Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, commenting on June 3 on the failure of the French and Dutch referenda on the European constitutional treaty, observed:
“Attempting to build a new Europe without providing people with sufficient explanation has a price-the French and Dutch 'no' to the draft European Constitution. Failing to place our trust in the Western values and principles that define European identity has a price -- the distrust of all Europeans. Filling people's heads with speeches imbued with suspicion toward the United States (and a fear of economic reform and the free market) also has a price -- people's trust and confidence is eroded even further.”
The French and Dutch decisive rejection of the treaty may or may not be a fatal blow to European integration, but it certainly slowed down that process and raised serious questions about the future of the EU’s structure, institutional legitimacy, and democratic character.
The first and most interesting aspect of the two votes -- 55 percent against in France, 62 percent in the Netherlands -- is how deep and diverse the opposition was. For the Dutch, the constitution represented a threat to their "progressive" social policies, from euthanasia and drugs (both legal) to prostitution (legal and unionized), and free-market economics. For the French Left, it was an attempt to impose "Anglo-Saxon" savage capitalism on their country's welfare statism; for the French Right, the document was a deadly threat to national identity and sovereignty.
The authors of the text, led by former French president Valery Giscard D'Estaing, sought contradictory goals: on the one hand, an "ever closer union" that maintains sovereignty of member states, an economic policy mixing free markets and socialism, and a consensual foreign and defense policy among states with completely different views of the world; and on the other hand, less and less democracy and accountability for an increasingly large bureaucracy in Brussels, the European Court in Strasbourg, and the European Commission. This latter aspect -- the "democracy gap" European elites finally started talking about the past few years but did nothing about -- is the most important.
Indeed, so great was the fear of popular opinion that, with the exception of Spain, all 9 countries that have approved the Constitution so far have done so through parliamentary votes, where strong party discipline and elite solidarity guaranteed the result. And elite solidarity was strong everywhere. In both France and the Netherlands, the government and major opposition parties were strong supporters of the document, as was the establishment media and academia. The negative vote has discredited them all.
In France, the negative vote was a vote against the establishment, more than against the EU. That explains the lock-step of the far Left (communists, Trotskyites, anti-globalists) and the xenophobic Right. But it also says a lot about France, its politics, and its false pretensions to the leadership role in Europe. Ironically, a country in which Marxists and other assorted reactionaries play such an important role inevitably has elites trying to impose an obsolete, socialist system on the rest of the continent: from bad economics (10.2 percent unemployment, 1 percent growth, protectionism, statism) to reflexive anti-Americanism.
The elites were trying to use the EU as their instrument of influence from within, the counter-elites through threats from without. Giscard wrote and Chirac pushed a text a la francaise; the communists attacked it for being insufficiently French. Hence an anti-globalist vandal like Jose Bove (best known for burning down a MacDonald's) wants a socialist EU right now; Chirac and his socialist opponents hoped for a steady, albeit slower, infusion of anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism.
Whereas the French attitudes were purely reactionary, the Dutch were mostly confused. On the one hand, they saw in the post-constitution EU a threat to sound economics. They were nostalgic for their old, solid guilder, resenting the euro and the price increases it brought in its wake. On the other hand, the very same people who voted "no" for fear of threats to their famous tolerance also recently and almost unanimously reached the conclusion that their tolerance has led to the rise of intolerant (and murderous) Islamic fundamentalism in their country. What, then, are the implications of the double "no" delivered by the French and the Dutch? Who are the losers and winners? What next?
The main losers in both countries -- and in all of Europe -- are the political and cultural elites, who now must realize that their "European project" is simply not going to happen any time soon. In France, more specifically, President Jacques Chirac and Socialist opposition leader Francois Hollande, whose party may well split over the referendum results, are both discredited. Chirac's popularity ratings are in the low 30s, with two more years to his term. The growing body of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels and judges in Strasbourg also feel that their wings have been clipped, at least temporarily. Another loser is Turkey. Although its potential EU membership was not directly involved in the constitution referenda, the very idea of that country (and its 70 million Muslims) joining Europe pushed millions of Frenchmen and Dutchmen into the "no" camp.
The winners are also a very mixed bag. One of them, ironically, is Tony Blair, whose Europhile but minority opinions in the United Kingdom were to be subjected to a 2006 referendum, one virtually certain to lose but now made unnecessary. Second, and despite the position of their elites, some Central Europeans (Baltics, Slovenes, Slovaks) will be able to retain their sovereignty for a while longer. And third, again despite official indifference, Washington comes out as a winner.
The constitution would have established, among other things, an EU foreign ministry and a common defense policy. That would have meant the institutionalization of what passes for present EU foreign policy: A modified version of Teddy Roosevelt's dictum, "Speak softly and carry a big carrot" -- especially as regards the Chinese, Palestinians, and Iranians. As for a common defense, even when polled, EU’s minimalist militaries do not constitute a superpower, but they do make for trouble and confusion. Washington's ability to form coalitions of the willing remains intact.
One implication is economic. The decision to create the euro, which made little economic sense and only barely made it into reality, is now being reassessed. And the euro is going down. The Italian welfare minister, Roberto Mancini, assesses that it "proved inadequate in the face of the economic slowdown, the loss of competitiveness and the job crisis."
The Franco-German push to control and steer the EU toward permanent strategic confrontation with the United States is at an end, with Chirac a lame duck and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder doomed to lose his job in the fall. If not permanently, then at least temporarily, small EU members retain their means to block the arrogance of the big ones and some limits remain to check Brussels' power, expansionism, and arrogance.
In more general terms, brakes have been applied to the idea promoted by the European elites of moving the EU toward a federation -- even if, as in France, it is for all the wrong reasons. Whatever their immediate reasons for voting no, the French unconsciously and the Dutch more lucidly have clearly implied that Europe is not the United States. Americans of all fifty states are Americans (even if it took a Civil War to confirm that), whereas the "Europeans" of twenty-five EU members, other than their elites, are still French, Dutch, Polish, British, or Hungarians, and want to remain so. It is said that Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency (Britain assumes this on July 1), was on the verge of tears when he heard of the Dutch vote. Americans and most Europeans need not feel that bad.