#CitizensRoute e-Tribune n°2: “Constitution and/or Democratisation?” Proceedings

On December 6th, the #CitizensRoute held its second e-tribune based on the following question: “Constitution and/or democratization?”. The question was asked to all participants and answered in particular by the representatives of 5 trans-European political visions : Diem25 (Erik Edman), Newropeans (David Carayol), Federalists (Yves Gernigon), Change in Paradigm (Adrian Taylor) and We are Europe (Jens Baganz).

The problematic raised was the following:

Today, in the context of the emergence of a trans-European political debate, we hear a lot about the need to write a European Constitution. Knowing all the problems that need to be solved for the European project to resume with its fundamental missions (to serve the European common interest of the people: convergence, peace, prosperity, democracy), we wonder whether a Constitution is the pre-condition to reach the democratic system required to properly address these issues? if it’s democratisation which is required first to change the constitution? or if both should go hand in hand – and how? We also would like to understand what exactly is in the minds with this word “constitution”?

The debate was rich and differentiated between those who thought that democratization was the first requirement and priority (We are Europe, Federalists, Change in Paradigm) and those who saw the drafting of a constitution as an instrument of democratization and therefore concluded to simultaneous processes (Diem25, Newropeans).

∴ To the specific question : What do we mean by “constitution, some chose to not address the issue claiming that it depended on what the people would want (Diem25), others reminded the contractual dimension of a constitution linking people and their rulers, anchoring the legitimacy of laws and the conditions for these laws to being obeyed (Newropeans, We are Europe), while more insisted on the need for a rather short and readable text (CitizensRoute), others saw it as a more extensive text (We are Europe). All agreed on the idea that a constitution is a set a fundamental principles which European citizens would be willing to sign for.

∴ To the question: Is a constitution compatible with 21st century principles of flexibility?, some (Change in Paradigm) provided interesting insights by referring to the history of the US constitution which the citizens had to overcome in order to improve democracy (read Adrian Taylor’s text). The fact that texts, constitutional ones in particular, are more prone to slow down adaptative processes required later than anything else, and that due to this characteristic they end up being overlooked, clearly showed the limits of the centrality of a constitutional text in a democratic system. De facto, in an open population and a constantly evolving reality, inventing the way to easily revise contractual texts like that may be more important than drafting them in the first place.

∴ To the question: “How understandable is the drafting of a constitution for the general public?”, Diem 25 answered that citizens had the intellectual capacity to understand complex things. However the question was also “how likely they are to be interested in this drafting process?”, “would such process be sufficiently inclusive?”. In this sense, New Paradigm made a relevent remark on the role of experts in a democracy where citizens precisely don’t have to be experts to gain their right to participate. Drafting a constitutional has all the characteristic of an experts’ job, which, in a democracy, must be based in a wide-ranging debate, taking into account the people’s expectations and in the end submitted to their validation. This validation stage in fact largely depends on people’s trust in their rulers and the latter’s legitimacy (national leaders in France and The Netherlands were for instance clearly illegitimate in selling a European constitution, hence the rejection). Talking about the 2005 referenda on the Constitutional Treaty, it was nevertheless reminded (Newropeans, Federalists…) how much the French and Dutch people were interested in the debate prior to their referenda. So indeed, the problem is not so much the understanbility than the inclusiveness.

∴ To the main question: “Constitution and/or democratization?”, Diem25 and Newropeans defended that the collaborative elaboration of a common Pact between the people and their rulers was a strong symbol, instrumental in building up a European responsible citizenry. But Change in Paradigm and We are Europe preferred to put a priority on addressing more urgent and commonly agreed emergencies such as creating the status of European associations and political parties, for instance, or addressing “burning issues” such as the Eurozone-reform, the migrant crisis, a peace-bearer foreign and neighbourhood policy, Europe of health, environment, social protection, etc… Change in Paradigm reminded the historical fact that happened in Iceland where the successful collaborative process of constitutional drafting in 2009 resulted in a no-adoption by the rulers. If this was to be the result of a European-wide constitutional process, how despairing that would be for European citizens altogether! On a more favourable note, Newropeans reminded the simple and democratic request for a constitutional assembly in whatever next constitutional process, as well as the opportunity it would provide for a trans-European referendum – instead of the 2005 farce of nation by nation validations.

Newropeans also reminded the debate that took place in 2004/2005 in the framework of the rederendum on the constitutional treaty. At the time, Newropeans held a series of conferences when they defended a “Yes but” position : “Yes to the referendum, but with democracy in complement”… The campaign was conducted in France, It raised a lot of interest among European citizens and was closely followed by many actors of civil society. It is still in the hands of those relays between European citizens and decision making levels, that lies the responsibility of the emergence of a similar debate, of democracy in Europe and of the European citizens’ interest today.

All in all this discussion provided a good opportunity to question one’s certainties, which is one central aim of the CitizensRoute. Check!

Read the detail of our political representatives’ points of view here!

And join our next e-tribune in January! (topic yet to be defined)

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