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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.