[mgj-discuss] nyt on European Constitution crisis
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Tue May 31 11:29:34 GMT 2005
May 31, 2005
French No Vote on European Constitution Rattles Continent
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS, May 30 - The shock waves of France's rejection of a constitution for
Europe reverberated throughout the Continent on Monday, with Britain
suggesting that it might cancel its own popular vote on the document and
the naysayers in the Netherlands gaining even more confidence that a no
vote will prevail in a referendum there on Wednesday.
In France, the vote plunged the center-right government into crisis.
President Jacques Chirac will announce "decisions concerning the
government" and make a declaration on French television on Tuesday.
The statement was interpreted to mean that he would dismiss Prime Minister
Jean-Pierre Raffarin and reshuffle his cabinet as a direct result of the
repudiation of Mr. Chirac's leadership in a referendum on the European
Union constitution on Sunday.
There has been open speculation for months that Mr. Raffarin would be
replaced if the constitution failed in France, and after a 30-minute
meeting with Mr. Chirac in Élysée Palace on Monday, the affable but
unpopular prime minister said, "There will be developments today or tomorrow."
He declined to say whether he had offered his resignation, telling
reporters: "I'm going for a stroll around Paris. See you later."
The euro fell sharply on Monday as traders in the United States sold the
currency a day after the French vote, slipping to a seven-month low of
about $1.25 in late afternoon trading.
Farmers, workers and the unemployed were among those who led the way to the
defeat of the European Union constitution in France, voting no in high
numbers largely over concerns about the economy. European leaders who had
promoted the constitution as the logical, if revolutionary, next step in
the growth and unification of the 25-member bloc could not hide their
The most serious potential foreign fallout from the no vote in France came
on Monday from Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who called for a "time
for reflection," saying it was too early to decide whether a popular vote
could go ahead in his country.
"Underneath all this there is a more profound question, which is about the
future of Europe and, in particular, the future of the European economy and
how we deal with the modern questions of globalization and technological
change," Mr. Blair told journalists during a vacation in Italy. Nine
European Union members ratified the constitution before the French
referendum. But France's no vote is likely to kill the constitution - at
least in its current form - because it requires approval by all of the
union's member countries.
In a sense, consideration of the constitution by other member countries,
including the Dutch vote on Wednesday, is only a political exercise in
democracy to allow each of them the right to proclaim approval or
rejection. But the Dutch vote is important nonetheless.
At the moment there is no plan to revise the constitution and put it before
member states again. If the Dutch also reject the constitution, it would be
that much harder to persuade the rest of the member states to go forward
with putting any document up for ratification, particularly those that plan
to do it by popular vote.
"This is a critical moment in Europe's history," said Jean-Luc Dehaene, a
former Belgian prime minister and one of the architects of the
constitution, in a telephone interview. "It is clear that the French no
brings Europe to a kind of standstill." The French, he said, "are
completely without orientation and in a period of complete uncertainty."
The Netherlands, which like France was one of the six founding members of
Europe's original union, "will not be in a position to play its leadership
role in Europe if it votes no," Mr. Dehaene said. As for Britain, he added,
"It is not impossible that the British government will hide behind the back
of France to avoid the difficult discussion in Britain."
For the time being, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said he
would announce a decision on whether to go ahead with a vote no earlier
than next week.
Mr. Blair's tentative remarks contrasted with the bold approach taken by
other European leaders, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany
and Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, who said the
ratification process must go on despite the French vote.
"Life continues," Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief,
said at ld a news conference at the union's headquarters in Brussels after
France's repudiation of the treaty. "For me, the worst that could happen is
if, as a consequence of that, you or the citizens of the European Union or
the leaders of the European Union enter into a zone of paralysis
In Washington, the State Department, in a brief statement on the vote,
emphasized continuity in trans-Atlantic relations, not concern. The
administration has remained aloof from the particulars of the
"We welcome a strong, integrated Europe that is an effective partner for
addressing the many challenges we face together," said a spokesman, Noel
Clay. "We have such a partnership now with the European Union and expect to
continue to build on this relationship, however the E.U. evolves."
The constitution is intended to provide an ambitious, streamlined system
for growth and greater unity in the newly expanded 25-country bloc. If the
document is abandoned, member states will have to continue working together
under a cumbersome and limiting array of existing treaties and rules
adopted when the union was smaller.
In an effort to salvage the European unification process, some European
figures were sugarcoating their earlier dire predictions of the
consequences of the French veto.
Not long ago, for example, Romano Prodi, the former president of the
European Commission, had predicted that a French no would mean "the end of
Europe." On Monday he called the outcome "a disaster," but insisted that
the union would continue to function under current rules and that things
could be worse.
"This is still better than a war of secession like the United States once
had," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm serious now. We must keep this
perspective in mind. We don't have a treaty, but we also don't have wars."
That is certainly true, but the lowest-common-denominator approach was not
what the leaders of Europe had in mind when they embarked on the drafting
of the constitution, a process that took two and a half years.
After the French vote, the European Commission president, José Manuel Durão
Barroso, warned of "a risk of contagion."
Indeed, contagion could come as early as Wednesday, when voters in the
Netherlands go to the polls to pass judgment on the constitution.
After the French vote, the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, told
reporters, "The Dutch, of course, do not take any orders from France." But
a new Dutch poll taken after the French vote and made public on Monday for
NOS public television showed an increase in voters intending to vote no to
55 percent, up from 51 percent just two days ago. Only 38 percent said they
planned to vote in favor of the constitution.
President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, whose country has yet to
decide whether to support the charter, declared it "a thing of the past."
He added, "The French referendum, and its result, clearly demonstrated the
deep division that exists between the European elite and the citizens of
That view was underscored by the voting trends in the vote in France.
According to the Ipsos polling agency, 70 percent of farmers voted no,
despite the fact that France is the largest recipient of European Union
Public and blue-collar workers and the unemployed, all low-pay groups
vulnerable in a country with more than 10 percent unemployment, voted no by
60 percent to 79 percent.
Although most of the Socialist Party hierarchy lobbied in favor of the
treaty, 56 percent of Socialist voters rejected it. On the political
extremes, 98 percent of the Communist Party and 93 percent of the extreme
right National Front voted no.
Paris and Lyon, two of France's biggest cities, and pro-European regions
like Alsace, Brittany and the Loire Valley voted yes, while rural France
and smaller cities and towns voted no. Most surprisingly, 55 percent of
people ages 18 to 25 rejected the treaty, underscoring what appeared to be
a lack of trust in the future of Europe and the leadership of France.
Humiliated and badly weakened in the eyes of both his own citizens and the
world, Mr. Chirac is now at one of the lowest points of his 10-year
presidency. The French media openly mocked him today.
"Did he manage to sleep so well on Sunday night?" the weekly L'Express
asked in its latest edition on Monday. "He must realize to what extent the
failure of the referendum is a personal disaster."
Serge July, the editor of the left-leaning daily Libération, referred today
to "the disastrous end" of Mr. Chirac's "reign," while the daily Le Monde
said the president "begins the end of his mandate discredited."
In Poland, the daily Zycie Warszawy joked Monday about the "Polish plumber
who petrified France," a reference to the mythical worker from new European
Union members like Poland who is free to move west and willing to work for
lower pay than Frenchmen.
On Monday, Mr. Chirac held closed-door meetings, not only with Mr. Raffarin
but also with a number of officials who might possibly replace him,
including Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of their ruling Union for a Popular
Movement but a political enemy of Mr. Chirac; Interior Minister Dominique
de Villepin, considered like a political son to Mr. Chirac; Defense
Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie; and François Bayrou, the leader of the
Christian-right Union for French Democracy.
Mr. Raffarin is being blamed in some quarters for the rejection of the
constitution because of opinion surveys indicating that voters used the
ballot partly to punish the French government's failure to tackle high
unemployment and painful cost-cutting changes.
Mr. de Villepin is considered the front-runner for the prime minister's
job, but he is not liked by much of the French political establishment,
including deputies in Parliament who consider him distant from the people
and complain that he does not bother to consult them.
A CSA opinion poll for France 3 television showed that Mr. Sarkozy, the
most popular politician on the right, was the public's choice with 25
percent of voters wanting him to become prime minister. Only 11 percent
favored Mr. de Villepin.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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