A Constitutional Identity
The stories in this book may be read for their human drama. Individually, they tell us something about Muslims in France, Kurds in Turkey, gays in Britain, and so forth. The larger question is: do they say anything about Europe as a whole?
Universal human rights became European human rights because when the idea came along after World War II, the universe wasn't ready— but Europe was. The United Nations embraced lofty rhetoric in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Elegant as that document may be, it is merely aspirational. The UN lacked the unity to agree upon a practical, enforceable treaty. The United States, among others, vetoed the creation of a right to individual petition. The Council of Europe, which signed the European Convention on Human Rights two years later, was the broadest grouping with the political will needed to create a practical regime of supranational law. As the Convention's preamble stated, it was the aim of “European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the Rights stated in the Universal Declaration.”
A 1949 pamphlet by the European Movement made the same point more explicitly: “It is difficult to see how [the Universal Declaration] can produce any practical results so long as the United Nations include totalitarian states.… However, what may not as yet be feasible on a world-wide scale is both possible and necessary within the more limited and more homogeneous circle of the European democracies.” The European Convention had the advantage of being immediately doable.
The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, in much of his work, calls on the inhabitants of Europe to will into being a “constitutional identity.” By