Forging a Common Destiny

Controversial European Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner-designate Rocco Buttiglione talks with European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso at the end of a debate on the approval of the European Commission by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, yesterday. The approval of 25 countries and the European Parliament are needed for it to take effect, but otherwise, the hard part is over: The European Union has a new constitution.

Getting to this point has not been easy. From the UK’s Evening Times:

The signing, at a ceremony with other European leaders, intends to reform the way the community works, but has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the choice of Italian Rocco Buttiglione as a commissioner.

The conservative Roman Catholic has said he regards homosexuality as a sin and that single mothers are “not very good mothers.”

Incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso withdrew his entire team of commissioners in the face of opposition from the European parliament to the appointment. [More on that from the Times of Malta.]

Today’s event is essentially ceremonial and full talks on the issue may have to wait until next week’s EU summit in Brussels.

In the meantime, attention will be focused on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who now has to decide whether to continue backing his choice of Mr Buttiglione. Socialist and Liberal MEPs said they would not accept Mr Buttiglione, who had been selected for the justice portfolio. The dispute is shaping up into a trial of strength between the various EU institutions.

Even without the controversy, the leaders will sign the draft constitutional treaty knowing it will only if it is accepted by all members’ national parliaments accept it. Several, including Mr Blair, are committed to holding referendums on the treaty, any one of which could derail it.

In other words, the document signed today — New York Newsday presents highlights of the EU constitution — is not a done deal. Yet. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes reality and how long it may take. And then there is the troubled European Commission. The sum total should provide Europe watchers with much excitement.

The situation reminds me of the birth of the US Declaration of Independence. Its initial (pre-ratification) signing in 1776 was delayed by a dispute over bigotry — that of Southern slaveowners who wanted to make sure their “right” to own other humans was upheld under the document. Now we have, in 2004, the EU drafting a constitution and contending with the bigotries of sexism and homophobia. The more things change…

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