As per my posting of last week, and the speculation of most of Europe, the French voted down the treaty that would accept the new EU constitution by a considerable margin.
Read the excellent coverage from the Times of London.
This is a huge development, and the word is that voters in the Netherlands will also reject the treaty when they go to the polls tomorrow. This would, in effect, kill the new constitution, causing the alliance to return to the drawing board.
This is a huge blow to Jacques Chirac, who was re-elected as almost a "lesser-of-two-evils" candidate in 2000. He was running against far right-wing nutjob Jean-Marie Le Pen. This meant that most of France, having no other choices (imagine that...more than two choices for President), voted for Chirac. It was, interestingly enough, this rough coalition of moderate right-wingers, socialists, communists, and other left-wingers who dealt the treaty its defeat on Sunday. This will almost certainly lead to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin being asked to resign, probably before the end of this week. This widens the political vacuum in a country where the President has not enjoyed popular support for some time. Any time you can get French right and left wingers to unite is a serious referrendum on the current leadership.
Why did this happen? The reasons given seem a lot like things that Americans have been complaining about of late. Most central in a lot of comments that I read was frustration over jobs going to less-prosperous EU members and other nations around the world. This has helped to drive unemployment in France to about 12%. The French people, like others around Europe, are uneasy about the expansion of the EU, especially the case of Turkey. They see the alliance helping the lesser nations at the expense of the greater.
Another dimension that must be considered is that soon the British, and PM Tony Blair, will take over the EU presidency for a six-month period. It will be a critical task of Blair to salvage the constitution and see what of the EU can be saved and made acceptable to all member states. It was also Blair who championed the application of Turkey for EU membership. He can really leave a great mark on the alliance in this time of crisis. It will not be easy, but Blair has proved himself a very capable politician.
What will happen next? Who can tell? The most likely next move might be to ask the French to vote again, although I think this becomes less likely if the Dutch reject the constitution. Will the British hold such a referrendum? If they do, it would most likely be accepted...the British stand to gain with EU expansion, moreso than France. Will the EU crumble? No, but this definately puts it in doubt and also calls into question the French dedication to the alliance. France, often seen as a very pro-Europe country, has shown that it's population is not happy with the direction that the alliance is taking. Will Jacques Chirac lose his next election? Yes, and I think a moderate socialist will take his place.
This situation continues to develop. Keep an eye on it because what happens to a united Europe most certainly has implications for the United States in trade, policy and other facets of the relationship. We ignore Europe at our peril.
"Check the Box Sunday"
4 weeks ago