News

French 'No' Vote Could Stall European Integration

Multimedia

Audio

Leftist militants wave placards reading "No, another Europe is possible" in Toulouse, southwestern France
France's decisive rejection of the European Union's draft constitution in a Sunday referendum has catapulted the 25-nation bloc into a period of both political and economic uncertainty. The EU has been cast into uncharted waters as it tries to figure out how it should deal with the debacle.

French voters, worried about unemployment and a withering away of their country's welfare state, dealt a potentially fatal blow to the EU's constitution in what turned out to be a head-on collision between the hopes of Europe's political elite and the fears of a large segment of the French public.

EU leaders are saying the show must go on, that the ratification of the constitutional treaty designed to streamline decision-making in the 25-member bloc, must continue until every nation has had its say. Nine countries, including such heavyweights as Germany, Italy and Spain have already approved the charter. Only France has rejected it, but another referendum on Wednesday in the Netherlands is widely expected to result in a second "no" vote.

Technically, if one member state rejects the constitution, it will not go into effect. But EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson says that, whatever the French think about it, it is still too early to declare the constitution dead.

"France, whilst important, does not have a veto over everyone else's actions. So, whilst the French government will clearly reflect on this result, other member states will want to go ahead and consider the treaty."

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, says any re-negotiation of the treaty to satisfy the French nay-sayers is out of the question.

He says that, "among those who voted against the constitution in France, there were those who wanted to stop European integration altogether and those who wanted to speed it up." He asks, "how do you deal with such a contradiction? You cannot renegotiate the treaty under such conditions," he says, adding "We have to reflect on these French and possibly European contradictions."

Mr. Juncker is hosting a summit in Brussels next month that was originally supposed to thrash out the EU's next seven-year budget. But with the referendum results in France and a probable September election in Germany, any deal requiring sacrifices from either of those two countries, and from the Netherlands as well, seems out of the question. One of Mr. Juncker's aides says he thinks the summit will be dedicated entirely to finding a way out of the constitutional impasse.

Another key question is whether an EU in stagnation mode will be ready to begin membership negotiations in October with Turkey. Strong antipathy to Turkish membership in France and the Netherlands is likely to pick up support from Germany, if the conservative opposition wins the national election there. And what about Romania and Bulgaria, which are due to join in 2007? Will their accession be put on hold too?

One of the elements that played strongly in the French referendum was a sense among voters that they were not consulted by the political elite on such decisions as enlarging the EU last year to include ten new, mostly ex-communist states in Eastern Europe. Neither did they have a say in EU rules that impose discipline on member states' spending and inflation levels.

Margot Wallstrom, the deputy head of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, says that, although the constitution was meant to make EU decision-making more democratic and open, it failed to take into account the concerns of ordinary citizens.

"I think that we have underestimated the fact that citizens also want to have a say and want to be involved," she said. "And I think that we have to realize that the European Union cannot stay a project for a small political elite, but we have to anchor it much better."

The reason most cited by French voters for their opposition to the constitution was that the document referred to opening the European market further to competition. That, to many of them, was proof enough that the low-cost, low-tax economies of Eastern Europe would siphon away their jobs.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country takes over the EU presidency in July, says he will try to focus more on jobs and less on the constitution.

"Underneath all this, there is a more profound question, which is about the future of Europe, and, in particular, the future of the European economy and how it deals with the modern pressures of globalization and technological change and how we ensure that the European economy is strong and is prosperous in the face of those challenges," said Mr. Blair.

The problem is that while Britain, the Scandinavian countries, the Dutch and the Eastern Europeans want a Europe of open markets, France has voted for a Europe in which national governments have the power to intervene to protect their citizens against open markets. Europe has reached a fork in the road. Does it choose open markets with all the painful adjustments they entail? Or does it try to preserve the welfare state where everybody has a social blanket, even though it is no longer economically sustainable?

Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute of International Relations, says the most likely outcome is that each country will go its own way.

"Today, New Europe is full of dynamism, energy," said Mr. Moisi. "It looks closer to Asia in terms of energy, and it is in Poland and the Baltic republics, maybe in Great Britain. And there is Old Europe, in France, Germany and Italy, trying to protect a social model that no longer exists."

Diplomats in Brussels say one side effect of the EU's new post-French referendum uncertainty is likely to be a prolonged period of introspection that will distract it from major foreign policy questions like Iran's nuclear program and the proposed lifting of its arms embargo on China.

One diplomat recalls that, in the early 1990s, the EU failed to deal adequately with the violent break-up of Yugoslavia partly because it was so concentrated on such internal matters as Europe's monetary union.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs