Schadenfraude misplaced – for now

Many throughout Europe this weekend will wallow in that great German (and Irish) indulgence, Shadenfraude, humour at the misfortune of others. Shadenfraude over the misery of the Euro-elite that a prize project of theirs has been derailed, the European Constitution.



Not so much because of objection to the draft constitution itself but because a Euro-elite has run the European Union since its inception, haughtily dismissive of the concerns and apprehensions of the people of Europe.

Whatever pleasure there may be at the discomfort of this elite, there are reasons to be slightly concerned over what has happened and why it has happened.

The primary purpose of the European Constitution was to codify the various treaties on which the EU is presently based, so as to make it intelligible to "ordinary" Europeans. Actually even the draft constitution itself is hugely complex and vastly overlong but it is an improvement on what now pertains.

Another objective was to make the enlarged union more manageable. This necessitated removing the veto for all but a handful of areas, a change to the chaotic requirement that every member state has to have a commissioner, and a rationalisation of the presidency arrangements, ending the buggins turn procedure (promotion by seniority rather than by merit).

It also sought to democratise the institutions of the union somewhat – very somewhat and very inadequately. Indeed the utter inadequacy of the "democratisation" provisions of the draft constittuion was in itself reason to oppose the constitution, even through it was an improvement on what now exists.

Others had reasons for opposing the Constitution, eg that for the first time it turned the Union into a legal personality (so what?), that it represented the imposition of a "super-state" (how, in any meaningful way, over and above what presently exists?), that it required us to join in the militarisation of Europe (far-fetched), that it represented the abandonment of our independent foreign policy and neutrality (what independent foreign policy and what neutrality?), and that it copper-fastens the "neo-liberal" agenda in the ethos of the union (how, more than the project did from the outset?).

These apprehensions, aside from the democratisation one, seem overblown, and not to justify throwing out the Constitution itself, given the cleaning up it achieves of the present institutional and drafting arrangements. (The "aside from the democratisation one" is a very heavy qualification.)

But there are other reasons to be worried by what has happened. In part the electorates of the Netherlands and France have expressed opposition to enlargement, to "foreigners" and, notably, to the prospect of Turkey joining the Union.

Opposition to Turkish membership is based largely on antipathy to the world of Islam. Behind this is a conviction that Europe is Christian and its character cannot be allowed to change by the absorption of a country with 70 million Muslims. Sure, there is worry also that an impoverished 70 million Turks will be a "drain" on the rest of Europe, but the ethnic and religious vibe seems the stronger.

It is precisely because the membership of Turkey in the European Union would represent an opening to the world of Islam that is it important it happens.

It would represent an obstacle to the drift towards that "clash of civilisations" that so menaces the future of the world. It would also help 70 million people to improve their economic and social circumstances and nudge Turkey towards a more open, liberal and tolerant society. It might also ensure a better life for Kurds, at least those within Turkey.

And that is the reason why Shadenfraude may be misplaced – slightly. For the likelihood is that the ratification process of the European Constitution will now be halted and, in the UK, abandoned. And it is unclear how Member states and their governments might get around to reviving it or changing it in a way that would make it more palatable.

Vincent Browne