Resistance to Constitution Stalls EU's Momentum

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Sunday's "no" vote in France on the European Union's proposed constitution is likely to stall the alliance's plans for continental integration, especially if Dutch voters follow suit on Wednesday. Sylvia Poggioli and Steve Inskeep discuss the impact on a unified Europe.


Now every European nation has to ratify the European Constitution for it to take effect, so this week's voting could trigger a crisis. We're going next to Italy, one of the nine nations that voted yes to the European Constitution. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Rome.

And, Sylvia, what's been the reaction across Europe to the French vote?


Well, here's a sampling of headlines describing the result: `A Turning Point for French and European Union History'; `Europe Has Been Brought to a Standstill'; and `A Masochistic Masterpiece.' So at least in the media, the reaction is of dismay and uncertainty over the broader consequences of the first-ever rejection of a European Union treaty by a large founding member of the alliance. And with the likelihood, as we just heard, that Dutch voters will also reject the treaty, there's a widespread sense here that the constitution is dead in the water.

INSKEEP: Well, what happens now?

POGGIOLI: Well, the European Union will not dissolve. It will continue to function under the previous cumbersome treaties, but it will certainly lose momentum. Decision-making could be stalled for months. Enlargement to new members, particularly Muslim Turkey, will become more difficult, and it could make it harder to impose spending and currency discipline, leading to economic uncertainty. Many analysts say this should be a moment for serious soul searching about the contrasting concepts of a united Europe of the political elite and of their citizens.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, you've been covering this process for years. Why did the French people, as far as you can tell, reject this constitution?

POGGIOLI: Well, there were a variety of reasons. Some were contradictory, some even irrational. The `no'-votes front stretched from the extreme right to the extreme left and included a large number of young people. A key factor was widespread unease over the expansion last year of the European Union to 25 members. This led to fear of job losses, to east Europeans willing to work for lower wages, the fear of the so-called Polish plumber invasion. And large numbers of French voters were also very worried about the possibility that Turkey, with a population of close to 100 million Muslims, could also become an EU member. And another big obsession was what has been called the so-called Anglo-Saxon model of unregulated capitalism, which was enshrined in the constitution as free-market economy.

INSKEEP: The Polish plumber invasion--I guess that's a fear of workers from other countries. Are these kinds of concerns shared by other Europeans?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, yes, many of them do share--continental Europeans cherish the security and solidarity of their welfare states. They fear globalization, they're worried about immigration, and they're really disenchanted with the political elites that designed an expanded union without bringing citizens into the preparatory political debate. Many analyst say that the European Union, which was created as a means to prevent a repeat of the devastation of the second World War, has fulfilled the goal of ensuring peace and freedom and now needs to face new challenges.

They say many young Europeans are fed up with the distant, unelected bureaucrats in Brussels deciding their destiny. They want to have a bigger say and a more open and democratic Europe. So it seems it's not simply a malaise over the constitution, but over the very concept of Europe itself, as if Europeans feel they've lost control over its direction.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, in just a few seconds here, how might this no vote in France affect Europe's relations with the United States?

POGGIOLI: Well it's no secret that there's probably a sense of relief among some American circles that fear that a stronger Europe could evolve as a counterweight to US power. But a lot of analysts point out that there are many anti-American aspects to the French no vote, especially in the anti-free market and anti-globalization sentiments of these voters. And a halt to EU enlargement will likely leave out the US' key allies, Turkey and the Ukraine, and also the Balkan states, whose membership would be a guarantee of their political stability.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reporting for us from Rome on the French no vote and the response.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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