The rejection of the European Union constitution by French and Dutch voters caused a political earthquake throughout Europe. France, which along with the Netherlands is one of the founding members of the EU, turned down the constitution despite a campaign in its favor led by French President Jacques Chirac. The constitution is designed to streamline the European organization's decision-making process. But critics in France and the Netherlands warned of an expanding EU bureaucracy and said the constitution would transfer too much power from individual nations. The news of the referendum's defeat in both countries caused the euro to decline against the dollar.
French journalist Philippe Gelie, the United States bureau chief of Le Figaro, explains why he thinks the referendum failed in France: “Well, I think it's a no to many things. Probably, you know, to the government, and to people in power for the last 10 years. It's a no to a difficult economic situation and an uncertain future. You have a 10 % unemployment rate in France, which rises to 22 %, if you look at the people under 25, which is an amazing figure. And it's certainly also a no to enlargement of Europe, I think.”
The reaction to the no vote in France has been met with great interest by other European nations. German lawmakers recently approved the constitution. But like its French neighbor, Germany has serious economic problems. And following the defeat of his Social Democrats in a recent local election, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for national elections later this year..
Many European governments are deeply unpopular, mainly because Europe's economies have been doing badly, and France has very high unemployment, and so does Germany, says John Peet, Europe editor of The Economist. “And that's why the French and German governments are very unpopular, and I think that's probably the biggest single reason why French voters have voted against the European constitution, they just don't seemed to have found a way of getting their economies moving over the past four years and I think one of the lessons for them from the Sunday vote, will be, you must concentrate on getting your economy right, because if the economy's going wrong, nothing else works.”
Mattias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says some Europeans resent the growing collective bureaucracy in Brussels: “All those countries are facing a kind of crisis of their national identity. That was I think very important in France. Do we really want to give up more of our national self-determination and give it to Brussels or do we want to stick to it? And that is also true not only for France and the Netherlands, but especially also for Germany, there's a kind of super-angst. People are not really confident what the future might bring them."
Other European nations, such as Britain, have yet to ratify the EU constitution. Speaking from London, John Peet, the Europe editor of The Economist, describes the British reaction.
“Well, I think on the whole, people are rather pleased, because it was known that the British referendum on this European constitution would be very difficult, says Mr. Peet. “And the fact that France has now said no, and the Dutch have also said no,is being greeted as that let's us off the hook, we probably won't have to have a referendum in Britain.”
The EU constitution has been approved by Austria, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Latvia. All 25 EU members must ratify the constitution for it to take effect. The status and future of the European constitution will be a key issue at the upcoming EU summit this month in Brussels.