Dutch Voters Reject EU Constitution at Polls
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: Today’s Dutch vote rejecting the European Union Constitution was the latest blow to the charter in four days. A voter in southwestern Holland explained his reasons for voting nee.
VOTER: There are still a lot of things to be done in Holland before cooperation in Europe can become better. So I think it’s a wrong decision to let Brussels take more decisions for us before we can clean up our own mess over here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Prior to Sunday’s French vote, nine EU members had ratified the constitution by either parliamentary or popular votes: Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Austria, Slovakia, Spain, and Germany.
But because the constitution must be ratified by all 25 members to take effect, the French vote sent shockwaves across Europe. In France itself, President Jacques Chirac shook up his government, and in a televised address last night, Chirac said he was responding to voters’ discontent.
PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC: You are calling for determined, immediate action to respond as soon as possible to the present difficulties, which are unemployment and spending power.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The French vote also raised a dilemma for British Prime Minister Tony Blair on whether to go ahead with a constitutional referendum in the UK.
TONY BLAIR: I think what’s important now is to have a time for reflection, but I think that underneath all this, there is a more profound question, which is about the future of Europe.
And in particular, the future of the European economy and how it deals with the modern pressures of globalization and technological change and how we ensure that the European economy is strong and is prosperous in the face of those challenges.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It’s expected that the EU leaders will have to come up with a new plan for the constitution when they meet later this month.
GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner takes it from there.
MARGARET WARNER: So what were the French and Dutch voters saying, and where does the European Union go now in light of their votes? Joining me to explore that is John Bruton, the EU Ambassador to the United States. He’s a former prime minister of Ireland. And welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
JOHN BRUTON: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What do you think the voters were saying? How do you explain what looks like a popular revolt against this constitution?
JOHN BRUTON: I think what has happened in the European Union is that we have been moving forward quickly with expanding the union admittedly by unanimous agreement from six members originally, now to twenty-five countries.
Globalization is changing the way people feel about the security of their jobs; and the aging of our societies is making people worry about their pensions and so on. And there’s a sense of almost future shock in Europe. People feel things are just moving too fast for them.
And I think to some extent, this is the first opportunity people had, as they thought, by saying no, to say, "Hold on. Just stop, stop for a moment to give us a chance." I don’t actually think that people were objecting to the actual initiatives that were in the constitution, the new things in the constitution, which are not all that many.
Most of the constitution is simply consolidating in one document powers that are already there. And, therefore, of course the European Union will be able to continue with its work with all the powers it already has.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let’s explore a couple of things. You mentioned, for instance, the backlash against globalization. There have been certainly conservative writers here who have said what it really shows is what the Europeans are rejecting quote "free market capitalism," or at least the kind they see here in the U.S. They don’t want to lose the social protections of the systems they have. Do you think that’s true?
JOHN BRUTON: Well, if that is true, it really hasn’t anything to do with the European Union, because the question of social protections, what level of unemployment benefits you get if you become unemployed, what rules govern job security — these are all matters for the individual member states to decide.
They’re not decided by the European Union. They’re decided by France, by Germany, by the Netherlands themselves. So in a way, if they’re worried about that, what they’re worried about is maybe that their government is going to run out of money and not be able to pay these things.
Or maybe their government is going to decide that in order to create more jobs, you’ve got to tell potential employers that it is possible to lay people off after a while. But that would be ultimately a decision for their own government in their own country, not a matter for the European Union.
MARGARET WARNER: So what you’re talking about is what is actually in the constitution –
JOHN BRUTON: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: — because somehow in the public’s mind, this freer trade, all these new members that have been brought into the EU, did seem to make voters feel that there was a sort of economic pressure that was going to somehow force changes.
JOHN BRUTON: Yeah, and you see that in this country, too, with concern about outsourcing. In France they call it delocalization, but it’s the same thing. People are worried about the future because we see new competitors coming into the market.
India and China able to produce things much more cheaply than we can in Europe and the United States. And that’s causing concern. I think some of that was seen in people taking the first opportunity they had to make their feelings known.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you also think there was a cultural aspect to the problem, that voters in these countries that felt in this rush — as you described it– to European unity, that some of their national identities were being erased, whether it’s the end of their national currencies, or, you know, the fact that the EU has imposed standards on everything from electrical outlets to the way cheese is made?
JOHN BRUTON: Well, no, we have in some cases imposed uniform standards, but in other cases we’ve simply said you must recognize the standards set by other countries so there’s free trade.
MARGARET WARNER: I guess what I’m asking, though, is do you think that — whether the examples are right or not — and forgive me if they’re not–
JOHN BRUTON: Well, they’re commonly used examples.
MARGARET WARNER: But they’re commonly used examples — that the French and Dutch just felt it’s part of a sort standardization that they’re resisting.
JOHN BRUTON: I don’t really think so because France is as much France now as it was 40 years ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Clearly.
JOHN BRUTON: In fact, France, by being part of the European Union, is able to play on a much larger stage, is able to influence the actions of 450 million people rather than just the actions of 50 million people.
And that’s the equation for each country in the European Union. By being in the European Union, they’re able to have some say in the world. I don’t think there are very many things that people sit back and reflect, as Tony Blair was suggesting we should do.
I don’t think there are many things that people could say, "Look, we can do these things better if we separate ourselves from the other 24 members, than we can do if we try to do them on a cooperative basis together with the other 24 members.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Here’s another explanation I’ll throw at you that’s been offered, that it was a revolt against the political elites and a revolt against the sort of faraway authorities in Brussels that has — in their view — not been accountable.
It’s largely unelected; and that it’s done things like expand the EU from fifteen to twenty-five members, virtually overnight, without consulting the public.
JOHN BRUTON: Well, every decision to bring in a new member has to be agreed by all of the existing members.
MARGARET WARNER: But not the public.
JOHN BRUTON: Well, in the case of France, the government by the French people agreed to the addition of the ten new members; likewise in the case of the Netherlands. If the Netherlands has a problem with immigration, those people have been allowed into the Netherlands, by the Netherlands government, not at the request of the European Union.
Immigration policy remains something that each country decides for itself. Unfortunately, I think people in government, in individual countries, like to blame Brussels, rather than take responsibility themselves.
It’s very easy to blame somebody else. Sometimes Brussels doesn’t even answer back and that’s even better for a politician who is looking for somebody to blame, if he can blame somebody who doesn’t answer back.
MARGARET WARNER: Now you wrote, or you said on Monday after the French "no" vote that you thought that the impact would be primarily psychological -
JOHN BRUTON: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: — in terms of the real effect of this. What do you mean?
JOHN BRUTON: Well, I think that it has little legal effect. The powers of the European Union, its power to do business on the consumer trade protection, trade development front remain.
The rights of European citizens to live and work in other countries remain exactly as they are. What this "no" vote in the two countries concerned does do is sort of give those who might want to move faster in a particular direction pause for thought.
Psychologically, I think the enthusiasm of people to do, to put forward new European initiatives may be diminished, but the powers to do it are still there, and I think if you can show to people that there are things like combating cross-border crime, combating terrorism, combating the drugs trade, that 25 countries together can do better than 25 countries separately, the people will agree.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it will slow the rush to further EU expansion, for instance, for the Ukraine or some of the Balkan countries that aren’t in, or Turkey, of course?
JOHN BRUTON: I think – well, the reality remains that for any country to join the European Union, including countries that are currently in negotiation, like Turkey will begin negotiations at some point in the near future.
At the end of the negotiation, each of the existing members has to agree for that new member to be taken in, and that’s reasonable because a new member joining the European Union has an impact on the existing members.
MARGARET WARNER: But what I’m asking is whether you think this will slow that down. That’s sort of what you’re suggested Monday.
JOHN BRUTON: Initially I think it will, certainly, because I think we have a need to, if you like, ensure that we, having moved from 15 to 25 very quickly, that we can actually work as 25, that we’ve got to know the procedures well enough for 25 before we increase it to 30.
MARGARET WARNER: So is this constitution dead? Do you think that the other 14 countries should even go through the exercise of ratifying one way or the other?
JOHN BRUTON: That’s a matter that has to be decided by all of the countries together. It’s not possible for two countries to sort of make a decision for all twenty-five. But I think at the end of the day, when they’ve considered it, the reality is that the constitution can’t come into effect until all 25 have actually agreed.
MARGARET WARNER: So what does the EU do next? I mean, is it time to regroup, rethink? There was some commentary today in the Financial Times, one former EU commissioner saying, "The EU has been oversold as the answer to everything."
I’m sure you disagree that it has been, but the fact is that that’s the perception. Is it time to rethink what the EU is and what it isn’t?
JOHN BRUTON: I think it’s time to be more honest, as I think the person you’re quoting was suggesting, more honest about what the European Union can do and about what it cannot do.
And what is the matter of responsibility of nation states to do, and indeed maybe of local firms and local individuals. The European Union can’t take responsibility for solving all the problems in people’s lives. People have to take their own responsibility.
Governments at the national level have to take their own responsibility, but the European Union must take its responsibility and we need to explain that there are different levels of responsibility and the EU is not either to blame for or entitled to the credit for everything that happens.
MARGARET WARNER: So if this constitution– I think what you’re saying is, it is dead.
JOHN BRUTON: Well, no, I think — if you ask me my own personal opinion –
MARGARET WARNER: Please.
JOHN BRUTON: I think that the process of introducing this constitution is now going to be considered delayed, but at the end of the day — and I don’t know when the end of the day will be — we do need a simplified, consolidated constitution.
And when that day comes — and I hope it will be soon but it may not be — I think this will be the document that will become the constitution.
MARGARET WARNER: So you don’t agree with those who say, "It’s ridiculous to call it a constitution. Only countries have constitutions. Renegotiate parts of this, carve out parts as treaties, just be less ambitious."
JOHN BRUTON: I don’t think that renegotiation is going to take place, because this is a package. We may, as some suggest, may take out individual bits of it and put them individually to the people to see if they like, you know, more action on crime, if they like more consultation of their national parliaments, if they like having a single foreign minister rather than two foreign ministers.
We may have to ask people to look at individual bits of this before we consolidate it into one document. But a solution will be found. The European Union has faced many crises in the past. There was a time when one country refused to even attend meetings. We got over that.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador John Bruton, thank you so much.