Valery Giscard d'Estaing as Moses. The European constitution as the Tablets of the Law. This is how Plantu, the Le Monde cartoonist, chose to depict the European intergovernmental conference that opened last week in Rome.
The former president of France, latterly the head of the Convention on the future of Europe, spent 16 whole months on "Mount Sinai." He listened to 2,000 speeches and deliberated on 23,500 written suggestions that were submitted to him by the 105 members of the council - representatives of governments, of the European Parliament and of the parliaments of European Union member states. Upon his descent from the "mountain," the draft constitution he has formulated now starts its final lap. The delegates to the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) are slated to accept the document and thus permit the achievement of the three goals that the formulators had set themselves: strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU - the draft constitution proposes doing this by involving the national parliaments in the legislative process, and primarily by expanding the authority of the European parliament; simplifying the decision-making process - by reforming and expanding the system of qualified majority and by downsizing the European Commission (the executive body of the EU); strengthening the EU's status in the world - by defining two new positions, "the president of Europe," who would replace the current rotating presidency and the "foreign minister," who would derive his power both from the European Council (which represents the nation states) and the Commission.
However, like Moses who saw the promised land from a distance but was not permitted to enter it, there are those who believe that Giscard will not be allowed to see his vision fulfilled. The golden calves with which he must deal are many, as are those who are dancing around them; those whose opposition to the proposed constitution crosses political parties and traditional alliances. Commentators are currently identifying in the EU increasing disputes between the large countries and the small countries, between the wealthy northern states and the poorer southern states and between veteran members and new members. Concretely, the disputes can be summed up by a few key issues.
- The president of Europe: The small countries see this new institution, which would cancel the semi-annually rotating presidency, as hurtful to their status in favor of the large countries.
- The foreign minister: Britain is opposed to this position, which for the first time hints at the establishment of a supra-national European government.
- Downsizing the Commission: Austria and Finland are leading a revolt by countries, most of them small, that are refusing to give up their permanent representation on the Commission. Some of them are demanding that they be allotted more seats in the Parliament in exchange for giving up representation on the Commission.
- Expansion of majority voting: The "Euro-skeptic" countries are opposed to this proposal, which means damaging the national right to the veto. Especially strong is the opposition by Spain and Poland to the proposal to make the qualified majority vote more representative and in this way wipe out their over-representation in the Council.
- Common Foreign and Security Policy: Britain has softened its opposition to the provision that allows states that so desire to advance a common security policy in a limited framework. Neutral countries like Ireland, Finland and Austria continue to oppose this.
- Religion: Poland, Spain and Italy are demanding that the constitution relate to Europe's Christian heritage. France heads the secular camp that is opposed to this.
Despite all of this, there should be no mistake. Even the most determined and vociferous representatives at the IGC know that their war is just a rear-guard action and they will have to content themselves with crumbs.
Most commentators estimate that at least 95 percent of the provisions of Giscard's draft will be accepted by the conference. After all, in the end, the disputes boil down to arm-wrestling that is aimed at obtaining last-minute, egotistical relative advantages and not to a fundamental question as to the passage of the constitution.
The constitution will still have to leap the high hurdle of its ratification by referendums in a number of the member states. The completion of this process and the joining of the constitution to a flag, anthem, court and the single currency will bring Europe closer than ever to its ultimate goal of political unification.
How should the original possessors of the Tablets of the Law relate to Giscard's? If these "tablets" are indeed adopted in Europe, then it is clear that the dream of those who want to bring Israel into the EU will grow more distant. In the foreseeable future, at least, Israel with its strong ties to the United States will not be able to adopt the federalist elements of the new constitution. From another perspective, this constitution also testifies to the increasing potential of the continent that is renewing itself. Israel will discover that it can no longer content itself with its ritual lip service in the matter of its desire to become closer to Europe.
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