Sat, 19 Jun 2004

The European Constitution

Following up a bit on Murray's piece on the European elections, let's have a brief look at the brand new Constitution which was approved yesterday (MJ Ray already blogged a bit about this). So, do you, European citizens reading this, know a single thing about this document? Not me, at least. I have no idea what this apparently very important document talks about, and how it affects us in our everyday lifes. I suspect it's quite full of numbers, quotas, freedom limitations and so on, but it's quite interesting that the major part of the population isn't aware of this. It's quite frightening that on some countries, it'll be imposed by their government. Actually, nobody talked about testing it in referendums until Tony Blair announced he would do that. Then, the Spanish PM and others also expressed their support to this idea, but they only started discussing this a month ago or so, when the text was mostly finished.

If we end up getting a chance of voting about the Constitution, I think it won't be too surprising if it doesn't pass in some of the 25 countries. I suspect the text is vague or ignores completely many social aspects of our different regions. Just to name one, it is impossible for a Catalan citizen to express themselves in their mother tongue when dealing with EU bureocracy. Isn't that discrimination?

Not true - Denmark was going to have a referendum anyway.  We have a long and "glorious" tradition of putting EU/EEC treaties to a vote and thereby threating the whole union.  Not something I am proud about, as you can probably guess.

(Sweden and France are also going to have referenda, I think.  Perhaps Germany too but I can't remember off the top of my head.)

As to your point about Catalan and the EU bureaucracy, you should take that up with the Spanish government. And no, I don't think that is crazy, we have more than enough official language in the EU as it is.

The EU has actually done a lot more for minority rights (also minority /language/ rights) than the member states themselves, so please, put the blame where it fits.

Yes, the constitution is complicated.  Way too complicated.  It is, however, a lot simpler than all the previous treaties which it obsoletes.  That is at least one point in favour of it, isn't it?

Posted by Peter Lund at Sat Jun 19 21:03:53 2004

I am Portuguese.

Up to know there was no "European law". European directives had to be ratified by national parlaments. With the European Constitution there will be European Law and it will superceed ALL national laws. Our own Constitution had to be changed to accomodate this fact. Also, several competences, up to now exclusive to each country, will become EXCLUSIVE competences of the EU. There is a clear loss of national sovereignty.

The process of reaching the draft of the European Constitution was extremely un-democratic. Not A SINGLE voting was done during the entire process. National "delegates" to the assembly were NOT elected. Also, government oficials and even national parlaments (at least in our case) are not granted discretionary constitutional powers.

The European Constitution impact is not illusory. It has several important changes to the current statu quo. You will have a EU president. You will have a european foreign policy official. EU exclusive competences are defined. Unanimity and veto is lost to double majority.

A referendum is without a doubt required. People HAVE to be able to choose their future and to decide in such important matters.

Our recent campaign for the European Parlement carefuly tip-toed around the subject. Like you, most people in Portugal don't have a single idea on what's going on. Almost 70% of voters didn't turn out to vote in the elections for the European Parlament in Portugal. European-wide the number was around 45%. This is very serious. Democracy and democratic support of the European project and institutions is getting in serious jeopardy.

Posted by João Luis Pinto at Sun Jun 20 11:37:29 2004

Hi Peter,

Ok, I didn't know about Denmark. I wish there was a tradition in other countries to do referendums about trivial issues like... uh, attacking Iraq, etc. I don't think asking people what they think about the Constitution is bad. It'd make "democracy" a bit more credible at least.

We have more than enough official languages, you say. Where do we draw the line? Why can Danish, or Swedish, be official, and not Catalan, with some 8 or 9 million users in 2 member states? Spain did try to make Catalan, Galician and Euskara acquire some official status in the new constitution, but France vetoed this possibility (I guess they have issues with Corsican themselves). It's currently not a problem coming from our (new) Spanish government. Catalan is an official language in the territories where it's spoken. I know there are other minority languages under repression, even in Spain (no official status for Asturian or Aragonese, for example), but in the case of Catalan, which has a lot more users than other official languages in the EU, many people think Catalan citizens have a right to be able to talk to the EU institutions in Catalan, as the Swedes can do it in Swedish.

I agree with Joao that something is wrong with the EU, you just have to look at the fact: the winner of EU 2004 elections was abstention.

Joao, maybe people were a bit busy watching football on TV in your country and they forgot to vote, though ;)

Posted by Jordi at Sun Jun 20 13:52:52 2004

There's no need to draw any line here.  Every european language should have the same rights.

Posted by enric at Sun Jun 20 17:38:14 2004

:) Jordi, things were even more complicated... The Thursday before the elections was also a public holiday (Portugal's Day), the weather was perfect and so we had a complete exodus towards the beaches! The date of the election was strongly criticized because of that "sum of factors". Also, the campaign from most parties was more aimed to internal affairs (like "punishing" the current government) than european ones. It was rumoured that the governmental coalition was trying to achive great abstention to use as an excuse for the predictable bad result.

I wrote somewhere else that we risk that these were the last elections where we, as Portuguese, own the entirety of our destiny. It's not "silly-nationalism". It's a real fact. I wouldn't criticize it if the problem was layed out clearly on the table and people had a say.

As of the language subject... I have complete respect to all local cultures in Europe, but I think it is complicated enough as it is. It's already complicated enough to have European documents in the main language of 25 countries. It would be desasterous if we included Catalan, Galician, Euskara, Mirandês (It's officialy the second portuguese language, although only used by a small minirity), Welsh, Gaelic, Corsican, and all the smaller languages. What would be more serious, and it was at a time "ventilated", was a wish to narrow down the number of supported languages by European documentation to a "working set". I think things are ballanced as they are. I think the problem of national multiple languages shoul be a task for the national governments.

Posted by Joao Luis Pinto at Sun Jun 20 19:59:48 2004

I would like to know if a language who is spoken by 9 million people is minority...Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lituanian, Dutch...are minority also, aren't them?

Posted by Mark at Fri Feb 11 14:59:10 2005