WASHINGTON -- When in January Donald Rumsfeld, responding to reporters, distinguished between ``old'' and ``new'' Europe, he misspoke. He intended to note differences between old and new components of NATO -- between the older members and the Eastern Europeans who have fresher memories of tyranny. Rumsfeld had been bombarded by reporters' questions containing dubious assumptions of continental homogeneity -- ``Europe'' believes such and so; ``Europe'' opposes this or that. Wanting to make a point about NATO, he instead made a provocative characterization of the entire continent.
However in one particular, all of Europe is, relative to the United States, remarkably young, meaning naive and inexperienced regarding the writing of a constitution. The handiwork of the 105 members of the convention which, led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, drafted the document for 16 months reflects a failure to grasp what a proper constitution does and does not do.
A proper constitution distributes power among legislative, executive and judicial institutions so that the will of the majority can be measured, expressed in policy and, for the protection of minorities, somewhat limited. A proper constitution does not give canonical status, as rights elevated beyond debate, to the policy preferences of the moment.
But that is what the proposed European Union constitution, with more than 400 articles, does. Americans know what controversies, and what license for judicial aggrandizement and for self-aggrandizement by the federal government, have been found in constitutional guarantees of ``equal protection of the laws,'' ``due process of law'' and the power to regulate ``interstate commerce.'' Imagine what fiats the European Union can issue to subordinated member nations regarding the proposed constitution's many rights and other guarantees.
Children, the draft constitution says, shall have the right ``to express their views freely.'' The constitution's proscription of discrimination based on birth causes Iain Murray, writing for National Review Online, to wonder what that means for the seven nations that are monarchies. And the sentiment that ``preventive action should be taken'' to protect the environment is unexceptionable, but what in the name of James Madison is it doing in a constitution?