Some may ridicule the European Union's draft constitution, presented at the EU summit in Greece this weekend, while others may find laughable comparisons drawn between the 18th-century American constitution and the 21st-century European one - or between Philadelphia and Brussels, between Valerie Giscard d'Estaing and Alexander Hamilton.
The splendid, blue leather binding of the "historic" document won't alter the facts - there will be no Harry Potter hysteria here and years will go by before this publisher is required to print a second edition.
"A hollow gesture," "a yawn-provoking initiative," "a constitutional mountain that turned into a molehill" are just some of the descriptions with which political commentators greeted the creation of former French president Giscard d'Estaing, who headed the "convention on the future of Europe" that formulated the constitution. Taking the mockery a step further, The Economist in its latest edition refers to the draft constitution as trash "to be dumped in the nearest bin."
The sharp criticism came mostly from "sworn Europeans" who are frustrated by the fact that Giscard d'Estaing's political realism won out over his federalist idealism. But the criticism is doing him an injustice. When the constitutional convention commenced its work some 16 months ago, only a few lone figures believed it would stand up to its task. The fact that the 105-member convention managed to overcome deep rifts between them and adopt - for the first time in the history of the continent - an accepted document under the title of a constitution is in itself an impressive achievement.
The work of those who drafted the European constitution was more complex than that of the first Americans. They had to mediate between 25 countries that represent some 500 million individuals who have diverse historical, cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds. They had to bridge gaps in perceptions between federalists and nationalists, between populist rightists and former communists, between big and small countries, between new and old ones.
Despite all this, the draft constitution successfully met three vital objectives the EU set for itself. First, it reinforces the democratic legitimacy of the organization by including the national parliaments in the legislative process, and mainly by bolstering the authority of the European parliament.
Second, it simplifies the decision-making process by amending the qualified majority vote and reducing the size of the EU commission (the union's executive).
Third, it is likely to boost the EU's global status by defining roles for "a European president," who would replace the institution of the rotating presidency, and "a foreign minister" who would draw his power from both the council, which represents the nation states, and from the commission.
On Saturday, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw declared the federalist camp vanquished in the battle over the constitution. He meant that Britain managed to leave the draft devoid of the term "federalism" - an infuriating taboo known in Britain as "the F word." Most of all, Britain is proud of the fact that it managed to ensure that decisions on foreign affairs, defense and taxation would continue to be passed unanimously.
Nevertheless, the final outcome does not allow us to define clear-cut winners and losers. The federalist camp also had significant achievements. That is how, for example, one should interpret the strengthening of the European parliament and commission, the two institutions that represent the EU in its dealings with nation states.
There is also the appointment of a foreign minister, a title that resonates for the first time with the idea of a supra-national European government; the fall in the status of the national veto right; the new legal status of the union that will allow it for the first time to sign international agreements that bind all its members; and the clause that permits member states, if they so desire, to promote joint security policies in a limited framework.
An article recently published by prominent European figures, including former prime ministers, notes that "the constitution is an expression of our desire to create a real political community."
The leaders wish to believe that following in the footsteps of the flag, the anthem, the court and the single currency, the constitution will add to continental federalism's triumph over nationalism.
Despite the draft's shortcomings, and although the battle over it is far from over, the document appears to provide a plump pillow for the dreamers.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now