that Shook Europe
By Farooq Sulehria
The French and Dutch "No"
to the EU constitution on May 29 and June 1 has
shocked Europe. "Chirac disavowed, Europe destabilized,"
lamented the French paper Le Monde. The Dutch daily
Algameen Dagblad commented, "In shock the political
elite watched as a large majority delivered a crushing
no." Another Dutch newspaper, Trouw, said the
people of the Netherlands "are not against
Europe. Their 'no' is a powerful signal that (they)
are seriously concerned about the development of
The referendum will stop all talk of a third presidential
term for President Jacques Chirac, who made a scapegoat
of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin by replacing
him with former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin.
The damage is not limited to the government. The
leaderships of the Socialist Party and the Greens
were also repudiated. Europe is indeed destabilized,
with the EU edifice shaken to its very foundations.
A nervous Tony Blair is considering cancellation
of the vote on the EU constitution. Even Luxembourg
prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker is voicing concerns
after the Dutch refusal, although his country is
Questioned on the reasons for their vote, France's
"no" voters cited the economic and social
situation in the country, especially the issue of
unemployment and the "too liberal" character
of the treaty.
Exit polls had already showed that the primary motive
for the French no vote (56 percent of the respondents)
was the state of the economy. In other words, unemployment.
The second most frequently mentioned motive was
the "neo-liberal" nature of the constitution
treaty (46%). The third was the desire to have the
constitution renegotiated. Similarly, in an opinion
poll published on May 19 by Centre Data, half the
Dutch voters about to say "No" justified
their negative vote by their wish to oppose the
euro and demonstrate their discontent about the
rise in prices that followed the introduction of
the single currency.
Far-right leaders like Jean-Marie le Pen in France
and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are jubilant.
But the sociological and political composition of
the vote shows that the bulk of the "no"
votes didn't come from the supporters of these politicians.
For instance, in France 67% of leftwing voters cast
a negative vote. The supporters of the Communist
Party and the far left unanimously voted "no,"
59% of Socialist supporters and 64% Green supporters
did likewise. Most importantly, 61% of non-aligned
voters said "non" as well.
The social categories that voted "no"
include: 81% of manual workers, 79% of the unemployed,
60% of white-collar workers and 56% of "intermediary
professions". Executives and intellectual professions
(62%), those with a university education (57%) and
pensioners (56%) voted "yes." In terms
of age, 59% of those between 18 and 34 and 65% of
those in the 35-49 age group said no. But the majority
of those over 65 cast "yes" votes.
The pattern was repeated in the Netherlands.
The "anti-Europe" trend is not restricted
to the two countries. Last year, Sweden had a negative
referendum on the Euro. Everywhere it's been the
establishment (the parties and the media) versus
the people. But the damage done by the Scandinavian
"nej" remained restricted. The French
and Dutch no, however, could have far-reaching repercussions.
This is particularly so in the case of France, because
of the country's larger size and influential role
New York Times commentator Richard Bernstein wrote:
"The Europeans are worried, among other things,
that the rapid enlargement of the European Union,
especially the prospect of Turkey's membership,
will leave them more vulnerable to uncontrolled
immigration, especially by Muslims."
The United States has kept a distance by declaring
the referendum a European matter. There are two
arguments on the US attitude on a unified Europe.
According to the first one, Washington stands to
lose if the EU drive collapses. Since the EU constitution
promises a common president and foreign minister,
as well as greater coordination among national police
and security forces, it would be easy for the US
to deal with one main authority. Above all, with
its NATO forces stationed across Europe, a unified
Europe will best suit the US, as Washington Post
columnist Jim Hoagland points out. "A politically
stable Europe that is strong enough to cooperate
with the United States on a consistent basis is
preferable to a faltering, insecure Europe that
feels it must constantly establish its own identity
and independence in opposition to the United States,"
The second is the "EU-versus-US" argument.
This argument was even sold by some supporters of
the "yes side" in France. A strong EU
is the only alternative to US hegemony, it is argued.
As far as the Third World is concerned, the EU being
built by Eurocrats will be another empire competing
against the exiting one for a share in world trade,
and is therefore not a good alternative for the
developing countries. Only an alternative EU functioning
beyond the globalization regime will suit Pakistan
and the rest of South countries. (Courtesy The News)
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Sweden.