Dutch Vote on European Union Constitution The French didn't like it. The Dutch are poised to reject it. The battle over the European Union constitution hints at deeper concerns over Europeans' national identities and political determination. We look at the future of the European Union.
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Dutch Vote on European Union Constitution

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Dutch Vote on European Union Constitution

Dutch Vote on European Union Constitution

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Polling places in the Netherlands close about an hour from now and if pre-election opinion polls are right, the Dutch will reject the European Union Constitution. This follows a no vote this past Sunday in France, and very probably means that the constitution is dead. Though nine countries have already approved the EU Constitution, all 25 members must ratify the document if it's to take effect on schedule at the end of 2006. France and the Netherlands are both founding members of the EU, and with even more skeptical countries like Denmark and Britain still to weigh in, the constitution hangs on the slender thread of a complete surprise from Dutch voters today. We'll have an update from the Netherlands in a minute.

The constitution's chilly reception raises questions not just about its content, but about the idea of an ever-more unified Europe. There are important implications for the United States and the world. Many, especially in France, portray a strong EU as a powerful force that could oppose the US diplomatically, economically and some day militarily. Already the EU includes all the European nations of NATO and two nuclear powers with vetoes on the UN Security Council. Europe accounts for a huge percentage of US trade and investment, and the euro has emerged as a global challenger to the dollar.

Later in the program, Christopher Hitchens joins us to talk about recasting the image of a familiar Founding Father, "Thomas Jefferson: Author of America." But first, the EU Constitution. If you have questions about what's in it, why it's in trouble and why it matters to you, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

First, an update on the Dutch vote. Emma Thomasson is chief Netherlands correspondent for Reuters, and she joins us from her office in The Hague.

Nice of you to be with us this evening.

Ms. EMMA THOMASSON (Chief Netherlands Correspondent, Reuters): Good evening.

CONAN: The Dutch have been voting all day. How are things going over there?

Ms. THOMASSON: Well, the first thing we can say is that turnout is pretty high by Dutch standards for a European election. We just heard that an hour ago, turnout was already 50 percent with another two hours to go, which compares to about 40 percent in the European Parliament selection in--last year. So the Dutch are really turning out in quite some numbers. So whatever the outcome is, we can say that the Dutch have certainly engaged in this debate about the constitution and want to have their say.

CONAN: And have they reacted to--the French vote really put them in an extremely decisive position. Are they reacting to that, too, do you think?

Ms. THOMASSON: Well, the polls after the French vote on Sunday showed that the French no had probably helped the Dutch no campaign to a certain extent, but I think there was already quite a lot of momentum behind the Dutch no. And when asked whether the French vote would influence them, most Dutch voters said no. And, in fact, only a very small percentage of Dutch voters said they didn't think it was any longer worth voting because France had already made the decision. They seemed pretty keen to want to have their own say.

CONAN: I wonder, the reasons that the Dutch give, at least in opinion polls, for opposing the constitution, are they the same reasons that we heard from France?

Ms. THOMASSON: Well, they were some of the same reasons. I mean, I think a general sense that EU enlargement, EU expansion, has perhaps gone faster than ordinary people would like, some concerns about a loss of national sovereignty. But there's also some very specific Dutch reasons. I mean, one in particular stands out, is the issue of the euro. The euro is--the euro single currency has been pretty unpopular in the Netherlands, and I don't think that was so much of an issue in France. Just a few weeks before the vote today, word came out that the guilder, the old Dutch currency, had been undervalued against the German mark at the time of the introduction of the euro. And this had been known by economists at the time, but not known by the broader public. And the Dutch public really expressed outrage at that and they said they felt that they'd been kind of cheated when the euro'd been introduced.

And, of course, this is the Netherlands first national referendum in its history, and so people didn't have a chance to vote on the euro when it was introduced and lots of people I've spoken to have said, `Well, they're voting on the euro now even though this referendum is not directly about the euro.'

CONAN: So they didn't get to vote about the euro or about expansion of the EU to now 25 members in taking their votes now. A curious combination of issues, though. I understand some in the Netherlands are concerned that a stronger, more centralized EU might encroach on Dutch laws that are very liberal on things like euthanasia and marijuana; at the same time people also very concerned over the issue of immigration.

Ms. THOMASSON: Yes. I mean, I think those concerns kind of come from the two extremes in the Netherlands. Obviously, concerns that Dutch laws on soft drugs or euthanasia or abortion are more the concerns of the left wing in the Netherlands, whereas concerns about immigration tend--you tend to hear those more from the right wing. But altogether, they are a similar--underline a similar fear about losing national control over issues that are important to the Dutch people. So I think that question of national sovereignty, losing sovereignty--the Netherlands is a relatively small country in Europe, although pretty wealthy by the standards of the now enlarged bloc, but there definitely have been fears that--in a Europe of 25 members that the Netherlands has less say than in--than when it was founded and it was one of the first founding members in the 1950s when there were just six members.

CONAN: Emma Thomasson, thanks very much. Your night is just beginning. It's going to get interesting.

Ms. THOMASSON: It certainly is.

CONAN: Good luck.

Ms. THOMASSON: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Emma Thomasson is Reuters chief correspondent in the Netherlands, and was kind enough to join us this evening from her office in The Hague.

In all the talk about accepting or rejecting the EU Constitution, one item has largely been lost, the actual content of this document. Joining us now is Andrew Moravcsik, a professor of politics and director of the European Union program at Princeton University. He joins us from the campus at Princeton, New Jersey.

Nice to have you on the program.

Professor ANDREW MORAVCSIK (Princeton University; The Brookings Institution): Thank you very much for having me, Neal.

CONAN: So what is in the constitution anyway?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Well, here's the great irony of all this: It's a very conservative and cautious document and there's not very much in it that's new. There's a little more cooperation to fight crime, there's a European foreign minister who can help coordinate national policies but can't really tell the member states what to do, there'll be a European presidency that doesn't revolve from member state to member state every six months but lasts for two and a half years, a little more power for the European Parliament and the national parliaments, some shifts in voting weight between large and small countries, the kind of discussions we in the United States had when we wrote our own Constitution back when, and that's about it. And Europeans actually like most of those reforms when they think about them concretely.

CONAN: Yet in a debate about the constitution in France, it got a solid no vote.

Prof. MORAVCSIK: It did, because when people get into a referendum context, they don't very often vote on the picayune details of constitutional revision, but a lot of broader fears and ideals and interest get washed up in it. So the striking story of every referendum and very European election that's ever been held is that the voting behavior, the motivations of independent voters, individual voters, don't tend to have much to do with the concrete issues at stake.

CONAN: Or that maybe the issues at stake weren't explained properly or sold properly to them.

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Well, there's that, but it's rather difficult to explain something as detailed as this constitution. One has to remember that the European Union really doesn't deal very much with the issues that are of most interest to your average voter in an average European country--social welfare provision, health care, pensions, taxing and spending, education, even immigration that was an issue in these campaigns. These are not dealt with, for the most part, by the European Union; they're deal with by the member states. So the issues that are left over, the issues like trade policy, putting together a stabilization force in Kosovo, a standardization of cell telephones, the kind of stuff that the European Union does day to day, that's not going to attract the voters' interest no matter what you do.

CONAN: Let's get some callers on the line. If you're curious about what's in the EU Constitution, about why it's in trouble in Europe and why it's important to you, our number is (800) 989-8255. You can also e-mail us: totn@npr.org.

Let's begin with John. John's calling from Louisville, Kentucky.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. My thought is that if it has to be 472-pages long in English, it really must not be very well-written and would be very difficult for a voter to ascertain what effect it might have on them. Because it seems like there was just--it should be able to be more concise and to the point; 472 pages just seems like way too much.

CONAN: Undigestible, as it were.

JOHN: Yes. Yes. And not only that, it just seems like it could be--if it were better written, it could be, you know...

CONAN: Andrew Moravcsik, let me as you to respond to John after I read this e-mail question from Mike Manfee(ph) in Crestone, Colorado: `When I was living in Europe some years ago, the point was made that this constitution as it was formulated wasn't really a constitution at all but rather a collection of laws and regulations, not really a constitution as we think of it.' Is that right?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Not as Americans think of it. Americans have, by global standards, a very, very short constitution. But let's remember that a lot of major countries--Germany, Brazil--have constitutions that are a hundred pages long. And in this case, the constitution had to be long and the reason is that governments in Europe do not want to turn over unlimited or open-ended powers to the European Union. They're very jealous of their sovereignty and they're very cautious about what they turn over. There are a lot of very careful checks and balances, compromises, specific clauses to protect the special interests of member states, and I think in a polity as diverse and complicated as Europe, that's probably the way it has to be. And to write all that down it takes you almost 500 pages.

CONAN: And how many years did it take to negotiate this agreement?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Three or four.

CONAN: Three or four.

Prof. MORAVCSIK: A constitutional convention in which they called in a lot of different sorts of people, European parliamentarians, representatives of the member states. Then there was, following that, an intergovernmental negotiation between the 15 member states of the EU at the time, plus with observer status for the 10 new members and now they're trying to ratify it.

CONAN: We'll talk more about the implications of a possible failure to ratify when we come back from a break. John, by the way, thank you very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail: totn@npr.org. We're talking about the future of the European Union and its proposed constitution. When we come back, what all of this may mean for the US.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

In less than an hour, the first poll results should be in showing whether Dutch voters chose to embrace the proposed European Constitution or follow the French in rejection of the embattled document. That's what opinion polls say they'll do. Would you like to see a more unified Europe? We'd especially like to hear from the Europeans in our audience today. (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Our guest is Andrew Moravcsik, director of the European Union program at Princeton University.

And joining us now is Ambassador Frans van Daele, Belgium's ambassador to the US and formerly Belgium's permanent representative to the EU. He joins us from his office here in Washington, DC.

And thanks very much for taking--speaking with us, Mr. Ambassador.

Ambassador FRANS VAN DAELE (Belgium Ambassador to the US): Thank you.

CONAN: I wonder, if the Dutch follow the opinion polls and follow the French, what does this mean for the EU?

Amb. VAN DAELE: Well, let's wait the results of the Dutch voting on the referendum. And, of course, we are all aware of what the opinion polls predict. But I would like to say that a negative vote would be another setback, but I don't think that that setback should be overdramatized. We had setbacks in the past and every time, after a setback, there was a kind of a period of reflection which followed, and then we started again going forward. It's a bit like a mighty river with water sometimes running high, sometimes running low through one channel or another, but it always flows.

CONAN: The previous treaties, which would have been superceded by the EU Constitution--but they called for an ever-closer union. Has the process toward an ever-closer union--is that one of the things that has to be reconsidered?

Amb. VAN DAELE: No. I think that that the existing treaties say exactly that and the constitution was an expression of that. Now, of course, there are problems with ratification of that constitution, but that does not mean that we are not going for an ever-closer union. I don't think that you consider the votes which have taken place as votes against Europe. I think over and beyond whatever domestic reasons there may have been, basically there are segments in the public opinion who may think that maybe we have gone too far too fast, but that does not mean that they do not want to follow that direction, and other bodies of opinion who think that maybe we should build another type of Europe than the one we are having, and that's often related to the ...(unintelligible) of globalization and the way economic policies should be implemented.

CONAN: Globalization was certainly an issue, certainly for many voters in France.

Amb. VAN DAELE: It obviously was. And I would say that for certain people, the European Union may have considered a kind of regional globalization, although I think for one that only a strong European Union for us Europeans is the only way to get to grips with globalization in a global planetary sense.

CONAN: And if you were to think for a moment about how a new document or where this reconsideration might lead, what do you think the future holds?

Amb. VAN DAELE: Well, I think that's, of course, a bit speculative at this point of time. I think we should now follow the course which the constitution itself contains. It says that each and every single country has to ratify or try to ratify. I think countries which have not yet fully ratified, including mine, where the parliamentary process is still following its course, we all should follow this process of ratification. And then the constitution itself foresees that if by November next year 20 ratifications are in and other ratifications are in difficulty, then we have to get together at the highest level of the heads of state and government and see what we are going to do then. And in between certainly, there will have been a lot of thinking on what we could and might do.

CONAN: Yet even on a practical level, a pro-EU politician like Britain's Tony Blair, who just won re-election much more narrowly than he had in the past--but is he likely to take the political risk to campaign for an EU Constitution that's already been defeated in France and perhaps the Netherlands? He's got to make a decision next week.

Amb. VAN DAELE: Well, let's wait and see what his decision will be.

CONAN: Well, we'll have to wait then.

Ambassador, again, thank you very much for joining us today.

Amb. VAN DAELE: Yep. You're welcome. Bye.

CONAN: Ambassador Frans van Daele is Belgium's ambassador to the United States and formerly Belgium's permanent representative to the European Union, and he joined us from his office here in Washington, DC.

And let's go back now to Andrew Moravcsik, a professor of politics and director of the European Union program at Princeton University.

And speaking just in terms of practical politics, if the Dutch vote no, is the EU Constitution dead?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: I think in practical terms, yes, it's dead. And the ambassador offered one classic response to that, which is, `We just have to keep on going the way we've been going before in Europe and keep on moving toward an ever-closer union.' And you have some people on the other side, the Euroskeptics, who are gleeful now and are going to be strengthened and they're opposed to the EU across the board.

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. What we're going to see is a change in the style of integration. No more big constitutions, no more idealistic cries for democracy, no more big schemes. Instead, there's going to be a focus on pragmatics, on a little more coherent foreign policy and anti-crime policies, the kind of stuff that's in the constitution but was disguised by all the symbolic rhetoric in it--reform of the CAP, doing something about Turkey even if it's not full membership, economic reform. There are a lot of things on Europe's agenda, and for the foreseeable future it'll be better off to focus on pragmatic, quiet steps that make European policy-making more effective and not on the theatrical schemes like the constitution.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is John Micklethwait, US editor for The Economist, co-author of the book, "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America." He's with us from his office in London.

Nice to speak with you again.

Mr. JOHN MICKLETHWAIT (US Editor, The Economist): Nice to speak to you.

CONAN: You're the US editor. Why does all of this matter to Americans?

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think it matters enormously because although there's a

sort of first temptation to think that Europe should be left to itself, the fact is that Europe is America's biggest ally. It's its biggest trading partner, it's the biggest source of--or the biggest end place for American investment. It's much more than anywhere else in the world. Even George Bush, who makes a big fuss about other places, has visited Europe far more than, say, Asia or any other continent. It's absolutely central to American interest.

CONAN: And all of this--if the constitution is voted down is that good for the United States? Can it be characterized that way?

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, it depends on the way you look at it. It's obviously good for the United States at least in one way, or it's good for Bush to the extent that it's a major slap in the face for Gerhard Schroeder or Jacques Chirac, two people who I think he'd be very happy to see the back of. It's also a blow to dreams of a European superstate to challenge America.

On the other hand--and I personally, and my magazine, have also--were against this constitution. On the other hand, I think it'd be wrong to rush and welcome this as a welcome sign, because if it means more European dithering, more European introspection, that's really not going to help America from the point of view of having a Europe which could help it sort problems out around the rest of the world.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get some listeners in the conversation and talk now with Jean-Christian(ph) from Durham, North Carolina. Am I pronouncing that with a fraction of a French accent correctly?

JEAN-CHRISTIAN (Caller): Yes, sure. You (technical difficulties). I wanted to--I mean, I'm sorry to hear what your guest just said, because it seems that he positions himself against Europe or, more exactly, as an American who actually wants to dominate the world. And that's actually what--one of the reasons why the French voted no Sunday because, as it's become known I suppose in this country, a significant portion of the French people don't appreciate the way American handles business or the American model (technical difficulties).

CONAN: Yet, it was your President Chirac and the forces who urged yes who argued that position.

JEAN-CHRISTIAN: And they thought that rightfully, I think, that this constitution was pulling Europe way too much (technical difficulties) United States, both on an economic model because it was, as one of your guests has said before--not the previous one, the one before him...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JEAN-CHRISTIAN: ...there was some things, some language in that constitution that more or less imposed a capitalist model on the European people, and I don't see why such a thing would be in the constitution--in any constitution in the first place. And, B, because--I mean, everything you like--I mean, if we don't--lots of people want to make Europe to compete with the United States, but I don't think we ...(unintelligible) have to do that on the same model.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JEAN-CHRISTIAN: And what the French did, I think, that--partly of what I hear of the Dutch are voting no for, they are more voting against Europe. And, you know, the 55 percent who in France voted against the constitution Sunday, there is an est--it's estimated that at least 30 to 40 percent who voted against Europe and the rest of it--that would be 15 to 25--voted against the Europe that was offered to them. They wanted a better Europe.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JEAN-CHRISTIAN: They wanted a Europe that would be more open to social ideas and they didn't want--they just didn't want to follow the capitalist and pro-American model that ...(unintelligible).

CONAN: I think we get your point. I wanted to get a reaction from our guest. Andrew Moravcsik, is there--did the European Constitution spell out a more capitalist, more globally competitive Europe?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Well, in a sense, yes, but it's a little misleading to state it that way. The European Union has always been about freer trade, about economic reform, about more coherent regulatory systems that permit efficient transaction of business. And there's a kind of constitutional compromise in Europe, which is that the European Union is in charge of that sort of policy-making and the member states are in charge of social policy, education, taxing and spending, those sorts of issues. And there's not a lot of evidence that the EU is a fundamental threat to the European social system. It's simply providing certain kinds of reform, market reforms, which were required to make Europe more efficient.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. MORAVCSIK: So, in fact, the way to think about Europe is it's a balance system, where Europe and the nation-states are each playing a role, leaving the system in a balanced state.

CONAN: John Micklethwait, a lot of voters in France, particularly from the left, said they were voting against globalization when they voted no.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Yes. It's sort of embarrassing for people like me, who also have problems with the Constitution, that we find ourselves in bed with, so to speak, all these people like the National Front and a great many Socialists, who objected to the Constitution on those terms. And there is definitely a contradiction there, and there's obviously a very big split in Europe between a general sort of Anglo-Saxon desire to liberalize and a lot of French people, like your previous caller, who aren't enthusiastic. I would say, though, there is one sort of core element of agreement between all those bits, which is that most people in that consortium of the no tend to think that too much power was being sucked towards Brussels and not enough was being given to national determination, the balance which Andrew talked about is still key to Europe.

CONAN: We are talking with Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University and with John Micklethwait of The Economist magazine about the implications of a rejection of the European Union's Constitution. Dutch voters are voting today. Opinion polls suggest they will follow the French and vote no.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is George. George is with us from Banning, California.

GEORGE (Caller): Yeah. Hello?

CONAN: Hello. You're on the air. Go ahead.

GEORGE: Yes. I believe it's the most disappointing election there. If the Europeans don't come together right now, right now in this time, it will be too late.

CONAN: Are you from--it sounds like you're from Europe.

GEORGE: I'm from Germany originally. I've been living in the United States for 25 years, but I go back frequently, and I can see economically, if they don't go together right now, it will be too late.

CONAN: Well, Andrew Moravcsik, let's ask about that. If this interrupts what had looked like sort of an inexorable process, does that mean it's going to be too late?

Prof. MORAVCSIK: I don't think it's healthy for Europe. There's going to be a lot of hand-ringing, a lot of name calling, a lot of blame shifting about this political catastrophe, and people are going to have to get over that. And the hope is--and I think it is a reasonable hope--that within a year or two, you're going to start moving toward more pragmatic policy-making, whether the EU's going to go back toward a modest agenda of economic liberalization, and the member states--and this is perhaps even more important, I'm sure Mr. Micklethwait would agree--will move toward reform of some of the issues that they maintain control over, like labor market regulations, like the fiscal spending on social policy--things like that. And Europe has not been doing as badly economically as it's made out to be, but still, there's a lot of reform to be done, and hopefully, this political car wreck will lead people to refocus on the really essential substantive issues facing Europe.

CONAN: George...

GEORGE: Yeah, from...

CONAN: Go ahead.

GEORGE: ...the viewpoint of a German, it is--especially because we are so the driving force in Europe in that sense to be united, and for us is most important that we get some kind of a Constitution going. I believe that.

CONAN: OK, George, thanks very much for the call.


CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in, Craig. Craig is with us from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

CRAIG (Caller): Hi. I just spent the last two weeks in France and actually came back on Sunday, the day of the vote, and it was the topic of conversation everywhere I went, and I talked to dozens of people about it, and it really seemed like people really voted with their hearts instead of their heads, and I completely agree with the professor that people looked at the actual Constitution, if they could manage to read it, and I saw it and it was very difficult--it was absolutely impossible to really read, but if they really thought about it, they would have voted yes, but it seemed like, you know, all of the arguments that you've heard from the left about jobs moving away, people talked about how jobs are moving to China from the US. They brought up Romania and Bulgaria as the China of Europe, and they're afraid of their jobs going there. The...

CONAN: Next two countries hoping to come into the EU.

CRAIG: And the whole--oh, there's a big undercurrent of stick it to the politicians because every single politician in France pretty much came out for it, and this was their chance to stick it--especially to Chirac, that was unpopular--but one of the main reasons--I spent a lot of time in small towns, and what people told me--and this was the most shocking--was the pretty blatant racist undertones of a lot of the arguments to vote no. People really openly came out and said, you know, `I don't want the Turks in the union. They're not like us. They're Muslims. We can't possibly be in the same club as them.'

CONAN: Well...

CRAIG: And people brought it up in such a way that in America, if they would have said, you know, `I'll vote for this sheriff because they'll keep the blacks in line,' people would be up in arms. People--you know, even in play conversation, you can't say things like that, and people...

CONAN: John Micklethwait, we just have about 30 seconds left. I just wanted to get a response to some of Craig's points, particularly on immigration.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, he's absolutely right, is a large number of French people did vote on that issue, that the Turkish issue was very strong, and that'll also be strong in Holland. I would just say against that, that there were all sorts of problems with this vote, but on the whole, I think Europe, in a sense, had it coming. A lot of people weren't just voting against the current Constitution. They were voting against all the previous treaties which had gone before, which have not been democratically ratified. And I think there was a sort of democratic deficit, so to speak, built up, and that is partly what we saw, and there are lots of ugly side effects of that, but to the extent that hopefully, it means the elites in Europe will pay slightly more attention to what's happening at the ground level, both good and bad, it will change.

CONAN: Craig, thank you very much for the call. And, John Micklethwait, thanks for your time, as always.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you.

CONAN: John Micklethwait, US editor for The Economist magazine, co-author of "The Right Nation: Conservative Power In America." Andrew Moravcsik, thank you for your time today as well.

Prof. MORAVCSIK: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Andrew Moravcsik, director of the European Union program at Princeton University, and he joined us from the campus there.

When we come back from the break, Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Jefferson.


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