From Prof Willem H. Buiter.
Sir, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has warned the UK (read: Gordon Brown) not to block a deal on a revamped constitution for the European Union (report, June 1). His argument - that the EU would lose credibility in addressing global challenges when it is not even able to settle its internal arrangements - is vacuous. Its implications are dangerous. Better not to have a European constitution or treaty revision than to have the wrong one.
Any constitution, be it maxi or mini - and any treaty revision that involves either a material transfer of sovereignty (in either direction) between the member states and the EU, or a change in the balance of power among individual member states - should continue to be subject to referendum, if a referendum was part of the arrangements for the original treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.
The new mini-constitution/treaty revision is likely, as a minimum, to:*create a full-time Council presidency instead of the current six-monthly rotation;*have a single European foreign minister; *reduce the number of commissioners from 27, probably to 18;*change the voting system in the Council of Ministers, giving more votes to the largest members.
Such changes are a reassignment of sovereignty from the member states to the EU, and to a shift in the balance of power among member states. Popular approval through a referendum in those countries that until now have required one is therefore required. Any other procedure would lack legitimacy.
In addition, the new mini- constitution/treaty revision may extend qualified majority voting to areas such as asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. It may replace the full text of the charter of fundamental rights included in the original constitutional proposals by a short cross-reference having the same legal value - an example of sneaky constitution-writing if ever there was one.
The new proposals may not have the formal "constitution" label, but we should not be fooled by deceptive semantics, partly Orwellian and partly Alice in Wonderland. There may be no reference to the symbols of the EU - flag, anthem, or EU football team. There may be no explicit mention of EU law primacy over national law. The reality is that this primacy already exists in many areas, both de facto and de jure. A single legal personality for the EU may not be created. But who, other than lawyers, cares about that? The eurogroup, consisting of the ministers of finance of the 13 (out of 27) EU members that have adopted the euro, not only has no legal personality, it is not even mentioned anywhere in the treaties. Yet it has usurped many of the responsibilities and powers of Ecofin.
The mini-constitution/treaty revision is likely to be a major constitutional event, involving significant transfers of national sovereignty. A British government should not block it. It should ask the British people to accept or reject it in a referendum.
Willem H. Buiter,
Professor of European
London School of Economics,
London WC2A 2AE