My vote for the European Constitution

I’m departing from my usual schedule of posting only on Wednesdays, because tomorrow is a VERY BIG DAY, the referendum in Spain, the first in Europe, on the “Tratado por el que se establece una CONSTITUCIÓN para EUROPA.” Yesterday, after weeks of seeing articles and TV debates pro and con, I finally sat down to read it (El País had delivered it free with a weekend issue back in January). I’m not a Spanish citizen or even a European, so my vote won’t count, so I can only cast a virtual vote “Sí”. And I do it enthusiastically. This Constitution/Treaty (it’s really both things at once) is a marvelous advance for one very large, important part of the world.

It’s got problems, sure. I agree with the left (in Spain, Gaspar Llamazares of Izquierda Unida is the most outspoken opponent) that the Constitution is far too deferential to the United States, especially in defense, where it abjures an independent military force but repeatedly mentions obligations to NATO, and in trade. (This deference is mostly because of pressure from Tony Blair, acting as a conduit for pressure from Washington; Chirac and Schroeder were pushing for much more independence). And too many of the decisions, including amendments to the Constitution itself, have to be unanimous, meaning that any country – including weaker ones most vulnerable to U.S. economic and other pressure – has a veto. Thus, with this Constitution, Europe does not empower itself against U.S. military adventurism, and that’s a pity – we Americans are just going to have to do it ourselves.

Still, the great thing about this Constitution is that it binds all its member states to legal principles that have been pretty shaky in some of them. These include equal rights for ethnic minorities (maybe the Gypsies and others will finally get a fair shake) and women, free primary and secondary education for all children, etc. Another important right (far in advance of current U.S. practice) is that to organize trade unions and other associations to defend the interests of any group. The Constitution creates a kind of European citizenship, whereby nationals of any member state will enjoy all the privileges of citizens – including voting, once they meet residency requirements – in any other member state. Also, it forbids torture and abolishes the death penalty for the entire continent. And it gives all citizens of all states rights to elect members of the European parliament directly (in addition to the representation they have through their nationally elected officials) and to present petitions for laws to enact the principles announced in the “Values” and “Objectives” of the Constitution listed at the beginning.

So, with all its weaknesses, and the inevitability of conflicts in interpretation and the complexity of its mechanisms, this is a great step forward toward global democracy. Spain could have approved the Constitution in Parliament, like most of the European states – since both major parties, PSOE (socialists) and PP (conservatives) favor it, it would have passed by 80% majority. However, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the President of the Government, wanted the widest possible debate and backing for this big step toward European integration. It is a lengthy and complicated document, and many potential voters have avoided studying it or have rejected it because of some some comment they have heard. However, the alternative to this Constitution is not a stronger one, but no European constitution at all – and that would be a much greater pity. I believe Spanish voters will approve it tomorrow; I hope a large enough proportion of them turn out (whichever way they vote) to justify Zapatero’s faith in the people’s capacity for reflection and decision.

P.S.: On Wednesday, Susana & I will be flying back from Almería to New York, via London, so there will be no blog posting until later. Ciao.

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