Open letter to Gisela Stuart (Gisela Stuart is a Labour MP in the UK and was a member of the Presidium of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which designed the EU Constitution)
Dear Ms Stuart,
In the Birmingham Post of October 7th, 2004, you said:
I would like to see people look carefully at the kind of Europe they want and put a constitutional framework in place that will achieve it.
Of the articles on the EU Constitution that I’ve read, you are the first, and maybe even the only one who makes an appeal to citizens to create their own constitution. This is all the more striking, because you have been a member of the Presidium, i.e. at the top of the European Convention which was commissioned with designing the EU Constitution. You have also been the only woman member of the Presidium, and the funny thing is that I think that only a woman could have made your remark – precisely because of the aspect of care, or, of togetherness expressed in it, I guess. Togetherness in the sense that the European Convention cared about a lot of things except this “togetherness”.
But of course it’s also striking that you said this, for in doing so you imply that the European Convention did not succeed in its tasks. As you yourself said in the Birmingham Post: it is a “lost opportunity".
Your appeal moved me and challenged me to respond, precisely because of the word, ‘people’ which you used. For ‘people’ – citizens – does not make a distinction between politics and the electorate, between the people and those who represent the people. EVERYONE’S A CITIZEN, BABY. To me this is very important, for it seems as if we are entangled in this polarization, as if this polarization decides our lives, even though distinguishing should help us, because we find it convenient sometimes. It is as if we are trapped in a system which we invented ourselves and we are no longer able to realize that the system, the distinction, is sometimes not convenient to us and we’d then better use different methods and different paradigms (thought models).
By this word, ‘people,’ you appeal for a paradigm shift. The EU is currently in a paradigm shift, from that of free market towards the one of democracy: the EU was formerly based on the notion of the free market and everything that came with it, now it has to make the shift to democracy for otherwise it becomes ‘Spaceship EU’ – something people feel no connection to, but, at best, they occasionally wave their handkerchiefs at. You now appeal to the people to help in this paradigm shift, because you the political elite cannot manage to do this on your own (this seems logical to me for the higher one climbs up in any hierarchy, the harder it often becomes to remember where one came from).
It so happens that I started to make the exact same movement, but in opposite directions. I sensed that the Constitutional Treaty is not a document we can straightforwardly be happy with. It’s really already in this wording: ‘Constitutional Treaty’. ‘Treaty’ points to the past, to all treaties which governments conclude. ‘Constitution’ points to the future, a future which the people can embrace. So, although this document marks precisely a time-hinge (and that’s what is beautiful about it), it is at the same time neither meat nor fish, that is to say it hesitantly leaves the past behind but it doesn’t look cheerfully enough in the future yet. But that should be of no surprise. A frightened (looking back) ‘No More War’ doesn’t yet mean the vision of ‘Henceforward Peace.’
And to poke my nose in this, is what challenges me. When I take up the position of “small” citizen (before you “big” politicians), then I often become very angry. I then see a lot of incompetence, of juggling with words, and, of stupid arrogance. And especially I see a lot of bureaucracy, with a lot of politeness, sometimes even benevolence and cordiality, but when push comes to shove, nothing moves one centimetre and you cannot even get mad about it because then it rebounds back on you, not on the institution. So I can start to call names and use bad language, or I can apathetically not engage myself with politics. I can shirk my citizenship and at the same time – or not even anymore – excite myself about how, for example, everything gets increasingly taken to court. And I can vote against the EU Constitutional Treaty out of revolt. I will indeed vote against it, not out of rebellion but because I do not want to deliver myself up to a document which is neither meat nor fish.
I’ve always been taught that just saying ‘No’ isn’t constructive by itself. So just to mark one square red is not a sufficient contribution for me. Besides, I don’t really achieve anything by it. I am also dissatisfied with my own, Dutch constitution. We are allowed to vote once every 4 years and in the mean time we are at the mercy not of God but of the politicians. This I find an insult to my intelligence and my democratic participation. Thus, suddenly I decided to turn the system around, so politics doesn’t have primacy (i.e. representation of the people) but I, or, the people ourselves are sovereign.
Ohh – and then things became creepy. For all of a sudden I had to reflect about what sort of constitution I want, and about what I understand by citizenship.
You see? That’s how I moved in the opposite direction – and ended up with you. With ‘people.’ And from this ‘people,’ from the fundamental, democratic equality I started the project EVERYONE’S A CITIZEN, BABY – A People’s EU Constitution. I want a constitution that fundamentally takes democracy as the starting point; that the people are ultimately sovereign, not the representatives of the people. There are already a number of people who support this aim.
To begin with Jeanne of course, who offered the project literally a house, in which its nerve center will be where all the input will be digested. And for example Fred, who found the last version of this letter to you much too long and much too angry and therefore decided – exercising his sovereignty! – not to co-operate in its translation. And a lot of people in and outside the EU, among them are lawyers, architects and my best friend’s aunt. But I will spare you a polite round of introductions.
Now an image pops up in my mind of a fresco, of Michelangelo I think. In this image a figure in the air reaches out to another, easy-lying figure. You can see this hand, stretched out reaching, and the hand of this other figure reaches out to him. When the fingers touch life is sparked.
Could we manage, Ms Stuart, to make contact and work together for a truly democratic EU?
Filia den Hollander
EVERYONE’S A CITIZEN, BABY – A People’s EU Constitution takes place from ‘Het Blauwe Huis’ (The Blue House), a Brainstorm project (Jeanne van Heeswijk & Hervé Paraponaris). Initiator Filia den Hollander started with citizens inside and outside the EU, among them are Lonneke Alsema, Floor Basten, Mauricio Corbalán, Albano Cordeiro, Bruce Eggum, James McGlynn, Julien Haffmans, Arjen Kamphuis, Jiri Polak, Fred Six, Thomas Thijssen, Pio Torroja, Inga Zimprich a journey in search of a just and modern constitution.
We have started a work document, in which we reflect about what should be in an EU Constitution. It is just a beginning and the document has by a long way not reached its conclusion yet, but meanwhile I’d like to offer it to you. Your suggestions and inquiries are welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Discussion list requirements in EU Constitution
• An EU Constitution should be democratic. This means that the people are the sovereign. The more hierarchic layers in which the people are represented (representation of the representation), the less the people’s sovereignty is guaranteed.
• An EU Constitution should be a clear-cut constitution, not a combination of a constitution and streamlining of former treaties. This is to have a precise understanding of its contents (of which regulations and secondary laws are deduced) and to avoid jurisprudence to a maximum. After all, not the law but we are the people.
• An EU Constitution should be understandable and at the service of the people in being understandable.
• An EU Constitution is politically neutral, this means it is not a program of this or that party (for example neoliberalism)
• An EU Constitution can be amended. Not too easy and decided by short-term lunacy, yet easy enough to stay contemporary but certainly not an impediment of 50 years.
• An EU Constitution protects against the arbitrariness of governments.
• An EU Constitution protects against tyranny by the separation of the powers (executive power, legislative power and judicial power).
• We want a democracy which includes participative democracy. Such as the budgeting system of Porto Alegre, Brasil.
• Binding referendums mean that the mandate to take decisions returns to the people. It cannot be the case that afterwards the representation of the people (who are, so to say, hired by the people) calls another referendum on the same issue – until the “right” answer is given (the right answer according to whom then?).
• We can be lazy or too busy for engaging with politics. What matters is that we have the right to co-decide directly on issues in our living environment.
• It should be that not only civil servants and the commerce and industry but also citizens can influence the decisions. For a lot of the decisions are of our direct concern.
• An EU Constitution takes globalisation into account. This means that it should be conceivable that a country which does not belong to what formerly was called “Europe”, can become a member of the EU.
• An EU Constitution takes into account the fact that we are becoming a network society (if we aren’t one already). A vertical structuralising of district à city à province à country à EU à the world, that is to say based on the place where we live, only holds up to a certain degree. (This is to be developed further.)
• In the EU Constitution it should be taken up that governments’ computers and software should be open source, so that no towering licence costs are paid from our taxes and we are not dependent on big companies (who are, by their nature, counter-democratic). And so that we can exchange our knowledge with poor countries who are also able to download free open source technology.
• Digital voting has to be verifiable.
• Presidents or top people become trendsetters in refusing fees which are beyond reasonability. (This refers to the moral limits of the principles of a free market.)
• Make a choice between a multiparty system or personification of the electoral system. We could work towards a meritocracy, that is to say the right persons in the right position (provided they do not become the new elite that shuts out other groups).
The new electoral system of Hamburg is already much more personified as well as super democratic. But as long as this is not the situation, people who became elected as member of a party, cannot separate themselves from that party once they’re in parliament, and then remain further as an “independent” representative of the people. It is strange that Geert Wilders could remain a Member of Parliament in The Netherlands. And the LPF (Lijst Pim Fortuyn) cut themselves loose from their backbenchers and stayed on coolly. We worry about such conduct – for we know all too well how in the past Hitler came to power because of constitutional juggling/game playing.
• Take up democracy in the Charter of Human Rights.
• An EU Constitution will, by its nature, overrule the constitutions of its members states. This means that an EU Constitution should be more democratic than the national constitutions, not equally democratic or less democratic. As a consequence, an EU Constitution means accepting the national sovereignty of its member states, except on the democratic issue. On the democratic issue, tools for decision making should be used which acknowledge the people’s conclusive responsibility for the well-being of their district, city, province, country, the EU and the world.
• As long as there is trade, there is no war. This was the logic behind the Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the start of the European Project which was based on ‘No More War’. For this reason we should cherish the notion of trade for, indeed, under its umbrella the EU could develop. However, we have also seen how sheer trade is a danger to our planet. For this reason it are precisely the democratic tools – the people’s decision making structure – which decide the balance between trade and environmental protection.
• Whether God has created the Earth or not, is only relevant to certain groups of the people. What is however relevant to all of us is the preservation of the Earth.
• We feel endangered by those people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause and who, in doing so, are also willing to sacrifice our lives and our relatives’. Our cry for protection is therefore to be respected. However, we have witnessed in various places all over the world and in literature what happens if we give our own sovereignty and individual responsibility as co-citizens (of those who are willing to sacrifice life) in the hands of those whom we ask to protect us. Therefore it is the democratic tools which decide the balance between sheer protection and our willingness to strive for a genuine integration.
• By genuine integration we also mean genuine integration of those who are weaker than us, for we acknowledge our equality through democratic equality.
• We cherish our Royal Houses for they give us identity and dignity. However, by their history they are counter-democratic. As a consequence, we accept the members of our Royal Houses as good contributive fellow-citizens but the institution of the monarchy may play no role in the democratic decision making procedures.
• Our level of democracy is the expression of our level of maturity as responsible citizens. For if we are allowed to co-decide more we also carry more responsibility. If there is to be competition between the EU and the rest of the world, it should be in our level of democracy – as was laid out with the European Project.
• May Allah, God, Jahweh, Jehova, ... be with us in our identity of genuine democracy.