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Scholar Traces Power Shifts

Expert on European Community Presents Contested View

By Matthew A. Light

The European Economic Community has gained more power over its member states because of an often-ignored revolution in constitutional theory, a legal scholar and expert on European affairs said yesterday.

In a talk at the Center for European Studies, Joseph H.H. Weiler of the University of Michigan said that over the community's more than 30-year history, power has shifted significantly from the independent nations to the community itself.

Weiler divided the history of the community into three periods. He said the "foundational period," from the organization's inception to the early 1970s, was marked by the creation of a "quasi-federal constitutional structure" in the community. This structure, he said, was largely the result of many rulings by the community's supreme court, which enshrined in law doctrines such as the supremacy of community law and certain human rights standards.

"These are all structures of a classical federal system," said Weiler.

But a 1965 political crisis had left the community states concerned over their sovereignty. During that crisis, the community had adopted a consensus form of decision making, which gave states a "de facto veto" over community policy, said Weiler.

Because of this, he said, decisions had been taking place "in the shadow of a veto," limiting the community's power.

Weiler said that more changes came during the second period, from the early '70s until the mid '80s. During this time, more states accepted the notion that the community's powers extend beyond those spelled out in the original charter. As a result, he said, authority was slowly transferred from the states to the community.

"The single most important constitutional development was the total collapse of idea of enumerated powers," Weiler said. "In the '70s constitutional guarantees of limitation on competencies of community disappeared into thin air."

Finally, during the third period, from the mid '80s until now, the community has abandoned its reliance on consensus for decision-making, Weiler said. Instead, he said, the states have increasingly accepted majority rule, strengthening the community's power over states that disagree with particular policies.

But Weiler said that while increasing central power will bring "new dynamism to economic and monetary union," it will also bring trouble.

Weiler predicted that courts in the member nations would challenge the community's central authority. And he said more European unity will mean more ideological clashes, especially since European nationalism is on the rise.

After Weiler's talk, other scholars challenged many of his theories.

Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffman, an expert on government and European affairs, criticized Weiler's paper for what he saw as its lack of clarity. He also disputed Weiler's claim that the community's increased power had roots in judicial structures.

In addition, several members of the audience challenged Weiler's views, prompting Weiler to say as the discussion ended, "Is this how Daniel felt when he left the lion's den?"

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