Home page > Thinking Federalist > Mini-treaty means mini-progress: We expect more from Europe!

Mini-treaty means mini-progress:
We expect more from Europe!

, by Åsa Gunvén

Now both the Dutch, the Czech and the British governments are chickening out about the Constitution. The question is what they have to offer instead and how seriously this threatens the important institutional changes the EU so desperately needs. The suggestion to make a “mini-treaty” and at the same time keep all the old treaties on board – just amend them with a few institutional developments – completely fails to target what Europe set out to do with the constitutional project.

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A mini-treaty that would focus on amending the former treaties rather then replacing them brings us back to other failed attempts, like the Treaty of Nice, to reform the EU.

To start with, it will be an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) and behind-closed-door negotiations, that will decide on the future of Europe, thereby excluding citizens from this process. The Convention was not all one could have hoped for but at least a step forward, since it involved national parliaments, the European Parliament and an extensive consultancy process with civil society.

Secondly, a mini treaty would by nature only make a first-aid delivery, and leave the fundamental reforms that the EU needs untouched. Keeping all the old treaties with us, with their tens of thousands of pages, also means that Europe would remain non-transparent and impossible to grasp and discuss for its citizens.

Tony Blair paints a picture implying that with a mini-treaty “the constitutional aspect” would be taken away and that it would also prevent a constitution which would “give rise to a whole new set of legal principles”. But he fails to understand that the treaties are constitutional in the sense that they define the rules of the game and moreover, transfer sovereignty to the EU from its member states – the European Constitution did not change much in this regard.

The question is if these treaties, mainly drafted behind closed doors with diplomacy-style horse trading, with their tens of thousands of pages and a structure originally set up for 6 countries, serve as a good basis for the EU?

So whereas the European citizens and the surrounding world is waiting for Europe to shape up, some member states are prepared to step back to square one. Is this really what Europeans expect after years of institutional challenges and demands for change? Is this a Europe that can meet the challenges of the 21st century and will manage to tackle the challenges the enlargement poses and future enlargements will pose? That manages to solve a confidence crisis and connect to its citizens?

The fact that the Dutch Europe minister Frans Timmermans wants to exclude the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the suggested mini-treaty illustrates the attitude of the mini-treaty camp. Rights guaranteed for citizens and EU institutional reform meant to nudge citizens further up the priority list should give way to the specific member states’ interests, semantic argumentation around the word “constitutional” and a chicken attitude.

The attraction for Europe’s leaders to take the easy way out highlights the importance of involving citizens parliaments in the process of drafting a constitutional basis for the EU, and then of ratifying it. The Constitution should definitely be formulated by a democratic process, it should definitely be shortened (by excluding for example the policy parts that are not constitutional), and it should definitely be adopted through a pan-European referendum. The mini treaty idea is a chicken-out version that fails to live up to neither the aims of redrafting and improving the constitution or to the objective of delivering a stable basis for Europe to serve as a starting point for future debate and development.

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