Monday, July 07, 2003

Europe's Constitution: All Hail the Bureaucracy

About 16 months ago, when the European Union began a constitutional convention of 105 representatives to create a document that would bind more than 25 nations in a new civil union, who knows what might have been possible?

The Declaration of Independence was just a one-page document explaining why 13 colonies felt the need to rebel, but it became a formidable influence and is still being celebrated. Imagine what Europeans might have created: a constitution drawing on centuries of political experience and informed by tragic wisdom borne of millenniums of wars; a document influenced by European philosophers like Hobbes and Rousseau, Hume and Kant, Machiavelli and Montesquieu, who addressed fundamental questions about government and human nature.

It might also have been a belated Old World response to the achievements of the New. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots could begin with a nearly clean slate: from laws of nature, from truths held self-evident, from unalienable rights, from the notion of "consent of the governed." At that time, European nations could not; they were entrenched in history and heritages � feudal lords and monarchies and priesthoods and stratified classes.

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Yet faced with this document � the full text, with recently proposed amendments, can be read on the Web at european-convention.eu.int � visions of Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau quickly fade. So does any idea that this document will map out any important ground ... the document ... is marred by such sloppy language and incoherent thought that numerous complaints have already appeared in the international press.

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This is not the Jeffersonian language of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," with its allusions to the Enlightenment, nor is it the language of the Bill of Rights, which limits government power. This is the language of interest groups, which, enshrined as constitutional rights, will end up guaranteeing the ruling bureaucracy its right to daily bread.