France has resoundingly rejected the proposed European Union constitution, plunging the EU into crisis and French politics into confusion.
The result of the referendum was a massive 56 per cent for the “no”, against 44 per cent for the “yes”, according to Dominique de Villepin, the Interior Minister. An unusually high turnout of 70 per cent of the 42 million voters had briefly raised hopes that the great legion of “undecided” might still tip the outcome to the “yes”.
But the results confirmed the predictions of opinion polls that a majority of French voters would repudiate all mainstream parties and plunge the EU into one of the deepest crises in its history. The French “no” is likely to encourage a Dutch “no” on Wednesday.
Rejection by a large, founding member state at the heart of Europe will, in effect, kill the proposed constitution stone dead. This would, at the least, force the enlarged 25-nation union to stumble on with institutions and rules designed for the original club of six. But last night in their initial reactions, EU leaders urged the continuation of the treaty’s ratification process. ~The Independent
Raffarin’s ministry has been an unmitigated failure from beginning to end. It began shortly after M. Chirac’s dubious, Stalinesque non-mandate of 80% in the presidential elections, trundled along stupidly through three years of mismanagement and domestic political weakness, the only highlight of which was M. Sarkozy’s law-and-order approach, and finished with a colossal failure that will leave Supermenteur‘s legacy in the wastebin. I pity M. de Villepin if he is called upon to pilot this ruined government. He is an unusually intelligent man, as far as anyone can say this of a professional administrator, and would not willingly subject himself to the political damage of taking over at this point. But he also suffers from the perennial flaw of being Chirac’s loyal follower, so he will likely become PM if only to deny Sarkozy an opportunity of causing trouble in the party.
The European constitution has been, by all rights, an irremediable disaster for Brussels. European political identity has been put to the test and been found to be hugely unpopular in those very lands where it was supposed to be strongest. There will be no more browbeating new and recent entrants with lectures on being “good Europeans” who must accept the constitution without protest. The French have made sure of that.
The EU has been the belated victim of the Cold War in one way: the Soviet bloc prevented rapid, pan-European expansion of a common market early on when all the devastated countries of Europe would have been more prone to leap at the chance. During the last 15 years, while the eastern Europeans have been discovering the highs and lows of independence and quasi-self-government, we have seen expansion proceed too slowly for all member states to be integrated to a point where they might have had many more common interests in ratifying a political union (not that this would have been a good idea, of course, but it would have been more likely). Attribute slow expansion to the sclerotic bureaucracy of the EU itself and the now long-established institutional privileges of earlier members. As long as the EU was a redistributive subsidy system, older members would have little incentive to accommodate newcomers. Our federal project and rapid expansion of states in the Union did not suffer from these absurdities because the incorporation of new states was not premised on the new members getting anything except full representation in Congress. Had redistributive socialist theories prevailed in early America, our larger, wealthier states would also have had no interest in forging a “more perfect Union.”
The Irish fought the Nice treaty as long and hard as they did because they would have been losing real political clout in the decision-making process of the Union. Had it been possible for more countries been incorporated early on, the impracticality of the liberum veto-like power of each country to block changes would have become apparent very quickly. The French ‘non’ is simply the latest in a long line of signals that the older member states both treasure what sovereignty they possess and enjoy the benefits system as it stands, and no measure of babbling about European unity will overcome these tangible goods.