Wednesday 25 April 2007

Constitutions: of brevity and verbosity

Is it A Tale of Two Cities or The Elements of Style, one might wonder. Anyway, the word-count shows huge differences between the two sides of the Atlantic.

It takes the outward size of my EU passport and 58 pages to house a Preface, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America and two hundred years worth of Amendments to the Constitution of the USA. Well, I have to admit that my passport is slightly slimmer with only 42 pages.

What the Member States of the European Union managed to sign on 29 October 2004, as an agreement on a Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, is in printed form a hefty book with 448 Articles and about 272 pages of protocols, annexes and declarations, 482 pages in all.

The modernised Treaty would show less of the split between the European Community and the European Union, formally collecting the existing Treaties under the EU hat, and the new Treaty would be easier to read and to navigate than the existing ones. Heavy reading, still.

After the unfortunate referendums in France and the Netherlands the Heads of State or Government of the Member States (the European Council) may choose to chop large parts of the Constitutional Treaty in order to save a few essential reforms to enable a Union of 27 members to function.

The result would be even more multi-layered than today, a harder read, because the existing Treaties would still be there.

What does the relative brevity of the US Constitution show in comparison with the verbosity of the EU Treaties, existing or future?

Well, two centuries may have led to new perceptions of style, but perhaps the main difference is the attitude towards the enumerated powers of the Union.

The powers of the US Congress and the President are succinctly mentioned in the US Constitution, whereas the European Union is given clearly less powers, hedged with substantial and procedural caveats.

Less is more.

Ralf Grahn

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