EU Faces Crisis of Confidence after Charter Rejections

Roger Wilkison

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, wipes his eye during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels
The European Union is facing a crisis of confidence, after Dutch voters joined their French counterparts in rejecting a new constitution for the 25-member bloc. The decisive "no" votes in two of the EU's founding members could stall the bloc's expansion plans and disrupt decision-making on vital economic issues.

After the French "non" on Sunday, came the Dutch "nee" three days later. And the twin rejections of the EU's road map for further integration have left the bloc's leaders wondering what to do next.

The official line out of Brussels, as expressed by Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the head of the European Commission, is that the ratification process should continue, despite the constitution's rejection by the French and the Dutch.

"All the member states should have the opportunity to express themselves, to say what they want, what is their opinion," he said. "I think that's fair. All member states should be treated equally."

That view is certainly shared by Latvia, where lawmakers Thursday gave their decisive approval to the constitutional treaty. That means 10 member states representing about half of the EU's population of 454 million have now ratified the treaty.

Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks does not agree with those skeptics who say the constitution, which must be approved by all 25 EU countries, is dead as a result of the French and Dutch votes.

"We are an independent country, one of 25, and we think that this treaty, which was negotiated for two years, is the best compromise that we could find," he said. "We know it's not a perfect treaty, but we have to go on, and this treaty offers a little bit better opportunities for smaller countries, and for an enlarged European Union in global competition."

Mr. Pabriks and other EU leaders say that, if four-fifths of the member states ratify the constitution by the end of next year, the bloc can then decide how to deal with the problems of those countries that have rejected it.

Some type of strategy is likely to emerge at an EU summit in Brussels in two weeks, but only after a range of options is explored. Most leaders will likely press for ratification in other countries. Some will propose extracting parts of the constitution and placing them in another, lesser treaty, so that the EU can function better than it does now. The British, who want to avoid a referendum of their own, in which the constitution would be rejected, may suggest privately that the charter be scrapped.

Meanwhile, EU leaders are wondering why The Netherlands, traditionally a champion of European integration, voted so decisively against the constitution. Yes, there was anger at the price rises that followed the introduction of the euro single currency. And, yes, there was concern that The Netherlands is the biggest per capita contributor to the EU budget. But Frans Weisglas, a leading member of the Dutch parliament, says his fellow citizens felt that they were losing control over their lives.

"They are afraid of Brussels," he said. "Too much decisions being taken in Brussels. So, that's the thing. They're not against Europe. But it's going too far, too fast, and it's too complex."

That message is backed up by Thomas Rupp, of the European "No" Campaign. He says the constitution is a symbol of the push by European leaders for an ever-closer union that ordinary citizens are not yet ready to absorb.

"And it is quite obvious that they definitely said 'no' to the new constitution, not to Europe," he said. "They just do not want to lose control. They do not want to give too much power to Brussels."

Europe now finds itself at a difficult crossroads. With complaints being expressed by French and Dutch voters about the consequences of its enlargement to the east, what happens now to the candidacies of Bulgaria and Romania, which are due to join the union next year? And what about Turkey, due to begin membership talks in October?

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn acknowledges that enlargement fatigue played a role in the French and Dutch votes, but says the bloc's expansion will go on.

"In my view, the best response is to underline the need to respect the criteria of accession as strictly as possible, and that is, in fact, my main message to the candidate countries," he said. "As regards Turkey, we have defined very strict and clear conditions, which Turkey has to fulfill, before we can start the negotiations. They are related to the rule of law, to comprehensive legal reform, and, once Turkey meets those conditions and continues to normalize its relations with Cyprus, then the European Union has a commitment to open the accession negotiations with Turkey."

The defeat of the constitution in France and The Netherlands has sent the euro to its lowest level in eight months against the dollar. Former European Central Bank chairman Wim Duisenberg says that is a consequence of the political uncertainty on the continent.

"There are three lame duck governments in France, in Germany and Italy," he said. "That creates uncertainty. And that's always bad for a currency. The political uncertainty created will hamper the efforts in Europe to introduce more structural reforms, which are so very, very necessary."

If the most immediate issue facing Brussels is what to do about the constitution, the most pressing long-run challenge the EU faces is how to reconcile its need to create economic growth and jobs, and the desire of voters, especially in France, Germany and Italy, to preserve their generous, but unsustainable, welfare state. That is the real question Europe's leaders must grapple with, if the continent is to regain confidence in itself.

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs