The EU Constitution
August 6, 2003 1:35 PM   Subscribe

The proposed European Union Constitution will lead to a massive welfare state? Or, "Compare and Contrast the United States Constitution with that of the EU" From a cursory glance at the depth of the document, this detail-oriented Constitution is entirely alien to one such as myself used to the broad Madisonian brushstrokes of the United States Constitution. What are the merits and/or limits of the 'broad' versus 'detailed' Constitution? Is the EU taking on more than a government should by stating provisions for general welfare and environmental awareness? Or, is the EU looking ahead in ways that others have not?
posted by tgrundke (23 comments total)
 
I always thought Hamilton had the heavier hand than Madison, despite the refutation of the Federalists Papers.
posted by the fire you left me at 1:59 PM on August 6, 2003


Is the EU taking on more than a government should by stating provisions for general welfare and environmental awareness?

tgrundke, you worry too much! Their intentions are good; what else matters?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:21 PM on August 6, 2003


I'll take door number two, please.
posted by troutfishing at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2003


And the Bill of Rights, with one exception, is a list of the rights of individuals against the state, not a list of claims by individuals on services to be provided by the state; the one exception is the right to a trial by jury. All residual rights are reserved to the people.

From what I have read so far on the EU Constitution, this paragraph sums up the largest differences.

The US Constitution give 'negative' rights, like the 'freedom of speech and the press'. The US Constitution does not guaranteeing you a printing press or a computer, but does limit what government can do to prevent you from exercising that freedom.

The EU Constitution gives 'positive' rights, like the 'right to employment'. So no matter the situation, the EU Constitution guarantees you a job.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:23 PM on August 6, 2003


It shouldn't seem that alien to you, tgrundke. Most US state constitutions are very long and detailed too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:24 PM on August 6, 2003


Well, the link won't open on my PC (big .pdf), but I wonder if "gender equality", "right to water", "sustainable energy", and "right to health care" are still in play.
posted by trharlan at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2003


man, article 2 really reminds me why I get so nostalgic about my brief youth across the pond (90-95)...it seems so very distant from the main streams of debate here in the US.
posted by jann at 2:34 PM on August 6, 2003


So no matter the situation, the EU Constitution guarantees you a job.

Which is exactly why most nations in the EU have a completely disproportionate business burden. They'll only hire as many workers as they can maintain when times are bad. They know they can't easily fire fuckoffs and incompetents, they are held over barrels by labor unions, and many are completely uncompetitive without massive government subsidies.

Combine these issues with an aging population, a shrinking labor-pool, and a restive immigrant population, and you have a pretty incendiary situation.

Germany and France love the idea of a supra-national governing body like the EU because it allows them to spread out risk and cost for their own populations among all the nations of the EU (and perhaps stave off disaster for a bit longer). But what's in it for the smaller nations?

This thing is a trainwreck waiting to happen.
posted by mrmanley at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2003


I'd hit it!
posted by condour75 at 3:09 PM on August 6, 2003


I tend to agree with mrmanley: this is a trainwreck waiting to happen. Then again, I take a rather pessimistic view.

While I agree that their intentions are good, ZenMasterThis, the devil is in the details. For some reason, I cannot shake the deeply seated belief that regardless the good intent, this constitution opens the door up for all sorts of demands by the public on the government.

And ROU_Xenophobe, you are correct about state constitutions being large. But we're talking about a bureaucracy (EU "Federal" government) on top of an already immense bureaucracy (individual European state governments). Anyone lived in Europe for a long period of time and come into contact with the Eurocrats there? They make American bureaucracies look like happy fun time!

Not that the ideas are bad...but it just makes me uncomfortable relying on the state to such a degree...*shudder* that sounded very Republican of me...
posted by tgrundke at 3:29 PM on August 6, 2003


What are the merits and/or limits of the 'broad' versus 'detailed' Constitution?

When is this paper due? Does it have to be double-spaced? Do we have to cite our references?

Whew. Big question, really. What are the relative merits of strong leadership? What are the relative merits of an activist judiciary? With all of the above, in the best case you might get a "strong" version of what you want as an individual but you won't get more. In the worst case, you have a world fixed in an image you dislike.

On the other hand, the U.S. has a loosely drafted Constitution, relatively speaking, yet it has still come to have the holy-text status Madison and Jefferson both feared it would have. This suggests that any constitution is going to be taken very literally as an unchanging code of law, no matter what the protestations of its authors. So maybe it should be specific after all.

So, in conclusion, we can see that the manner in which constitutions have been historically -- [passes out].
posted by argybarg at 4:08 PM on August 6, 2003


Anyone lived in Europe for a long period of time and come into contact with the Eurocrats there? They make American bureaucracies look like happy fun time!

You've got that right. When I returned to the US after two years spent living in Germany, I was ready to kiss the DMV employee who took only 15 minutes to renew my driver's license. Only the thought of Patty and Selma kept me from going through with it.
posted by MrBaliHai at 4:21 PM on August 6, 2003


The EU constitution itself doesn't seem that radical given the fact that most of the things it guarantees are already provided by the member Countries. The increased detail strikes me as mostly the influence of the European code system (as opposed to our common law system) that generally prefers detail and clarity to ambigiuty and judicial review.

Along the same lines, if you think about our Constitution as not just the words on the page but also the 200+ years of accumulated Supreme court and lower court precedent, ours is infinitely more detailed and complex than theirs. If you have ever glanced through an annonated version of the U.S. consitution (typically about the same size as an encyclopedia) you'll know what I mean.
posted by boltman at 4:22 PM on August 6, 2003


A political system is the end practical expression of a philosophical system of thought. What are the philosophical ideas behind this Constitution?
posted by stbalbach at 4:35 PM on August 6, 2003


Think you stbalbach - I probably should have phrased the question in such a way. So, let's run with it: what are the philosophical ideas behind this EU Constitution?
posted by tgrundke at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2003


The EU Constitution gives 'positive' rights, like the 'right to employment'. So no matter the situation, the EU Constitution guarantees you a job.

Wow. So, with unemployment in Germany at or near 10%, who will these people go to to complain about this "violation" of their so-called rights? And what would the EU do to enforce this right? Conjure up jobs out of thin air? Threaten business owners with jail uness they hire people they don't need?
posted by Ayn Marx at 7:21 PM on August 6, 2003


(wit)I think the comparison between the EU and the US is too easy. Why not compare the EU with India? Far more appropriate in some ways: an overreaching bureaucracy and an overreaching bureaucracy.(/wit)

The fundamental difference between the EU and the US is a deep, and misunderstood, philosophical one. The EU is "pessimistic", whereas the US is "optimistic". Their approach to their constitution will reflect this pessimism, the assumption that things will go wrong, and government must try to guarantee otherwise; as the US constitution reflects great optimism, if the government gets out of the way, the streets will be paved with gold.

There is also the contrasting legal systems: Common vs. Roman law, with their respective assumptions. In the US, an activity is legal unless it has been outlawed. In the EU, with the exception of Britain, Italy and parts, unless an activity is approved by government *first*, it is unlawful.
Also the assumption of guilt or innocence, the right to object to examination or cross examination that is unfair or prejudicial, or not, etc.

A constitution is based on what the people want, what they believe, and what they know. You get what you pay for.
posted by kablam at 7:49 PM on August 6, 2003


And what would the EU do to enforce this right?

See here
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:28 PM on August 6, 2003


A political system is the end practical expression of a philosophical system of thought.

Well, yes and no. That's easier to believe if you're American, with the back-referenced myth of 'a country formed on ideas', but for most countries, a political system is an ongoing dialogue (and compromise) between evolving and competing systems of thought.

It's amusing, though, to see the amount of ignorance refracted through prejudice on display here. Apart from boltman, who deserves a pat on the back.

The EU constitutional project is an attempt to re-cast the multilateral framework of treaty obligations and conventions in terms of positive rights for citizens. Much of it is already encoded, but in a form that doesn't explicitly stipulate the entitlements of citizens.

While 'negative rights' constitutions have a certain elegance, they also throw up all sorts of scraps, particularly if those constitutions are awarded the status of holy writ; think, for instance, of the tortuous way in which the US Supreme Court finally acknowledged an 'implicit right to privacy'. Canada, for instance, has saved itself much of this -- the judicial equivalent of discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin -- by being unafraid to codify positive rights in its constitution.

You can find lots and lots of different constitutions online these days for comparison. Some of them aren't even dull. At least, many are less dull, for instance, than the Constitution of Alabama; or those other US state constitutions, which Americans, if they were to look a little closer, might have to accept as the long-winded, excessively detailed consequences of having a federal constitution that regards the business of regulating government as some kind of filthy task.
posted by riviera at 9:17 PM on August 6, 2003


William Niskanen is chairman of the Cato Institute, www.cato.org, in Washington.

- Now the reasons for his thesis are so much clearer.

- Here in Europe we have a very quaint view; we believe in a 'social contract', this is merely being embodied in the proposed draft constitution.

Germany and France love the idea of a supra-national governing body like the EU because it allows them to spread out risk and cost

-statements such as this would have any german choking on his bratwurst.
posted by johnnyboy at 1:33 AM on August 7, 2003


Also the assumption of guilt or innocence, the right to object to examination or cross examination that is unfair or prejudicial, or not.
Wait, there is no European constitution that I'm aware of that doesn't endorse the assumption of innocence. In Greece it certainly, 100% is the case. Indeed the linked EU constitution states:

Article II-48: Presumption of innocence and right of defense
1. Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to
law.


As for the constitution this [pdf] document entitled: "The perils of a European Constitution", by two of the drafters of the EuroConstitution, tries to explain the aims and goals of this Constitution.
Mr. manley's observations about Germany and France are, umm... quite removed from reality ... as johnyboy suggested.
posted by talos at 2:59 AM on August 7, 2003


What are the merits and/or limits of the 'broad' versus 'detailed' Constitution?

here's bruce sterling's take! "What's the EU's secret for transcending nationalism? Infrastructure. April's 4,900-page Treaty of Accession is all about railroads, smokestacks, trademarks, livestock, fertilizer, cosmetics, glassware, footwear - everything it will take to level the playing field across a consumer population of 450 million people."

and "rem koolhaas'" :D "The European Union's obsession with legislation is usually taken as a sign of weakness - a foil to the pyrotechnic might of the US military machine. But take a closer look: The bureaucrats in Brussels have been busy creating a new political space that has the power to make the 21st century the European century. The EU's geographical expansion to 25 countries, which will grow to include a dozen smaller ones and maybe even Russia, is nothing compared with its increasing legal and moral reach. The 80,000 pages of laws the EU has developed since the common market was formed in 1957 - influencing everything from genetic labeling to human rights - have made Europe the world's first viral political space, spreading its authority in three innovative ways."
posted by kliuless at 8:42 PM on August 7, 2003


So no matter the situation, the EU Constitution guarantees you a job.

Well if you read it (specifically Article II-15) you'll find it actually gives a right to engage in work and to choose an occupation. You still have to find one for yourself.
posted by biffa at 4:27 AM on August 8, 2003


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