Hughes, Kirsty. (2003) A Dynamic and Democratic EU or Muddling through Again? Assessing the EU’s Draft Constitution. EPIN Working Paper No. 8, July 2003. [Working Paper]
[Introduction]. The draft Constitution is on the table. Attention is moving towards the traditional intergovernmental game that will be played out at the intergovernmental conference (IGC) during autumn 2003 – and quite possibly into early 2004 (despite the intentions of the Italian presidency). Much of the structure and the detailed substance of the draft treaty will stay but the IGC will be far from a rubber-stamp exercise. Moreover, despite the pessimists’ (or perhaps realists’) view that the IGC will only make the draft Constitution worse, the governments do have an opportunity to improve and clarify many areas. Certainly a number of issues will still be hotly contested not least on the core institutional questions. In many ways, the results of the Future of Europe Convention represent an important step forward. The operation of the Convention itself, through its relative openness, was a significant development. The existence of a single Constitutional Treaty is an important move in the right direction. The Convention also achieved considerable simplification in some areas, and some very important democratic steps were taken. But the Convention has also thrown up a number of problems. Despite its openness, the core institutional debate was conducted largely behind closed doors and in considerable haste. It is far from clear that the procedures followed for the Convention’s institutional work were even as good as, let alone better than, an IGC. In this respect the procedures deviated strongly from that followed for all other areas of the Convention’s work. In some ways, the draft Constitutional Treaty introduces more complexity than more simplicity – particularly in the dual presidencies of Commission and European Council. Crucially, there are some big gaps on the democratic front, notably on the accountability of the executive. The result of the Convention was a compromise and consequently it is not easy or necessarily advisable to try to identify winners and losers. Nevertheless, it is clear by looking at the three main institutions that the European Parliament has been strengthened in important ways. But the picture is much less clear for the Commission and Council, where turf-fighting and confusion looks likely to be one of the legacies of the changes proposed, with neither institution ending up substantially strengthened. Many of the divides in the Convention were between larger and smaller countries as much as the inevitable conflict between intergovernmental and integrationist points of view. All sides can claim some successes. But the compromises that were necessary to balance these points of view have produced an outcome that, on the one hand, could function fairly well and represent a step forward but that could, on the other hand, equally result in institutional malfunctioning. Which of these two outcomes occurs will depend not only on the political personalities involved but also on relations between the institutions (and whether member states get involved in any of the ongoing battles that may develop between personalities or institutions). Overall, the draft treaty is at least a substantial step forward from the inadequacies of the Nice Treaty. Its structure will act as the basic framework for the EU’s politics and policies for many years to come – though revisions will certainly occur. But some of its central and messy compromises leave much uncertainty as to the future functioning of the enlarged EU.
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