I truly do not know what to think about the proposed EU Constitution. Should I be in favor of it or not? Not that I get a vote, but just to satisfy myself intellectually I’d like to formulate a reasonably informed opinion.
On 29 May the French people will be able to vote in a referendum on the proposed EU Constitution, and most observers think that they will vote non. An article in this week’s Economist does a nice job of summarizing the issues:
One reason for the surprising strength of the no camp may be the confusion over just what the constitution is about. The official French position, backed by Mr Chirac, is that the constitution bolsters France’s place in Europe, and the French ideal of Europe. The constitution, after all, will strengthen European foreign policy, long a French goal, by creating an EU foreign minister. It includes a charter of fundamental rights, some of which are typically French rights regarding employment and welfare. …
On the right, a confusing issue has been Turkey. Many in France are opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, and there is a false impression that the constitution leads inevitably to this. Not only is the far right, symbolised by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a xenophobic crank, opposed to Turkey’s joining. Mr Chirac’s own party, the Union for a Popular Majority, is against as well, despite the president’s own support. …
Predictably, left-wing elements say that the constitution does not go far enough in creating political union and “social Europe”. … As on the right, there is confusion over the constitution’s implications. The French left, in particular, opposes a European Commission directive that would liberalise trade in services across Europe. This has nothing to do with the constitution, and Mr Chirac anyway successfully blocked progress on passing the directive at the last summit of EU leaders. But the impression that the constitution entrenches “Anglo-Saxon” liberal market policies has lingered.
Many of the objections that I have heard to the constitution come from a very protectionist perspective, particularly with respect to agriculture. In fact, I have seen a couple of interviews on TV with French farmers who complain that the proposed constitution is “too free-market”, and that it will “unfairly” force them to compete with farmers in the new EU countries in Eastern Europe who have lower costs. Such an assertion begs the question of why those farmers have lower costs, why French costs might not fall in the face of such competition, or even why so many French farmers still farm at all if their costs are so high, but …
This fact suggests that I should support the constitution, given my firmly and enthusiastically pro-free-trade position. But there is something about increased central authority in Brussels that just nags at me. Does this constitution really embody liberal and free-trade principles, or does it introduce increased bureaucracy in another layer? Or, more pragmatically, is this constitution an incremental step in the direction of liberal and free-trade principles, one that can lead to further future liberalization?
According to Jacques deGuenin’s recent essay for Liberté Cherie, the French free-market liberal organization, EU rules up to this point have incrementally moved in this direction:
Les règles de l’union nous ont peu à peu amenés à ouvrir à la concurrence les services dits publics, c’est à dire ceux qui prennent le public en otage pour défendre les intérêts de leurs salariés, comme la Poste, les télécoms, la SNCF, l’EDF, la Sécurité Sociale. Chaque fois nous y avons gagné. Et cela ne fait que commencer.
which roughly translates as
EU rules have little by little led to opening public services to competition, i.e., those that take the public hostage to defend the interests of their employees, such as the post office, telecoms, the SNCF, EDF, and social security. Each time liberalization won. And that was just the beginning.
This is true, as I see in my work with European economists who are in the midst of designing EU-wide rules for opening electric power markets. DeGuenin argues further that the EU constitution will make Europe more democratic, which may well be true. But does that lead to increased liberalization, competition, and economic liberty? Maybe. Or maybe not. DeGuenin concludes that the French liberal should view the constitution as a protection of liberty, not a threat. Another essay at Liberté Cherie also supports this stand, as does this editorial from the Centre for European Reform from 2003.
OK. So why does this nagging suspicion of concentrated EU power in Brussels persist in my mind? I would greatly appreciate some enlightenment from someone whose opinion I trust, like Mr. Seat. Anyone?