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University staff take initiative for improved version of European Constitution

Everyone in the Netherlands by now knows about the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, more commonly referred to as the European Constitution. Its exact contents, however, are much less well known. This is not surprising, says Berend Vis, former staff member of the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. ‘You cannot expect people to read over four hundred articles. A basic treaty for an organization such as the European Union can be made much shorter and much less complicated.’

This is why Vis, together with Frank de Vries (former lecturer in Constitutional Law, now alderman responsible for Spatial Planning for the Groningen Municipality) and Gerhard Hoogers (Senior Lecturer in Constitutional Law at the University), has launched the website www.rug.nl/rechten/bieg , which contains a simplified and much shorter version of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe as well as a number of concrete proposals for improving it. Vis: ‘We present ideas ourselves, but we also give our readers the opportunity to submit proposals for improvement.’ This should eventually result in a widely supported text. ‘The treaty text will not originate in Brussels for a change, but rather from the masses.’

Content considerations

One of the main reasons for the loud and clear Dutch ‘no’ in the referendum, according to the media, was that the Dutch did not want to lose their sovereignty. ‘But the content often played a very important role, too’, says Vis. ‘The first version of the European Constitution, for example, placed too much emphasis on a certain view of the economic market, and the relationship between European and national powers was not explained clearly.’

More powers for the European Parliament

More than three-quarters of the original text has been deleted in the version that is now on the website, leaving only the bare bones, the essence of the Treaty, to which the website initiators have added their own ideas. ‘Our proposal gives the European Parliament more powers in the process of legislation. We have, for example, included a formula for the division of power between the European Union and the national states based on the division between the Dutch Lower House and the municipalities. This will result in two-way traffic rather than the one-sided authority of Brussels.’

No economic views

Another important aspect is the emphasis on social and environmental issues, and the removal of economic choices that underline a particular economic view. Vis: ‘The European Union is an organization that needs a common market. However, the question of whether or not this market must meet neoliberal principles does not fit into our treaty proposal. Such choices are political, not constitutional.’

National contribution

Government leaders have lately been working on a new proposal for the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe. You could, therefore, argue that this website is a bit late. Vis does not consider this a bad thing: ‘The constitution that they are now drawing up will probably be changed again in four years time, like it always is. Of course we are hoping to make a contribution to a new constitution, and perhaps initiate a discussion that will have an effect in a few years. This website particularly aims to invite contributions to the content of the treaty at a national level, from legal experts but also from other interested parties in government or society. The website has also been translated into English, German and French. The announcement will be published internationally so that we can receive reactions from other EU member states.’

Curriculum Vitae

Berend Vis is a former staff member of the Faculty of Law of the University.

Information

Berend C. Vis, tel. 050 313 63 82, e-mail: b.c.vis rug.nl

or

Gerhard Hoogers, tel. 050 363 56 68, e-mail g.h.hoogers rug.nl

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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