To begin, it is necessary to correct a misconception being deliberately promulgated by the National Forum on Europe. A Constitution is the supreme law of a State, which has primacy over the laws of its provinces or regions in any case of conflict. It is the ultimate source of legal authority for the territory it governs. It is enforced by a Supreme Court, in the EU's case its Court of Justice in Luxembourg. A Treaty is an agreement between sovereign States, the High Contracting Parties.
What the EU Governments are now considering is a "Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe," to give it its proper title. It is not a "Draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union," as the secretariat of the National Forum on Europe misleadingly titles it in their recently published Summary. It re-founds the EU on an entirely new legal basis, with its own Constitution, as in the case of any normal State. It gives the EU legal personality for the first time and makes it an international actor in its own right, separate from and superior to its Member States. The new Constitution repeals all the existing EU Treaties from the Treaty of Rome to the Treaty of Nice, which become null and void (Article IV- 2).
The proposed Constitution would fundamentally change the legal relationship between the EU and its Member State. Hitherto the EU has been the creation of its Member States under the treaties. The Union has had no legal existence apart from its Members. The Draft Constitution changes that. It makes the EU an international actor in its own right, with its own legal personality, separate from and superior to its Members.
Article I-12 (2) takes away from Member States most of their power to sign treaties with other States. Up to now the EU has negotiated treaties on behalf of its members in relation to tariffs and trade matters. This Article gives the EU power to sign treaties that affects any "internal Union act." This greatly extends the EU's treaty-making powers. In future the EU rather than its Member States will negotiate and sign international treaties and conventions relating to criminal law for example, extradition, foreign and security policy and much else.
Article I-5 (2) provides: "Following the principle of loyal cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall . assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Constitution."
The word "loyal" is significant. It implies that the Member States owe an obligation of loyalty to the Union and again underlines the EU's constitutional/political superiority over its Member States and its Federal State character. The Article goes: "Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives set out in the Constitution."
The import of this is that national governments must give priority to Union objectives, even in areas of policy that have not been transferred to the EU, because of the overarching scope of the Union's objectives. But what if the Union's objectives conflict with national political objectives, especially if the latter have been democratically confirmed by an electoral mandate at home - for example a country's desire to oppose the EU Rapid Reaction Forces's involvement in a war, or to resist EU tax harmonisation, or a government's commitment to expand public spending to counter deflation, even if that might be in breach of the EU's Growth and Stability Pact ? Taken together, these Article imply an obligation on Member States to refrain from any action at national level that is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness. The Court of Justice will certainly take that view when reaching its legally binding judgements.
Article I-5(1) makes a gesture to nationalists by stating that the Union "shall respect the national identities of its Member States ." This is merely rhetoric, for national identity is not a justiciable concept.
National identity is quite different from national democracy or independence, whichthe Constitution fundamentally subverts. A people keeps its identity in servitude as well as freedom, as shown by the many nations around the world that have an identity but no independence, e.g. Kurds, Palestinians, Chechyns - or Poles, whose country disappeared for almost a century.
Most importantly of all, Article I-10(1) provides: "The Constitution, and law adopted by the Union's Institutions in exercising competences conferred on it, shall have primacy over the law of the Member States."
This doctrine has been developed over the years in the case-law of the EU Court of Justice, but it has not been accepted by, for example, the German, French or Italian Constitutional Courts. These have denied in various court judgements that EU law has the supremacy of federal law. They have held that EU law is binding in national law only to the extent that national law allows. The draft Constitution abrogates this position by formally recognising that the EU Court of Justice, like the supreme court of any Federal State, has the legal power to define its own powers.
A second important point concerns the question of 'primacy'. It is European "Community", not European "Union", law that has primacy over national law in any case of conflict. This situation exists at the present time and dates back to the Costa v ENAL and Van Gend en Loos cases of the early sixties at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Nonetheless, the Court's pretensions to establish new law are not universally accepted.
The latter judgement stated in part : " the Community constitutes a new legal order in international law for whose benefit the states have limited their sovereign rights, albeit in limited fields". It should be noted that this "new legal order" is not presented in the EC Treaty, but was formulated by the ECJ as a result of its interpretation of the Treaty's overall objects and purposes. It is one of the earliest and most blatant examples of "competence creep". The ECJ is notorious for continually seeking to extend its own reach and the extent of supranational powers through an incremental "federalisation" of Community law.
So these judgements lacked Treaty authority and consequently were subjected to rejection by the courts in states like Italy, Britain and Germany. Nowhere was the rejection so emphatic as in Germany. There, the German Constitutional Court in the 1994 case, Brunner v The European Treaty, found that : "if the EU institutions were to treat or develop the Union Treaty in a way that was no longer covered by the Treaty in the form that was the basis for the Act of Accession, the resultant legislative instruments would not be legally binding within the sphere of German sovereignty". And so the situation remains today, and though the principle of EU Court supremacy may be long established, it is by no means accepted amongst all Member States, but is rejected by what is arguably the most important one.
Furthermore this claimed primacy of European Community law can only extend to the powers and competencies conferred to date on the Community by its Member States. These powers are grouped under the present "first pillar" - broadly speaking the economy and some related social issues. Under the proposed Union Constitution these powers would be extended to major "second and third pillar" issues, like foreign affairs and defence, crime, justice and domestic affairs, which at present are outside the boundaries of Community law and where Member States retain their sovereignty.
So if we accept the proposed EU Constitution we would for the first time be constitutionally bound to accept the primacy of Union, not Community, laws, whether through rulings of the ECJ or from the EU institutions themselves. We would greatly extend the Union's areas of competence and would give the Union the legal and constitutional character of a Federal State, and Ireland the legal-constitutional character of a mere province of that State.
The purpose and essence of the proposed EU Constitution is to establish a new European Union that is qualitatively, legally, constitutionally and politically different from what we call the European Union today. It does not seek to establish something which is "close to", or "almost", or "virtually" a Federal State but it does establish what is legally and constitutionally a Federal State in its proper legal form. That is what it should be called and is what advocates such as Guy Verhofstadt for instance, call it. This is particularly important if one is to explain properly to the electorate what is proposed.
What we call the European Union at present is a descriptive term for various different forms of co-operation between its Member States. One form of this cooperation is the acceptance of supranational law in certain areas - called the European Community, where sovereignty is "pooled". The other form co-operation occurs where States retain their sovereignty. This is where they make all the laws themselves and where the Commission does not operate because there are no laws it can propose. It is also the area where supranational EC law does not prevail, and where Member States cooperate with one another "inter-governmentally", as independent equal sovereign partners.
The purpose of the Constitution is to change this.
Article I-10 specifically seeks to undo the reservations of national Constitutional Courts and Supreme Courts regarding the supremacy of EU law and replaces national law with EU law as the supreme source of constitutional authority. This amounts to a Constitutional revolution. But it is the logic of giving the Union legal personality separate from its Member States and extending supranationalism to all areas of government.
A relevant point here is that European governments accepted the ECJ's assertion of the primacy of EU law in the 1960s, when the then EEC dealt with a far narrower range of issues than the EU does today. It is one thing for Member States go along with a principle established by the EU Court and applied to a restricted range of matters like customs duties or tariffs. It is quite another to concede national sovereignty to an EU Constitution whose writ covers everything from tax policy to criminal law to foreign policy and fundamental human rights.
Article I-23 (1) provides that the terms "European laws"- regulations- and " European framework laws"- directives - shall replace the words "regulations" and "directives" used at present. This is only a change of name, for EU regulations and directives are of course laws, but the use of the more common word "law" is another indication that this is meant to be the Constitution of an EU State, for only States make laws.
In the light of the these radical changes it is hard to understand how Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern can say that the draft Constitution " does not fundamentally change the relaionship between the EU and its member-states." (Irish Times 24-10-2003).
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Frank Keoghan (Secretary) People's Movement: www.people.ie