Making Sense of the French Vote on the EU Constitution
by Dean Myerson
May 31, 2005

British Green MEP Calls for Halt to UK EU referendum

Q&A: The European Constitution Publication/Source: Guardian Unlimited,9061,1482639,00.html
By: Simon Jeffery
Date: May 31, 2005

very serious for the European Union. Member states have voted against
important treaties before with little impact on the organisation, but
the pattern is unlikely to repeat itself this time. The Danes voted for
Maastricht (1992) in a second referendum when they were offered
opt-outs on several areas and the Irish accepted the Nice treaty (2000)
the second time around when a clause was inserted to respect Dublin's
military neutrality. In each case the EU went on to landmark
achievements: the introduction of the euro and enlargement into the
formerly Soviet sphere of central and eastern Europe.

are two reasons why it is different this time around. Firstly, France
was a founder member of the European Economic Community, the EU's
forerunner, and is one of the 25-member body's key players. A French
rejection, more so than one from any other country except perhaps
Germany, signals malaise and a disconnection between the voters of
Europe and the EU institutions.

Secondly, the constitution is
a different treaty to Maastricht. Whereas Maastricht - the treaty that
turned the European Community into the European Union - added more
policies to the EU remit, the constitution's purpose is to streamline
the EU to make it more effective. France could not, for example, be
offered an opt-out on the relative voting weights of different EU
members or the size of the commission. Renegotiating a treaty that went
through two nail-biting leaders' summits before all 25 members agreed
to sign it would be a near impossibility.

The fall out from
Sunday's referendum has also had immediate ramifications for France.
The government's resounding defeat led to the resignation of the prime
minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who has been replaced by Dominique de
Villepin, a Chirac loyalist deeply opposed to the Iraq war.

Villepin takes over at a difficult time for the French economy.
Unemployment is high and the French president, Jacques Chirac, is less
popular than his landslide victory in the 2002 elections would suggest.
His second term could be his last.

Where does it leave the constitution?

including the Italian foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, want the other
EU members to push ahead with ratifying the treaty in order to keep it
alive and the possibility of resolving French disputes with the text -
a line which the French president is reported to back - but if the
French vote leads EU national leaders to abandon the constitution then
it is finished.

Articles on the organisation of the
commission, or the merging of the two existing foreign policy
portfolios into a single foreign minister could be revived in later
treaties, but the wider principle of one-speed European integration
would have been dealt a severe blow. From here the EU could go down
several routes: one would be a hard core of eurozone countries centred
on the deeper economic integration of France and Germany; the other is
a so-called messy core where certain EU members work together on areas
that concern them but ignore the ones that interest them less.

of these is against the spirit of the constitution. The text omits the
lines from the treaty of Rome, the EEC's founding charter, on "ever
closer union" and allows the use of EU institutions for "enhanced
cooperation" between member states that want to go further than the
others - but to do this outside the framework of a constitutional
treaty would push the EU into paralysis if national leaders were forced
to focus again on the workings and processes of the agreements between
them, the drive of much intergovernmental EU business since 2000.
Projects such as economic reform - the British-backed Lisbon agenda -
would fall either further behind their original timetables. Future
enlargement could also be halted.

Why was the constitution drawn up?

avoid stasis and paralysis in the EU's decision-making processes as it
expands from 15 to 25 and then a possible 30 members. Some members of
the convention that drew up the draft treaty, a body headed by former
French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, had higher ideals about
writing an equivalent to the US constitution but those dreams got lost
along the way.

What is in it?

The 400-plus pages merge
the overlapping existing treaties into a single text setting out the
EU's rule book, the workings of the single market and the processes by
which member states will make decisions in the areas they have agreed
to work together on.

In its new areas, it strengthens the role
of the European parliament, giving it an equal say to the council of
ministers (the main intergovernmental body) on decisions put to a
majority vote, increases the scope of national parliaments to revise
European law and establishes a European diplomatic corps. It also ends
the rotation of the EU presidency between member states on a
six-monthly basis. A president appointed by the member states would
instead conduct the business between them and, alongside the union
minister for foreign affairs, serve as a figurehead for the body to the
outside world. With the exception of the introduction of majority
voting into 26 policy areas - the most significant being asylum - the
EU's remit is not extended into any new areas.

The lack of an
overriding principle or grand idea to the constitution - which, like
all EU treaties, is a contract between nations - is, however, the
principal weakness of the yes campaign. Regardless of the merits or
otherwise of its contents, it is a difficult text to argue for. A
product of summit compromises as much as the convention, it is complex,
legalistic and self-referential. One sentence reads: "The European
Union established by this treaty shall be the successor to the European
Union established by the Treaty on European Union and to the European

What was the basis of the French 'no' campaign?

opposition came from both the left and right, often on areas that have
nothing to do with the constitution. The right rode a wave of
opposition to the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. The left used
anger about a commission proposal to allow the service industry to
operate more freely in the single market to argue the constitution
represents the triumph of Anglo-Saxon economic liberalism over a
French-inspired "social Europe". There is a case that new voting
procedures would make it harder for a country such as France to block
reforms to the common agricultural policy and the EU economy, but the
constitution does not in itself introduce reforms.

There were
internal factors too. The French president, Jacques Chirac, has become
increasingly unpopular since his election win three years ago. Many on
the left only voted for him in the final round run-off to keep
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front leader, out of the Elys´e Palace.

As is often the case with politicians, there was also some
opportunism involved. Laurent Fabius, the former prime minister who
signed Maastricht - a cornerstone of the constitution - led a populist
no campaign, in part to propel him to the 2007 presidential election.

Where else will referendums be held?

Ten of the EU's 25 members planned to put the referendum to a popular vote.

Netherlands is widely expected to vote no this week, which would almost
certainly kill off the treaty. Like France, the Netherlands is one of
original six founding members of the EEC .

The issues
surrounding Dutch opposition to the treaty are different from those in
France. Whereas the French no campaign focused on the recommendation to
liberalise the EU's services sector, economic issues are largely at the
root of the Dutch concerns.

Price rises that accompanied the
loss of the guilder and the launch of the euro, coupled with hostility
towards the new eastern European members from last year's expansion,
have angered Dutch citizens.

There are also concerns that
national symbols of tolerance - cannabis-selling coffee shops, red
light districts and legal euthanasia, may be at risk under the new

Spanish voters approved the constitution in
February on a 42% turnout, and referendums are also due to be held in
Denmark, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Luxembourg and Portugal.
The rest have opted for parliamentary ratification. Some new members,
such as Malta, argue their electorates were allowed a direct say on the
EU relatively recently when they voted on joining.

which approved the constitution, is barred from holding referendums by
its postwar constitution, while, for other countries, parliamentary
ratification is simply seen as the safer option. The opposite is the
case in the Czech Republic and Poland, where large numbers of
Eurosceptic MPs and shaky coalitions mean the constitution is more
likely to be approved by the people than their parliament.

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