Andy Moravcsik had an article in the FT yesterday which provides an interesting counter-argument to Chris’s – claiming, in effect that the French and Dutch should never have been asked to decide upon the technicalities of EU decision making (FT version with sub required here, Word version on Moravcsik’s home page here ). But Moravcsik goes further even than Giscard – he claims that the very idea of asking people to vote on the text was naive:
The convention, the constitution and the invocation of European ideals were tactics explicitly designed to increase public legitimacy. Enthused by the prospect of re-enacting Philadelphia, Europeans were supposed to educate themselves, swell with idealism, back sensible reform and participate more actively in EU politics. In retrospect, this grand democratic experiment seems naive. Abstract constitutional debates and referendum campaigns gave anti-globalisation, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment discontents of every stripe a perfect forum. EU policies already ratified by national parliaments, such as the recent enlargement, drew fire. Add the suspicion of voters unsure why a new constitution is required at all, and the enterprise was doomed.
Still, he thinks that the voters made the right choice, despite themselves.
In rejecting the resulting document, reasonable though it is, French and Dutch voters may be wiser than they know.
Why? Moravcsik believes that the recent votes demonstrated the impossibility of a ‘political’ integration process. EU leaders should return their attentions to the bread-and-butter business of the European Union, and to incremental, unflashy integration based on technocratic bargains among the big member states.
Moravcsik’s arguments stem both from his basic theoretical claims about the processes driving EU integration (he’s the best-known academic advocate of the argument that the EU is little more than a set of bargains among states) and from his belief that the debate over the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ is a chimera (see here for the best short version of his arguments). He claims that the kinds of policies that are delegated to the European Union are the kinds of policies that national governments usually delegate – decisions over cross-border trade issues, interest rates, judicial decision making and the like – so that we shouldn’t be especially concerned when they’re delegated to a transnational rather than a national authority. In any event, there are checks and balances that allow for some degree of democratic control (the European Parliament, national parliaments and so on). These arguments can be challenged on both empirical and normative grounds. There’s a lot of evidence that EU decision-making processes do escape the control of nation states (something I’ve posted on frequently before). But more pertinently, the fact that many aspects of economic decision making are delegated and removed from direct democratic controls is by no means necessarily a good thing on normative grounds. Indeed, you could turn Moravcsik’s argument on its head – a fair amount of the animus that led to the “No” votes was less specifically directed at the constitutional text, or even at the EU, than at the general feeling that economic decision making is slipping away from democratic control, and that the EU is one manifestation of this. Indeed, I suspect (and hope) that the ‘No’ votes are the beginning of a wider challenge to the notion that vast areas of economic decision making should not be subject to political control. While I’m broadly in favour of an integrated Europe, I’m not especially keen on a EU like the one we have today, in which the imperative of the free market usually overrides national level social protections.