News

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.
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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs