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⁂ The EU, the US founding fathers and the “last word”

by Denis Cooper

There can be few more terrifying sentences in contemporary English than: “The Treaty of Lisbon is not the last word.”

The sentence appears in “Saving the European Union” a new book by Andrew Duff, a British Liberal Democrat who sits in the European Parliament. It is certain to raise the hackles of anti-Lisbon campaigners, who have said all along that the EU can never resist the temptation to keep tinkering with its institutional arrangements, no matter how strong the evidence that European voters are thoroughly turned off by the whole process.

Before I develop this point, let me note that Duff’s short book is an excellent introduction to the Lisbon Treaty and to the challenges facing today’s EU. Friends and foes alike of the EU will benefit from reading it. Duff is one of the European Parliament’s top constitutional affairs experts, and he writes clean, crisp prose.

The Lisbon Treaty’s fate hangs mainly on the outcome of a referendum, expected to take place in October, in Ireland, whose electorate rejected the document in June 2008 by a 53.4 to 46.6 per cent margin.

If the Irish reverse their verdict and Lisbon comes into effect, EU leaders have solemnly promised us that there will be no more institutional tinkering, no more inter-governmental conferences, no more constitutional conventions – in short, no more attempts to ape Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other US founding fathers – for a long time to come. “We’re in tune with the voters,” is the message. “We know they wouldn’t forgive us.”

The institutional reform efforts that are encapsulated in Lisbon began as long ago as 2001 and have been plagued with embarrassing setbacks, so it is understandable that most EU leaders have little appetite at the moment for yet more self-punishment. Still, I have always had a sneaking suspicion that the adoption of Lisbon would in fact serve as a prelude to another bite at the institutional cherry.
Duff’s book strengthens this suspicion. “The founding fathers of the United States admitted from the outset that the Constitution as drafted was not the final word. Far from over-selling the text as the ultimate settlement, as some Europeans have done with Lisbon, the Americans were bold enough to admit that further amendment would be both desirable and necessary.”

Duff continues: “So the Treaty of Lisbon is not the last word. Europe can decide whether it wants to be more united or more divided: it neither can nor will stay as it is. The challenge is to manage this federalisation process with similar skill and boldness to that evinced in their time by Messrs Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson.”

Well, there you have it. Lisbon isn’t the last word. Europe must move on with its “federalisation process”. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.


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