Who understands the EU constitution?

So the French voted ‘non’ yesterday to the proposed European Union constitution. That shouldn’t be a surprise, really, given the broad lack of general understanding in Europe about what the constitution means and what all its effects would be.

You can’t say there’s not plenty of information about the constitution – take a look at A Constitution for Europe, for instance, the EU website that has an enormous amount of information. That link is to the English-language site: the same info is there in 19 other languages.

Yet if you do wade through much of that information, it raises lots of questions in one’s mind that are pretty hard to find clear answers to. That isn’t helped when you listen to all the politicians’ jaw-jawing from every different and conceivable point of view, all of them with different axes to grind.

So what’s the average EU citizen to do? As with most things, if there’s something you don’t fully understand, the safe route is to not go with it. That looks like what 55% of French voters did, mixed in to be sure with lots of other French issues which undoubtedly played a role.

This Wednesday, the Dutch go to the polls to vote on the constitution. There’s been official communication about it – I’ve had two booklets delivered during recent weeks – and the Dutch Referendum Commission has detailed information on their website. Most Dutch media are pro-constitution, though, so the reporting has hardly been impartial.

In spite of all that, many observers here expect the Dutch vote to be ‘nee’ as well.

Here’s an interesting statement on the Dutch government’s news website last month:

A government survey has found that 74% of voters consider it important that the EU have a constitution. It has also found that voters who receive information about the constitution are more likely to vote in favour of it.

Heh! Do you think they might be on to something?

Getting information is one thing, though. Understanding what it means is another. The BBC News site has a simple but pretty good analysis of the constitution’s major points with some explanations on what they mean.

As I mentioned earlier, it still raises lots of questions. I’d say it’s time to go back to the drawing board, not so much on the draft constitution itself, but more on looking again at what’s needed to help more people gain a fuller understanding on what it all means.

EC Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom really has her work cut out.

Related NevOn posts:

7 thoughts on “Who understands the EU constitution?

  1. That Dutch Referendum Commission website is truly an example of your tax-euros at waste. It starts with the names of the people on the Commission and much further down starts talking about the Referendum. A truly terrible piece of communication! It is no wonder people are using No to get their own back at the this blatent bureaucratic ego-tripping. This wholse business must be one of the biggest communications failures in the last decade.

  2. I got the impression Dutch media are anti-constitution. Are we hearing different things in the same stories or are we following different media??

  3. I agree, Jonathan, it’s a pretty poor example of a website geared to ease of use by visitors.
    Elimine, I’m sure you’re reading far more papers than I am, and I bet more frequently as well. I’ve read perhaps a half dozen stories during the past month, so maybe not enough volume to form a judgement. Even though I did 😉

  4. The documents that were circulated before the vote were way too technical. This left politicians pro- and against to spin at their leisure. At the end, the people ended up voting on domestic matters, and the image of the “Polish plumber” seems to have had a devastating effect in a country that has 10% of unemployment. But has yet to do anything to introduce more job flexibility (hire/fire) and stop giving people more money when being unemployed than actually working.
    What the French don’t seem to understand (at least 55% of them) is that globalization is going to happen no matter what.

  5. I’m appalled, but not surprised, by the poor communication about the constitution. Here in Denmark, you pretty much have to go on-line or to a large public library to read it, though you need only switch on the radio to hear every politician from dogcatcher to PM telling you what to think about it.
    One thing that puzzles me…
    The US constitution begins: “We, the People…”
    The French constitution begins: “Le peuple français….”
    The German Basic Law preamble: “das Deutsche Volk”
    You’d think the European Constitution would begin: “We, the people of Europe…” etc..
    But, no: “His Majesty the King of Belgium… (and every other head of state)…” give us this constitution.
    Very, very poor thinking in the 21st century, I believe!
    I believe Europe needs this constitution… a pity they didn’t invite the communication department to the table.

  6. Will Margot Wallstrom reconsider running her blog? She only updated it on May 26th and clearly hasn’t looked at the hate mail in the comments – much of which accused her of not communicating. You would have thought now would have been a good time to enter into discussion and get passionate…not disappear.

  7. Jeff, the political fallout in France has only just begun, I think, as a result of the ‘non’ vote on Sunday.
    What will happen in the Netherlands which votes today? I bet it’s a no vote as well, maybe even more decisively than the French vote. We’ll know soon enough.
    Allan, you’ve highlighted one of the principal differences between this constitution and the ones you mention – they’re all to do with sovereign states whereas the EU certainly isn’t. So an EU constitution document would have to reflect that difference in how it’s worded. Of course, we could argue how the wording could still speak as representing all the peoples of Europe, etc, rather than how its preamble actually begins. Don’t forget it was a bunch of politicians who wrote this thing…
    Like you, I believe very much that an EU constitution is a good thing. But not any old constitution, and certainly not one as expressed in the current documentation that no one seems to understand.
    So maybe it should be back to the drawing board entirely, not just from a communication point of view.
    Jonathan, I also was surprised to see little, if anything, in Margot Wallstrom’s blog re the constitution. And those comments you mention – its a pity those wackos from left and right have hijacked her space. But ignoring them, as it seems she’s doing, won’t make them go away.

Comments are closed.