Hardly anyone even in Britain understands the constitutional relationship between Britain and Europe, let alone the changes that have been proposed. Most of my American friends think that the European Union is a good thing because it is some sort of continental federation, like the United States. They suspect Britain of being isolationist in resisting further integration of the European Union. Almost all Democrats are europhile, in the sense that they support expanding the powers of the European Commission, Court and Court of Justice to the prejudice of the independent sovereignty of the independent nations. In the United States, European federalism is regarded as a politically correct and progressive cause.
Even on the right of American politics, there are few supporters of European national rights. Unless they have had some reason to investigate the European treaties, conservatives as well as liberals tend to approve the principle of “ever closer union” for Europe, as against the defence of democracy, or the European equivalent of states’ rights. In American politics most conservatives want to protect the remnants of state independence, and they suspect the claims of the Imperial Presidency. When they go back into opposition, the Republicans can be expected to revive their enthusiasm for states’ rights, in America but not in Europe.
Americans have little knowledge of the constitution of the European Union and assume that it is substantially the same as that of the United States. That is a mistake. Europe does not yet have a President, nor is Europe a democracy. The European Parliament has very limited powers relative to those of the Congress. The closest parallel of powers is that between the Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice, both of which have the ultimate authority derived from being the final court of appeal. Power in the American Constitution lies in the separate powers on the Presidency, which is the executive branch, the Congress and the Supreme Court, both the President and the Congress being democratically elected. In Europe the sole power of initiating legislation belongs to the Commission, an appointed bureaucratic body; the power of decision belongs to the Council, which is drawn from the European Governments, and is therefore indirectly elected. The Parliament is directly elected, and has the power to dismiss the Commission.
The U.S. Constitution is therefore a democratic constitution with a non-democratic Supreme Court structure; the European constitution is primarily bureaucratic; despite the existence of the European Parliament.
Most British Eurosceptics still wish to maintain a European system, but want to rebalance the European constitution by transferring some powers, called “competences” in the European jargon, back to the individual nations. A common Eurosceptic view is that Europe would be the better for a close shave with Ockham’s Razor. The European Union should only have powers which are necessary, and should not invade the proper area of national independence. Of course there are arguments about the appropriate division of functions, but the principle would be one based on necessity.
Next week – on October 17th – 18th – the new reform law for the European Constitution will be finalised in Lisbon, though it will not be signed until December. The Eurosceptics in Britain want to have a referendum on the EU Treaty; they are on the side of national independence and democracy. They may or may not prevail, but their arguments are both legitimate and democratic. Americans should not turn their backs on them, since their objectives are similar to those of many of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
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