On Sunday, when the French go to vote, the European constitution runs a fair chance of being brought down. And if it survives, the Dutch who according to polls have been surprisingly negative, votes a couple of days later.
There has been a lot of speculation on why these two traditionally pro-European countries are now appearing so sceptical. Is it the constitution itself or other domestic issues that makes the two countries appear to be ready to vote no? Probably a bit of both. The French are tired of their president Jaques Chirac. But more than that they are getting increasingly worried about their failing economy, and with their tradition and pride over government interference they have a hard time understanding the causes of their troubles. Instead of moving in the direction of what president Chirac calls “ultra liberalism” – which is appearantly what Labour leader Tony Blair is doing in Britain – the yes campaign has argued that this constitution is what protects the French from something so terrible. At the same time the no campaign says the constitution is ultra liberal. It is not, of course.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the rise of Pim Fortuyn – the populist anti-immigration politian who was later murdered – proved that there are votes to win by being anti-establishment. Because the constitution is considered a product of the elite – not unjustly – this sentiment is likely to lie behind some part of the no votes that we’ll see. At the same time there seems to be a genuine worry about lending to much power to Brussels and the European Parliament.
I hope this constitution is rejected in both countries. The EU has moved forward faster than it’s people have wanted and needs to slow down and reconsider. The constitution is too political, put too little weight in the crucial concept of subsidiarity and makes it even harder to get rid of the harmful subsidies that is one of the main problems with the EU of today. It also makes a common foreign policy more likely, and considering the positions of France, Germany and many other countries I certainly would not want to see the United Kingdom held back by a stability-at-all-costs agenda.
A no result should lead to a discussion of what we want the EU to be. That is a discussion that’s been held back for too long, which is probably the very reason for the growing EU scepticism. What the outcome of such a discussion would be is hard to foresee. It’s not unlikely that we’ll see an EU that is more a la carte, where some countries have a deeper co-operation than others. Perhaps that would be a good thing.