May 29, 2005

“NON!”

French voters were said tonight to have resoundingly rejected the EU Constitution, sending a defiant message to France’s political establishment and dealing a blow to plans for further European integration.
As polls closed around the country, the three major French polling organisations all reported a “no” vote of around 55-56 per cent, in line with opinion polls before today’s vote.

The rejection of the treaty, drafted by a panel headed by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president, leaves the Constitution effectively dead in the water and the 25-nation European Union in crisis. It also means that Tony Blair may no longer need to argue the case for a Constitution in a UK referendum that had been due next year.

“It’s a massive ‘no’, a heavy rejection of the Constitution and a huge humiliation for President Chirac,” said Charles Bremner, Times correspondent in Paris. “It’s also a huge repudiation of the political establishment – all the major parties were in favour of this document.”

It’s possible that this is a mere bump in the road, although it’s a big one. On the other hand, it’s possible that this is the beginning of a significant political shift in Europe, which I suspect will be a good thing if it happens.

Certainly some folks are battening down the hatches.

UPDATE: Perhaps this response: “Your votes say no no no, but your better classes say yes, yes, yes!”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Jonathan Smith emails: “I have yet to see an american blogger that has recognized that a lot of people that voted Non want France to be a MORE socialist state. It’s a fear that the EU will be more capitalist.”

Well, that’s been a theme of a lot of the coverage I’ve linked to, and it certainly seems to be true. In fact, though I can’t find a working link to the story now, I seem to recall that French free-market activist Sabine Herold supported the EU because she thought that only an external institution could break the power of the French unions.

As for the defeat on two grounds, it seems an obvious consequence of the EU’s general strategy of obfuscation — this works well in a bureaucratic environment, but in the context of referenda, where people tend to vote their fears more than their hopes, it’s been self-defeating. Transparency tends to work better under such circumstances, and transparency has not been the Eurocrats’ forte.

And some people are paying the price:

PARIS – French voters rejected the European Union’s first constitution Sunday, President Jacques Chirac said — a stinging repudiation of his leadership and the ambitious, decades-long effort to further unite the continent.

Ouch. Meanwhile, Daniel Drezner has thoughts — presciently ahead of the vote — on the consequences of a French no.

MORE: Over at ChicagoBoyz, these comments:

This is almost as good as the purple fingers in Iraq. It is a step in the right direction. . . .

The fact that anti-Americanism drove much of the vote doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t want people to like us nearly as much as I want them to be able to govern themselves the way they see fit, have real elections with real consequences, and get the benefits and bear the consequences of those decisions. If the French don’t want capitalisme sauvage or anglo-saxonisme or hyper-liberalisme, OK by me. They are free to have as much socialism as they can get away with.

Indeed. Greg Djerejian has more thoughts, including these:

And it’s certainly not a great day for Jacques Chirac, is it? One might say that he’s now completely damaged goods. Pity. Meantime, let’s now keep an even closer eye on Sarkozy as ’07 looms. Truth be told, it’s silly and sophomoric to emptily cheer-lead this historical repudiation of the EU constitution solely because it’s such tremendously poor news for Jacques. . . .

There will doubtless be yet another referendum a few years hence on the issue. Giscard d’Estaing, for instance, is already on the record stating there will have to be a re-vote going forward. But this is a tremendous setback indeed to the entire process of European integration, of course, and it also showcases a massive failure of leadership by the Chirac Administration. They simply were not able to convince their country on the merits of their vision of Europe’s future. And carping on about “multipolarity” and the big, bad Anglo-Saxon meanies didn’t do the trick, it seems.

Interesting times ahead for French politics. Read this post by Djerejian, too, for some additional background.

STILL MORE: TM Lutas wonders how the French Muslims voted. And the Eclectic Econoclast doesn’t expect the pro-EU forces to take no for an answer, in spite of their prior statements.

MORE STILL: Mark Steyn joins the list of skeptics who doubt that the Euro-establishment will give up:

So, a couple of days before the first referendum, Jean-Claude Juncker, the “president” of the European Union, let French and Dutch voters know how much he values their opinion:

“If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again,” “President” Juncker told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Got that? You have the right to vote, but only if you give the answer your rulers want you to give. But don’t worry, if you don’t, we’ll treat you like a particularly backward nursery school and keep asking the question until you get the answer right.

A pretty safe bet. On the other hand, The New York Times calls this a “crushing defeat” for the E.U. Constitution. We’ll see. I suspect that a lot depends on whether the politicians who pushed it have a political future, or get hammered. In the meantime, I note that both Chirac and Schroeder have tried to prop up their political fortunes by playing the anti-Americanism card, and both have found that gambit insufficient to the task.

David Carr, meanwhile, is offering heartfelt thanks to the responsible parties. And Jeff Jarvis observes: “It’s about trying to turn Europe in to a faux nation. It’s about protectionism. It’s about Europe thinking it is a world player when it is no longer. And it’s about a bad constitution that made up for in bureaucracy what it lacked in vision.”

AND EVEN MORE: Austin Bay observes:

It’s clear that a disgruntled and discombobulated French electorate expressed various types of outrage and enrage (an odd construction but given France’s constant straddling act, strikes me as appropirate). However, if the Communist Redshirts and Le Pen’s fascist Brownshirts are politically determinative in France –and that’s an argument one can make based on this plebiscite– then let’s recognize France as the politically sick society it truly is. If “sick” is a push word and too therapeutic for the pragmatic set, then call it the “lost” society. In some ways the news that the Cold War really is over has finally reached Paris.

He has some thoughts on what ought to come next, too:

So let’s offer NAFTA membership to Holland and the United Kingdom. If you’re Dutch or British, why be stuck in the floundering lost cause of a Franco-centric Greater Europe? We’ll call it the North Atlantic Free Trade Association. Heck, we don’t even have to change the acronym.

Read the whole thing. And read this column by George Will, too.

FINALLY, I think that this comment is really the last word:

The French people decided to look out for their own individual financial interests and also to demonstrate their independence of other countries. How can Chirac be suprised when this is exactly what led him to oppose the U.S. attempt to enforce UN resolutions on Iraq? People criticize Chirac’s leadership on the issue of the referendum but actually the French are following his lead precisely.

Heh. Indeed.