Constitutional corridors

Comparing Constitutions - Governing the New Europe - Constitutional Policy and Change in Europe
March 22, 1996

The fundamental changes to the European system of constitutions since 1989 are covered comprehensively by the three works under review, which offer valuable new contributions to comparative constitutional studies.

Jock Hayward and Edward Page's book is the most general and wide-ranging of the three. It takes as its point of departure the massive geopolitical upheavals in the last six years and provides an outline of the resulting major political developments in Europe. The three main parts of the work are devoted to the question of nationality and nation-states, the new political and institutional framework in Europe and to some core European policy areas, respectively.

The first section, entitled "A constellation of sovereign states" is an overview of political theories on state development and a typology of state-forms. The transformation of Europe from tribalism to modern statehood is traced through the ages from feudalism to nationalism in the modern era.

A remarkable feature analysed in this context is the development of the common-law versus the continental legal systems. Another contribution focuses on the building blocks of nationhood, ethnic culture and national identity in postwar Europe, and assesses them with relevance to further integration and its appeal to various parts of society. Further chapters concentrate on the anatomy and evolution of democracy and on the European economy in western and particularly eastern Europe.

The second main part, "The political system at work", encompasses essays on political preferences and the impact of social movements for politics, a very helpful investigation of the evolution of political party systems in western, eastern and southern Europe, an evaluation of the manifestations and role of parliamentary democracy and the executive and legislative powers in modern Europe. The chapter also contains examinations of other pillars of modern state structure, such as pressure groups and organised interests, the administrative system and bureaucracy and the judiciary, particularly on the level of constitutional review procedures.

In section three, "From leader to follower", the main European policies are subjected to an in-depth analysis, from European Political Cooperation and the new Common Foreign and Security Policy in the context of recent developments in ex-Yugoslavia to wider security considerations, an investigation of the new role of Nato and Western European Union and a speculation on international relations in the year 2000.

The volume is rounded off by essays on the promotion of industrial firms, history and future perspectives of the welfare state in Europe and a general outlook on European-wide political tendencies in post-cold-war Europe, such as the decline in support for mainstream political parties, the re-emergence of violent nationalism and the implications of European Union enlargement.

From the chapters offered in the volume, the ones revolving around politics are doubtless the most interesting ones for students of European studies or comparative politics, the others, interesting as they are, are often too specialised and theoretical for general textbook use. But the researcher, especially the one interested in questions of national identity and some aspects of EU politics will find a lot worth reading here.

Constitutional Policy and Change in Europe, published in the Nuffield European studies series, is also a collection of essays, focusing on the more specialised legal issue of requirements of constitutional adaptation in Europe. The introductory chapter outlines the basic premises: constitutional rebirth in eastern Europe mirrored by necessary constitutional reform in the West and accompanied by changing constitutional processes in the European Union. This is followed by an assessment of the tradition of liberal constitutionalism, stressing sovereignty and basic liberties, as embodied for instance, in the United States constitution. In this context, the author makes the very questionable statement that in the English system of "constitutionalism without a written constitution" basic rights have been better protected than in Europe - the ongoing argument about press intrusions and protection of privacy in the UK surely point in another direction here. Moreover, it is disappointing and revealing at the same time to find the word "continental" omitted in a book of this nature, when referring to Europe from the UK perspective. The second contribution about liberal constitutionalism compares its development in the US, the UK and post-war Europe and points to the ambivalence between constitutional requirements and the welfare state.

Other major chapters of the book investigate the constitutional situation, the uncertainties, the change and necessary reform of the constitutional systems of Britain, eastern Europe, post-unification Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

In the course of these chapters, the sections about the function of "constitutional guarantees" (eastern Europe), about European integration (Germany), the proportionality rule and community review (UK), and basic rights (Spain), are particularly readable and provide a good first overview of the scope and the different aspects of the subject matter.

The eastern European situation is justifiably dealt with in a separate chapter, presenting contributions on the original Visegr d Four; Poland, Hungary the Czech and Slovak Republics. This section should be the starting point for any reader interested in future EU membership of these states, following their applications and in the EU's pre-accession strategy vis-a-vis the central and eastern European states.

In a last part, the book deals with one of the most decisive issues shaping the current constitutionalism debate in Europe, ie the question of the evolution of a European constitution, reflected in the overcoming of the nation-state idea and the general development of integration itself from 1946 onwards, via EPC, the direct elections for the European parliament and recent treaty amendments, such as the Single European Act and the Treaty on European Union.

Too little attention is paid to the role of EC enlargements in this process and the role of national constitutions, but the institutional balance of power and subsequent changes to it are included, as are various models, from impractical to possible, for the future of integration. The work finishes with a separate chapter summarising the impact of constitutional achievements, the obstacles to it and the amount of constitutional change in western and central and eastern Europe and the EU.

Overall this book represents a very interesting and in-depth account of recent constitutional developments in Europe and is particularly commendable to anyone interested in the comparative aspects of the common-law versus the continental law tradition, in the tension between national sovereignty and further European integration and in Central and Eastern European studies.

The last book is a compilation of European constitutional texts, introduced by two general chapters and an essay about the UK Constitution. Designed primarily as a three-part reference book for students of law or politics, it draws on earlier work by the authors and makes accessible the modern constitutions of the US, Germany, France and the Russian Federation in the order of historical emergence and in their latest versions.

These texts are supplemented, where relevant, by their historical predecessors, such as the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and The Citizen of 1789. In a second part, the most recent versions of pivotal European documents are presented, if in short excerpts only. Thus, the European Convention on Human Rights and the treaties of Rome and Maastricht are partly documented, including the institutional framework. The omission of the rules governing the Single Market initiative, the four freedoms, and other areas, however, renders the work less usable for comparative study and would allow the conclusion that the main focus of the book was intended to be the provision of some national constitutional law, with just the bare essentials of a European background. In the light of an increasing organic interlocking between national and European constitutional questions, this omission weighs heavily, as it allows nothing but the most superficial comparison.

In the national context, however, the book excels. The section about the "indeterminate", "indistinct" and "unentrenched" UK Constitution sheds light not only on the thorny issue of national parliamentary sovereignty versus European legal supremacy but covers a wide range of topics, from religion, local government, defence and external relations to citizenship, questions of unitarianism and federalism, fusion and separation of powers.

Georg Wiessala is a senior lecturer in European studies, De Montfort University, Bedford.

Comparing Constitutions

Editor - E. Finer, Vernon Bogdanor and Bernard Rudden
ISBN - 0 19 876345 X and 876344 1
Publisher - Clarendon Press, Oxford
Price - £30.00 and £12.99
Pages - 395pp

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