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International Journalists Discuss the Future of EU Expansion


Britain shelved a referendum on the European Union constitution Monday, following the charter’s earlier rejection by French and Dutch voters. Political analysts say this development strongly suggests the treaty cannot survive in its current form and sends a negative signal to new and aspiring EU members. All 25 EU member nations have to approve the constitution for it to take effect.

European leaders will consider what to do when they meet next week in Brussels, but most analysts are now predicting that prospects for the proposed EU constitution are slim to non-existent. Some suggest that prospective members, like Romania and Bulgaria – or Turkey, which is to begin membership talks in October – may have the most to lose.

However, Yasmin Congar, Washington bureau chief of the Turkish daily Milliyet, sought to put a positive face on the constitution’s rejection by French and Dutch voters, speaking with Judith Latham on VOA News Now’s International Press Club.

She said the vote will force everyone in Europe to discuss the kind of European identity they are seeking and it is better that should happen now than later in the accession process. But she acknowledged that some European politicians campaigning against the constitution had used Turkey’s prospective membership as a pretext for their “no” vote.

According to Matthew Kaminski, a Paris-based editorialist with the Wall Street Journal, what has been rejected is the notion that the EU constitutes a political system that can “stand up to America.” And he thinks the message to both new and prospective EU members like Turkey is that this rejection is not necessarily about them. Nor is it a rejection of EU enlargement. Mr. Kaminski said that the real problem with French and Dutch voters is their “unease with the way the world is changing” and, in the case of France, the threat to a very protective and stable welfare state with closed borders. He believes that some of the original EU members would be less anxious about immigrants if their own economies were doing better.

Matthew Kaminski also noted that some of the new members, such as Poland, were not happy about the new constitution, but they voted for it anyway, having been told earlier by the French that they were “bad Europeans” for opposing it. But, he added, if he were in Ukraine, which aspires to eventual EU membership, he would be concerned that the doors to Europe might be more difficult to open than in the past.

According to Olha Kulish of Volyn State TV in Lutsk, western Ukraine is indeed looking forward to EU integration down the road. She said Ukrainians are not worried about French and Dutch rejection of the proposed EU constitution because it will require considerable time for Ukrainians to improve their living standards sufficiently to be considered eligible for EU membership.

In fact, journalists in both the new member states of the European Union and in aspiring nations are generally playing down the French and Dutch no” votes on the constitution.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.