'No' Votes Fill EU Newcomers With Anxiety

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With referendums on the European Union constitution going down to defeat in France and the Netherlands, people in the Eastern European nations that are the EU's newest members are wondering about the future of the union.


Wealth, stability and greater influence were some of the glowing hopes held out to the 10 mostly former Communist countries that joined the European Union just over a year ago. But now that two of the EU's founding nations, France and the Netherlands, have resoundingly rejected a draft EU constitution, some new members wonder where that future will go. From Warsaw, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

Polish plumber Amarek Nushensa(ph) checks his work after installing a sink, hot water heater and a toilet in a small apartment on the edge of Warsaw.

(Soundbite of toilet flushing)

HARRIS: He couldn't vote in the French referendum on the EU constitution, of course, but the image of Polish plumbers like him played a role in that campaign as workers from the east aiming to steal French jobs.

Mr. AMAREK NUSHENSA (Plumber): (Polish spoken)

HARRIS: `We work cheaper and better,' he says, `and that is what they're afraid of, but they're just lazy.'

Nushensa typically charges the equivalent of about $50 for a bathroom installation. SOS Plumber(ph), a Paris firm, charges more than $1,500. So French plumbers might have reason to be afraid, but there's no evidence Poles have flooded the French labor market since joining the EU last year. In fact, Polish workers currently face employment restrictions in France and Germany. French investors, though, are busy in Poland.

(Soundbite of music)

HARRIS: Shoppers dig through bins of discount CDs in one of the massive French-owned superstore chains that have sprung up around Warsaw. Yolanda Shivon(ph) came here to get groceries. She was disappointed that French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution.

Ms. YOLANDA SHIVON (Polish Resident): A little bit of sadness but also understanding, you know? With their problems, I know that they have a little bit different problems that we have in Poland. Nevertheless, it's a little bit of sadness.

HARRIS: Just before joining the European Union last year, support in Poland for membership was less than 40 percent. Now it's nearly 60 percent. One big reason for the jump is money from the wealthier West, particularly cash to Polish farmers to help them modernize. According to the Polish government, payments worth almost $2 billion were distributed over the past year to over a million farmers. Now Poland is in the middle of future budget negotiations with other EU members. Poland's undersecretary for European integration, Aleksander Vashilevska Teits(ph), admits that Poland's negotiating position is more difficult because of the French and Dutch votes, but she insists it's not just money that won Poles over to the EU but new opportunities.

Ms. ALEKSANDER VASHILEVSKA TEITS (Undersecretary for European Integration): If the money will be less, the support for membership still will exist because the export of our food have increased from 30 percent to 60 percent. It's big. Our food is going to the European market.

HARRIS: Poland has not yet ratified the EU constitution, and the pro-EU government is now uncertain how to go forward. The leading opposition political party, Law and Justice, supports the EU but not the constitution. Party head Jaroslaw Kaczynski is stepping up calls to let the constitution die.

Mr. JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (Law and Justice): (Through Translator) We think that entering the EU was a success and was necessary, but that doesn't mean we have to agree with every single change that comes with the European Union. The constitution is just a bad document.

HARRIS: His party is expected to win presidential and parliamentary elections this fall. Although the vote will likely turn on domestic issues, he still hopes to convince voters not to bother with the EU constitution.

Politics are similar in the neighboring Czech Republic. The constitution hasn't been ratified and the increasingly popular opposition is firmly against it. Despite the divide, analyst Nicholas Moslovsky(ph), a Frenchman in Prague, says Czechs of all stripes were amused when France rejected the constitution.

Mr. NICHOLAS MOSLOVSKY (Analyst): Everybody is smiling and among intellectuals and among even workers are saying so that France was so arrogant explaining how European we should be, how we should think the same things as France, and suddenly we can see that we can build the EU without France, that maybe the main problem in the European construction is France.

HARRIS: Those in new member states against the European Union constitution say it would contradict the principles of democracy to push forward over Dutch and French public opinion. Those for it ask: What about the 10 countries which have already ratified the constitution including, through their parliaments, five former Communist EU members?

Emily Harris, NPR News, Warsaw.

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