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The EU Constitution: The Cart before the Horse 1/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-01 10:02:21
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While the signing of the EU Constitution in Rome in 2004 was hailed as a “new beginning” by the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Galkenende, who then presided over the EU Council, there were, and there still are, ominous disturbing signs that by ignoring the “old beginnings” the cart was placed before the horse once again, as it has already happened with Italian unification.

“I never feel so European as when I am in a cathedral” (Robert Shuman)

On Friday October 29th 2004, twenty-five heads of state comprising the European Union put their signatures to the proposed EU constitution in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, Italy. Also signatories were three candidate states: Bulgaria, Rumania and Turkey. Two of them have since entered the Union. The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Galkenende hailed the event as “a new beginning.”

To be sure, the “old” beginning hark back almost half a century to 1957 when the Treaty of Rome was signed in the very same August Room where the EU Constitution was signed. That treaty established a permanent alliance among six founding European nations. Those were the days of De Gaulle, De Gasperi, Eidenauer, Churchill, Shuman, Monet: the visionary founding fathers of a United Europe. One has to wonder why inexplicably, one hardly ever hears of them anymore. It’s as if they had been relegated to the generation of the old Europeans of the “old beginnings,” a sort of passè generation superseded by the generation of “new beginnings,” born after 1950.

The drafting of this important document by the Constitutional Convention, headed by Gisgard D’Estaing, began in 2001 and took two years of debates, negotiations and compromises, not to mention fierce disagreements of various kinds, the most notorious revolving around the issue of the mentioning of Christianity: whether or not the document ought to have any reference to a deity, something present in some 90% of constitutions around the world, or, even more particularly, a reference to Christianity which many knowledgeable Europeans, even the atheists among them, consider not only a sine qua non for understanding the European cultural identity, but the cement needed to hold together disparate countries with disparate languages and mores.

As it happened, the acrimonies continued till the last minute before the planned signing. The secularist liberal politicians would not compromise on this issue on the ground that a strict separation of Church and State had to be honored thus insuring “laicitè” or secularism which in turn insure each individual’s civic rights, including the right to worship and practice the religion of his/her choice, or not to practice any religion at all. So paradoxically, they were asking that people be anti-clerical to protect Christianity from itself. The specter of the Inquisition and past religious wars was duly resurrected, never mind the more glaring failed experiment of the Soviet Union, a State without religion, underpinned by a political ideology called Marxism with all the trappings of a secular ideological fundamentalism, not to speak of Nazism.

In any case, this fierce opposition to the reference to Christianity in the EU Constitution effectively derailed its planned signing on 13 December 2003. It seemed that Iris, the goddess of discord had made her appearance on Mount Olympus on December 13th 2003 and had thrown her famed apple on the banquet table. This was an embarrassment for the presidency of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi at the EU Council of Nations. The Irish presidency also failed to produce a signing.

The Dutch presidency succeeded however where the other two had failed. It managed to settle the issue of proportional voting and insure that the signing took place in Rome, forty seven years after the beginning of the new entity called the European Union. Thus the concluding ceremony of the Constitutional convention in Rome resembled its beginning in Brussels, when the goddess Europe was invoked by Gisgard D’Estaing.

Indeed, Santayana was on target when he said that people change their gods but hardly their way of worshipping them. So the event begs the question: was it a genuine success or a Pyrrhic victory of sort? I’d like to analyze those still fresh events in the light of the past events of Italian unification. There is a forgotten lesson there that I believe will return to haunt the European Union; for while Marx might have been wrong on many aspects of his social philosophy, he was right in one particular aspect: those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it, even if, as Santayana also reminds us, the second time it may come about more as a farce than as a tragedy.

In 1870 Rome was snatched away from Pope Pius IX and became the capital of a united Italy; a new latecomer to the community of European nations, since 1861 it had proclaimed itself a liberal constitutional monarchy under Victor Emanuel II. The architects of this new polity were Count Benso di Cavour, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi. This was indeed a new Rome with a fresh “new beginning” epitomized in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s famed novel Il Gattopardo. It was not the first Rome of the ancient Roman Empire, or the Medieval Holy Roman Empire; nor the second one of the Renaissance King Popes who governed the whole of central Italy, the so called Papal State, but the third Rome: the capital of a new liberal secular nation intent on claiming its rightful place among the nations of Europe, colonialism not excluded.

And in fact sixty short years later the king of Italy was proclaimed Emperor of Italy Ethiopia, Eritrea and Libya by none other than the strong man of Italy, holding the bridles of power as a sort of omnipotent Roman consul, Benito Mussolini, who, to better obfuscate and mystify matters, had resurrected the Machiavellian myth of the direct genetic line to the Romans.

Mussolini strutted about calling the Mediterranean “mare nostro.” The reality is that 90% or more of the genes in present day Italians are not Roman. In present day Italians there are genes that belong to Arabs, Normans, Longobards, Visigoths, Fenicians, Greeks, French, Austrians, Spaniards, Celts, you name it and they are there. So the national anthem which proclaims that “Italy has woken up and dunned on her head the helmet of Scipio,” to finally evict the invading foreigners as Scipio had done with Hannibal, rather than a Machiavellian political reality is a caricature, a sort of “the impossible dream” of simple-minded racist nationalists and imperialists: the Petains, and the Mussolinis and the Hitlers and the Bossis and their descendants.

This was so because the foreigners now lived inside the very genes of the people who had invaded Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire; the pure Roman race as well as the pure Aryan race were chimeras pure and simple, an historical fraud perpetrated on the people; for Italians were now one of the most bastardized races of Europe, and all the better for it. But despite the bastardization, people somehow managed to live together in harmony because they could be inspired by certain ideals rooted in universal experiences such as the Roman Empire and the Catholic (the word means universal) Church.

Dante’s De Monarchia reflects that reality and proposes it as an ideal. No more in 1861. This new modern nation was now bent on aping the imperialism of the other nations of Europe and don the tight jacket of a secular centralized nationalism contemptuous of regional differences, an experience to which she was not well-accustomed.


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Clint2007-10-01 14:53:31
The EU machine plows endlessly on with its obsession for a European State. Politicians constantly ignoring their electorate. France and Holland rejected strongly to the Constitution in 2005 by 56% and 61.6% respectively but do they listen? Of course not back they come with the same document disguised under a new name. In the UK Blair promised us a referendum which we didn't get because the French and the Dutch saved him from an absolute spanking at the polls. New Premier Brown refuses the UK a vote despite Labour's promise in their manifesto. Why? Because he knows it will receive a whopping NO probably around 70 to 75%. Presently in the UK it does not matter a jot whether the proposals in the new document are beneficial or not, anything European will receive a NO vote. Not because we are bad Europeans but because we want a say in our future which is continuously denied us. When we joined under Heath in the 70's it was called 'The Common Market'. Nations trading under equal terms! What a joke. People who said that it would eventually lead to a European State with its own currency, flag and leader were laughed at as being 'crackpots'. It is a different story now. We were told that if we didn't take the 'Euro' we would be placed in the financial wilderness forever. History now proves different. They just cannot rule us by fear alone. Whether Brown concedes to a referendum is very doubtful, whether he is brave enough to go for an early election we we have to wait and see, but if he does and the Conservatives win [it will be close] the wheels on the EU Constitution juggernaut will fall off allowing mainland Europe sliding merrily on their way but the UK in control of their destiny as it should be.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-01 15:35:42
Indeed, as outrageous as it may sound to those "Newropeans" parading univeral principles but practicing xenophobia at home and abroad, a cathedral (see the openining remark of the founder of the EU on top) may be a more universal symbol of cultural unity than a crass common bank or an imposing common army. So the questions remain: what does it mean to be a European? Which are the values we freely share within Western Civilization and which are undemocratically imposed? Do we know. The proposed EU constitution far from being an inspiration to the people, gives no clue and the common sense of the people has spoken and will continue to respond.

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