5 Principles of a Constitution

posted on March 10th 2008 in Democracy with 0 Comments

One of the highlights of the empowerment symposium in February was going for dinner and sitting between Phil Booth, from NO2ID and Carolyn Lukensmeyer from AmericaSpeaks.  Amongst other things we talked about the previous symposium in Budapest and I went on as usual about how inspiring a speaker had been.  He was a law teacher from Marseilles called Etienne Chouard and he had been a major part in the "Non" vote in France when the European Constitution was put to a referendum in 2005.  He produced an analysis of the constitution as it had been and explained why he thought it should be rejected in plain and simple terms.  He also set out his five principles of constitutional law and states why the European Constitution of 2005 failed those principles. 

  1. A Constitution should be readable to allow a popular vote: this text is impossible
    to read
  2. A Constitution does not enforce one policy or another: this text is biased.
  3. A Constitution is revisable: this text is sealed by a requirement of double unanimity.
  4. A Constitution protects from tyranny by separating powers and controlling them: this text does not organize a true control of powers, nor does it provide for real separation of powers.
  5. A Constitution is not something granted by those in power, it is drawn up by the People itself, precisely to protect itself from the arbitrary use of power, through a Constituent Assembly, independent, elected for that purpose only and afterwards revoked : this text enforces European institutions that have been established over the last fifty years by the men in power, who have been, therefore, judge and party.

I was reminded of the first whilst watching BBC’s Question Time last week.  As you’d expect the Lisbon Treaty (which some say is the same as the constitution rejected by France) was being discussed on Question Time as it had been in the House of Commons the day before.  Marcus Brigstocke (a comedian – often the non-politicians make most sense on the panel) stated that he was against a referendum because the treaty was too complex for ordinary people to understand.

Had Etienne been on the panel I’m sure he’d have told Marcus that was the reason why the treaty should be rejected.  His first principle is that constitutions should be able to be read by the populous.  Wouldn’t it have been more democratic if the writers of the European Constitution had taken Etienne’s five principles and rewritten the constitution in a form that cold have been voted upon instead of concocting a treaty that ordinary people could not vote upon because it is unintelligible.

I expect that if we got principle number five sorted, that the constitution is written by the people rather than those in power, then the first four would be much easier to achieve.

As talk of a Bill of Rights for the UK continues perhaps Etienne’s principles should be remembered.

(Photo: cc Thorne Enterprises)

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