France Rejects European Constitution
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
MARGARET WARNER: At the Place de la Bastille in Paris where the French Revolution began, the crowd last night was jubilant. They were celebrating the resounding blow that French voters had just dealt to the European Union’s first proposed constitution.
WOMAN: We can’t accept a constitution that doesn’t give us a chance to really live in a real democracy, and that’s why this “no” is very, very, very important.
MARGARET WARNER: With a huge turnout, and a decisive 55-to-45 percent margin, French voters said “Non” to a draft constitution designed to make Europe a more cohesive entity. The result was a stunning political blow to French President Jacques Chirac. It also spells trouble for the constitution itself, which must be ratified by all 25 EU member states to take effect. Chirac had warned before the vote that “Europe would break down” if France rejected the treaty. In a brief televised statement last night, he tried to put the best face on the defeat and insisted that France’s commitment to the EU would remain strong.
PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC (Translated): France has democratically expressed itself. You have, in your great majority, rejected the European constitution. It is your sovereign decision and I take note of it. However, our interests and our ambitions are deeply linked to Europe. France, one of the union’s founding countries, naturally remains within Europe, and I must tell you and our European partners, as well as to all the people of Europe, that France will continue to keep its position, respecting its engagements.
MARGARET WARNER: So far, nine countries have endorsed the constitution by parliament or referendum: Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Austria, Slovakia, Spain and Germany. Germany’s parliament voted in favor of it only last Friday. The 450-page document aims to streamline EU decision-making after the recent addition of ten new members.
It also creates two new posts of president and foreign minister for greater coherence in international affairs. And it defines the separation of powers between the national governments and the largely unelected EU bodies in Brussels. The draft constitution faces another hurdle Wednesday, when the Netherlands holds its referendum. The latest polls suggest a majority of Dutch voters are also inclined to vote no.
MARGARET WARNER: For more now on the French revolt against a stronger Europe, we turn to Jacqueline Grapin, president of the European Institute in Washington, which focuses on trans-Atlantic relations; Marc Chavannes, Washington bureau chief for the Dutch newspaper “NRC Handelsblad,” he was previously stationed in Paris; and Charles Kupchan, director of Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was director for European affairs on the National Security Council under President Clinton.
Welcome to you all and thank you for coming in on Memorial Day. Jacqueline Grapin, what do you think best explains yesterday’s result?
JACQUELINE GRAPIN: Dissatisfaction if not exasperation. I think the French people, the majority of the French people, have expressed the fact that they suffer from the policies which are developed at the level of the European Union which is different from the French level, without consultation. The two most important areas of dissatisfaction are the enlargement which has been…you know, ten new countries have been added to the EU without consultation of the populations and the introduction of a free system of movement of workers across Europe. And this is hurting the working class in France.
So, in the last ten years, it’s been, you know, job creation has been very, very slow. Many people are jobless. And it’s just an expression of the fact that people don’t like the policies. It’s not against Europe and it’s not — you know, it would be as absurd to say it’s against Europe to say it’s against France. It’s against the policies that are being conducted.
MARGARET WARNER: Marc Chavannes, do you see it that way, that it was sort of economic dissatisfaction most of all?
MARC CHAVANNES: In France, I think it’s fear for capitalism, what they call outre liberalism, which is raw capitalism.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean somehow having an EU constitution would bring that on?
MARC CHAVANNES: Yeah. I think it’s — as Jacqueline said — those ten new members and especially Turkey looming at the border make Europeans that get the chance to vote because in Germany, for instance, it was the parliament that said it’s fine. The anti-political class in Europe is saying yes and people are hesitating. In France they said we’re not so sure that a Europe with all these new countries will be able to guarantee the sort of social safety net we’ve come to be trusting. It’s a comparable set of fears.
MARGARET WARNER: Fear of greater integration, economic — what else, Charles Kupchan?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think that Jacqueline was right when she said that this is a set of concerns that motivated the “no” vote that really wasn’t about what was in the constitution. It was discontent with the establishment — 10-plus percent unemployment in France. A sense that the elite not listening to the concerns of the average Frenchman.
And in many respects this is as much about globalization as it is about Europe because Europeans in Western Europe are watching their industries move to low-wage economies in Poland or Hungary. They’re seeing de-industrialization to China. And rather than dealing with this, they’re saying well, let’s blame Europe but it’s actually not Europe that’s the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: And what you’re saying is there was nothing really in the constitution that would have hastened those developments, those economic developments. I heard someone refer to it as the “Polish plumber” syndrome. Was there anything in the constitution that would have exacerbated that?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: There are some concerns. That is that you have the free flow of labor, goods and services within the EU. As Marc mentioned, the prospect of Turkey raised the idea that you’ll have thousands and thousands of Muslims flowing in. But the bottom line is that the French had a choice. You stare globalization in the face and you get ready to compete in the global economy or you stick your head in the sand. They stuck their head in the sand.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Marc Chavannes, now in the Netherlands the polls as we just reported are showing that I think the no voters seemed to have a 14 percent lead at least in the polls. Why is that? What’s driving that?
MARC CHAVANNES: I think all the above is valid. On top of that, the Dutch have had a very bad recent experience with Europe. The Dutch got the euro and the elite said that’s fine, that’s great. That’s wonderful. The next day we had a huge price explosion. On top of that, part of the euro system was the stability pact, which means that all countries have to stick to a maximum of 3 percent deficit, et cetera.
It sounds technical but the real disappointment was that the small countries were held responsible to stick to those common rules because everybody was giving in on freedom of policy. But when Germany and France couldn’t stick to the rules, the rules were waived so the Dutch felt severely let down by Europe and the Euro.
MARGARET WARNER: Now many observers who have gone over there to report on this also say that anti-Muslim sentiment or sentiment against Muslim immigration which has been particularly heavy in the Netherlands is a big factor. Do you agree with that?
MARC CHAVANNES: Well, I’m not so sure — we have the Muslim murder last year of Dayo Fohuoch. But there is a very objective fact. Turkey will be the largest EU country. It will be larger than Germany. And the Dutch fear, I think — and that’s very factual — the Turks will have more influence on Dutch affairs than the Dutch. And they pause, I think. Do we really want that?
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think, Jacqueline Grapin, if we look at the impact this vote is going to have, do you think that it will be seen, read, as an anti-expansion vote?
JACQUELINE GRAPIN: It certainly will. But in fact it’s going to steer political debate in Europe. Technically it is not a disaster because the treaty of Nice, which is governing European system, continues to apply. But the irony of the situation is that the constitutional treaty, which is being rejected by the French and possibly by the Dutch and by others, was supposed to improve the situation and make it easier for the governments and the elite, the European elite to govern this very large entity.
Now they are going to be disturbed not to know very well what to do. Now they have committed to including Romania and Bulgaria, supposedly, in 2007. The negotiation with Turkey has been cleared to start last December without consultation of the people. There could be serious reactions to that if the governments are wise they are going to be prudent on this which means that probably it will take longer than expected to include those regions.
MARGARET WARNER: Two related questions to you, Charles Kupchan. One, do you think that the “no” vote in France, from what you hear, will have an effect on the vote on Wednesday in the Netherlands. And two, if you have two back-to-back “no” votes, what do you think is the greatest impact of that?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I would think that the French “no” will edge the Dutch in the direction of following suit and also voting “no” in part because it is a watershed event in a symbolic sense. France is really the engine of European integration since the beginning of the 1950s and it comes along and says we’re not so sure we like this anymore. If there are two “no” votes, it really will raise the fundamental question, should Europe continue on and let all 25 vote? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question yet. Technically –
MARGARET WARNER: You mean whether the other 14 even go through the exercise.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Yes, because it does take all 25 for it to pass. Do you, for example, want to have Tony Blair who faces a very strong “no” tide going out there pressing, pressing, pressing if it doesn’t matter in the end anyway.
MARGARET WARNER: Does that mean the constitution is dead?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: There are several possibilities. One is that you play it out. You see how many said yes, and then you try again. My guess is what will happen is that some aspects of the constitution will be pulled out of the current document and then put back before the people in a more simple way and probably pass in that form.
MARGARET WARNER: Marc Chavannes, what is the potential impact? How should people in the United States look at this if they’re mostly concerned with U.S. interest and what affect it may have on the U.S. relationship with Europe?
MARC CHAVANNES: Most Democrats and Republicans I’ve talked to over this, on this subject admitted that U.S. has always had an ambivalent relationship. On the one hand, yes, postwar Europe had to be rebuilt and had to be strongly united. On the other hand — and I think Charlie would agree — people became a bit nervous when this united Europe started talking about armed forces and being ready to fight a war somewhere around the globe.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Especially after the rift over Iraq.
MARC CHAVANNES: Especially then. That ambivalence was visible. And on top of that, the current administration is pushing Europe to integrate all these new countries and democracy export, Turkey, come on. Why do you hesitate? And I think the U.S. will have to appreciate that the European construction over the last 50 years is a miracle — the end of three wars in one century. But it takes a lot of people and a lot of languages and a lot of cultures and traditions. And this is the way it is.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that in terms of the impact on the U.S. and its relationship and attitudes toward Europe?
JACQUELINE GRAPIN: I think that the U.S., when it considers the situation short term might say, well, this is in our best interest because we don’t see this sort of this caring counterpart power mounting. But I think really in the long term it is in the interest of the U.S. to have a stable and unified Europe, something that the administration sees very well. That’s why it’s pushing towards integrating as many countries as possible. And I think this is what is going to happen but it will take more time than expected.
MARGARET WARNER: And brief final vote from you on whether this is positive or negative for the U.S.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Negative. And I think there are two issues in the short term, Turkey. The U.S. wants this in, Turkey in. This is going to hurt Turkey’s prospects. And two, weakness from Britain to France to Germany to Italy. Very weak governments. The U.S. is looking to Europe for help around the globe. Weak governments aren’t good on that front.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Charles Kupchan, Marc Chavannes and Jacqueline Grapin, thank you.