq conflict. Evidence from senior officers, the CEOs of defense companies and indeed George Robertson, secretary-general of NATO, was ignored in favor of a crude statistical fudge that the total number of military aircraft in Europe's combined air forces was about the same as those of the United States: Did they include the British, French, Italian, Spanish aerobatics teams? Were the Spitfires and Hurricanes used at the Battle of Britain included in this total?

Blighted by Giscard's demands for consensus and an over-representation of delegates from neutral states, such balderdash was extended to the debate on the procurement of military hardware. Demands made by the French air force for a third generation fighter that would comply with Dassault's wish to have, in the Rafale, a product acceptable to its many Mirage customers, was immediately pooh-poohed. Also, when the matter of long-range heavy lift capability was discussed in this working group, why was the Airbus 400M chosen ahead of the Boeing/McDonnell-Douglas C17? A vast international waiting list has subsequently emerged for this turbo-prop aircraft that doesn't yet exist, and yet has a lift capacity that is at best medium/heavy, and a maximum range that is bettered by most new generation 737s.

This fundamentally flawed and irrelevant document has little, therefore, to contribute to the burning issue of constructing a flexible yet efficacious Common Foreign and Security Policy. Innovation and pragmatism have been sacrificed in favor of maintaining an illusion of accord. As the convention staggers to the finish line one feels that a great opportunity, that will surely not be repeated in over a generation, to bring a streamlined European Union closer to its citizens, has been undermined by the same procedural impediments that the convention was supposed to amend.

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