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France Rejects European Constitution

Voters Say No by Wide Margin, Defying Leaders and Endangering Unification Plan

By Craig Whitlock

Washington Post Foreign Service

Monday, May 30, 2005; Page A01

PARIS, May 29 -- Unhappy French voters on Sunday derailed plans to further erase political and economic barriers in Europe, decisively rejecting the proposed European constitution and thumbing their noses at the country's governing elite, which had pleaded for approval of the measure.

The margin of defeat was wide, with about 56 percent voting against the constitution, and voter turnout was high. Opposition leaders harnessed widespread disenchantment over a variety of issues, including the unpopularity of President Jacques Chirac, the weakness of the French economy and fears that the country would lose its clout to a strengthened European central government.

The French defeat throws into confusion -- for now -- the campaign to fashion a constitution for Europe, since each of the 25 countries that belong to the European Union must approve the document before it can take effect.

The French vote does not mean the end of the European Union, which will continue to function under rules adopted by treaty in 2000. But it will freeze efforts to give more authority to the central European government in Brussels, such as the power to set foreign policy as well as to regulate fisheries, housing and myriad other issues.

"There is no longer a constitution," said Philippe de Villiers, leader of Movement For France, a nationalist party that had warned that France would suffer if the European Union continued to expand its borders to include poorer countries such as Turkey. "We need to reconstruct Europe. This vote says there is a real difference in this country between the institutions and what the people really want."

In a brief televised address shortly after the polls closed, Chirac said he accepted the will of the voters. "France has expressed itself democratically," said Chirac, who had lobbied heavily for approval of the constitution. "It is your sovereign decision."

"But let's not be mistaken," he added. "The decision of France inevitably creates a difficult context for the defense of our interests in Europe."

Chirac did not comment on his own political future but hinted that in the coming days he would announce a shake-up in the government, which has sagged in opinion polls. Critics amplified their calls for him to resign before his term ends in 2007. Chirac has not ruled out running for reelection, but his already weak political standing was hurt even more by the referendum results.

E.U. leaders held out hope that they could salvage the constitutional campaign. They noted that nine countries had already given their assent and insisted that other members be allowed their say as well. If France remains the lone holdout, backers of the constitution suggested, another referendum could be held and French voters might be cajoled into approving the document.

"The European process does not come to a halt today," Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating E.U. presidency, said at a news conference at the Brussels headquarters. "The ratification procedure must be pursued in other countries."

But the constitution could run into more trouble Wednesday, when voters in the Netherlands are scheduled to hold a nonbinding referendum. Opinion polls show that a majority of Dutch voters are inclined to vote no. If the Dutch join the French in opposition, some lawmakers and analysts said the constitution might have to be scrapped or renegotiated.

The French revolt against a stronger Europe marks a reversal of its historical support for greater unity with its continental neighbors. The origins of the European Union can be traced to an agreement forged a half-century ago by France and Germany to combine their coal and steel industries.

Since then, many French political leaders -- including Chirac -- have pushed for a more integrated Europe as a political and economic counterweight to the United States and China. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing helped draft the proposed constitution and lobbied for its passage, a stance shared by most French political leaders as well as the business and media elite.

But dissatisfaction has bubbled under the surface in France and in other European countries that have been plagued for years by high unemployment and uncertainty over who should belong in the European club.

Many French voters who opposed the constitution said they were angry that they had not been given a chance to vote on E.U. expansion from 15 to 25 members last year, pulling in most of Eastern Europe. The prospect that Europe's boundaries might be extended even further -- to Muslim Turkey and impoverished Ukraine -- has also unsettled many people in France.

"I voted no out of a concern for democracy," said Gilles Noeul, 28, an engineer who attended an opposition victory rally Sunday night in Paris. "For me, the decisions should not be made by Europe, but by each nation. I want France to make decisions for herself."

Economic anxieties played a big role in the referendum campaign. With France mired in double-digit unemployment rates, opponents said they worried that the constitution would enable low-wage workers from Eastern Europe to migrate to France and compete for scarce jobs. Others complained that the constitution increased the odds that French taxpayers would have to send more money to Brussels, which would in turn funnel it to poorer E.U. members.

Fatouma Diallo, 19, a nursing student in Paris, said she and many of her friends fretted that their job prospects would worsen under a stronger E.U. "They are already taking money from our paychecks," she said. "These changes are going to affect my generation more than others."

Even some supporters of the constitution acknowledged that the leaders of their side had failed to make a strong enough case.

Michel Dumont, a deputy mayor in Paris who favored approval of the referendum, said France had waited too long to wrestle with the question of what its proper place in Europe should be.

"It's the first time in many years that we've had a real debate on this question," Dumont said. "For the first time, really, people are confronted with this profound question on the future of Europe."

Other French elected leaders who had pushed for approval of the constitution said they were sobered by the results but pledged to adhere to the popular will.

"It was an occasion for a big debate for Europe, and the majority of French people said no," said Nicolas Sarkozy, chairman of the ruling party, the Union for a Popular Movement, and a Chirac rival who plans to run for president in 2007. "I regret that the project of the E.U. coalition can no longer stay the way we would like it to go."

Special correspondent Erika Lorentzsen contributed to this report.

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I had a feeling this might turn into a France-bashing thread (because it, umm, mentions France), but I think this is a good move on the French citizens' part. So does George Will:


Europe At the Precipice

By George F. Will


Sunday, May 29, 2005; B07

The European Union, which has a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows, now seeks ratification of a constitution few have read. Surely only its authors have read its turgid earnestness without laughing, which is one reason why the European project is foundering. Today in France, and Wednesday in the Netherlands, Europe's elites -- political, commercial and media -- may learn the limits of their ability to impose their political fetishes on restive and rarely consulted publics.

The European project is the transformation of "Europe" from a geographic into a political denotation. This requires the steady drainage of sovereignty from national parliaments and the "harmonization" of most economic and social policies. But if any of the 25 E.U. member nations reject the proposed constitution -- 11 have ratified it or are in the process of doing so -- it shall not come into effect. And if French voters in today's referendum reject it, Dutch voters will be even more likely to do so in their nation's first referendum in 200 years.

France and the Netherlands are a third of the original six members of the European Union's precursor, the European Economic Community. The most important treaty in the transformation of a Europe of states into a state of Europe was signed in 1992 in the Dutch city after which it is named -- Maastricht. The proposed constitution, which is 10 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, was written by a convention led by a former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

So why are these two nations being balky? Partly because, unusually, they are allowed to be. The European project has come this far largely by bypassing democracy.

Many French voters will use today's referendum to vent grievances against Jacques Chirac, who has been in power for 10 years, which would be excessive even if he were not overbearing. Some French factions, their normal obstreperousness leavened by paranoia, think the constitution is a conspiracy to use "ultraliberalism" -- free markets -- to destroy their "social model." That is the suffocating web of labor laws and other statism that gives France double-digit unemployment -- a staggering 22 percent of those under age 25.

Furthermore, with a Muslim presence in France of 8 percent and rising, there is a backlash against Chirac's championing of E.U. membership for Turkey, which would be, by the time it joined, by far the most populous E.U. country. Admission of Turkey would further reduce -- more than did last year's admission of 10 nations, eight in Eastern Europe -- the European Union's output per person, which according to one study already ranks below that of 46 American states.

The 16 million Dutch, the largest per-capita net contributors to the European Union, live uneasily with a growing population of Muslim immigrants. The Dutch immigration minister says that "we have about 700,000 people who have been here for years but who don't speak the language or have a clue about our most basic rules and values." Many Dutch regard the proposed constitution as a device for sweeping their little nation into a large, meddlesome entity of 450 million people, with consequent dilution of self-determination.

The proposed constitution has 448 articles -- 441 more than the U.S. Constitution. It is a jumble of pieties, giving canonical status to sentiments such as "the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen" should be protected. It establishes, among many other rights, a right to "social and housing assistance" sufficient for a "decent existence." Presumably, supranational courts and bureaucracies will define and enforce those rights, as well as the right of children to "express their views fully." And it stipulates that "preventive action should be taken" to protect the e nvironment.

The constitution says member states can "exercise their competence" only where the European Union does not exercise its. But the constitution gives E.U. institutions jurisdiction over foreign affairs, defense, immigration, trade, energy, agriculture, fishing and much more. Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, is scurrying crabwise away from his vow to hold a referendum on the constitution even if France rejects it. But, then, how could any serious prime minister countenance a constitution that renders his office a nullity?

T.S. Eliot, a better poet than philosopher, wrote: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

Nonsense. If the French and Dutch reject the constitution, they will do so for myriad reasons, some of them foolish. But whatever the reasons, the result will be salutary because the constitution would accelerate the leeching away of each nation's sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a predicate of self-government. The deeply retrograde constitution would reverse five centuries of struggle to give representative national parliaments control over public finance and governance generally.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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Originally posted by Ancalagon the Black

I had a feeling this might turn into a France-bashing thread (because it, umm, mentions France), but I think this is a good move on the French citizens' part.

Yes it is

The French deserve to be praised today.

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Originally posted by dahottestbubu

and keep those dirty Turks out:mad:

Yeah ... let's keep out the only true functioning Islamic democracy in the entire world, and one of the only true genuine allies of the U.S. ...

Oh wait, that's right ... most of western Europe is anti-U.S. anyway .... that's why we should keep the Turks out. :rolleyes: Nevermind the fact that Turkey is actually a more freedom loving nation than France is. I guess Turkey doesn't fit in with the social fabric of those lovely socialists in France and Germany. :rolleyes:

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I'm just glad we werent envolved or they would have blamed us for not joining..


Dahottestbubu: you should change up your postings...

Keep the dirty Turks out? yikes.. a tad racist are yah?

That after 2 posts on the Nazi's.... I predict a short stay....


I spent a year there and dont see any difference between turks and Germans/France/Italy... All conserve water...

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