After the French "No" vote: Part One - GLOCOM Readers Join the Debate
Kevin Cooney (Associate Professor of Political Science, Union University), John Lockton (Geographic Systems Specialist, Australia), Zuzana Petrovicova (George Washington University) Clayton Sanderson (Student) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
The French and Dutch no-votes generated a considerable volume of comments from GLOCOM platform readers. Below are a representative selection of views on the issues discussed in the three-part series "The French 'No' vote" (read part one here, two here and three here.)
John Lockton: I believe that the "No vote" is less to do with the content of the new constitution (I doubt many have actually read it), but more to do with the resentment to the growth and potential future growth of the Union. The French especially have benefited much from the EU, and probably feel that in the future they will no longer be the poor members (not receiving lots of agricultural grants as they've done in the past).
Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia have applications to join. Serbia-Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and even Morocco and Algeria have been seen as possible long-term candidates for membership (there is an even bigger list of potentials).
The additions to the membership of mostly eastern European countries (to make it 25 members) have already widened the wealth between the rich and poor, the prospective members may have an even more dramatic effect. They may even capsize the EU boat.
I think it's a "stability versus growth issue" for the whole of the EU that needs urgent attention, otherwise who knows what may be the fallout.
Kevin Cooney: I basically agree with you that the "stability versus growth issue" is a major reason the "no" vote won, however, I believe that it is only one of several major problems facing the EU. Combined these problems mean death to the constitution at this time. However, I believe the EU's biggest mistake was to expand before approving the constitution (no "Polish plumbers" argument before expansion).
Zuzana Petrovicova: When reading article one of the series, regarding the simplicity of the constitution. I'm not sure if the length is that big of a problem. Sure, the constitution is a fairly thick and detailed document, and it should never have been up to the people to decide on (the average citizen, a non-lawyer, cannot comprehend a constitution, let alone vote on it).
On the other hand, continental European legal systems have a codified law system, unlike the US and UK, which work on case law (based on precedent). Thus, a constitution like in the US would not be likely to work in Europe.
Kevin Cooney: I don't agree with your position and here is why: The constitution was very long and I do agree with you that the length was not an absolutely fatal hindrance, however, the content was the problem as evidenced by its length. It codified everything in such detail that the was little room for revision and the future development of law. I agree the US constitutional model would not work in Europe, but this EU constitution will not work either in its current form. The US system of case law would not work in continental Europe, but the EU encompasses the UK and Ireland which do have the case law system. The EU needs to accommodate this.
My biggest disagreement with you is when you say "it should never have been up to the people to decide on". I feel that it should be up to the people in every EU state. The states that have passed it in their national legislatures were wrong to do so even if they were legally justified in doing so. Just because it is complex does not mean that it cannot be understood. A constitution is a codification of rights, rules, privileges, and responsibilities. It affects everyone in a nation every day of their lives. The people have a responsibility to know and understand it! Complexity is no excuse.
In a democracy the people have a responsibility to learn the issues and make the best choices possible. If they don't learn they must live with the consequences because in a democracy the citizen has a right to be an idiot and to elect an idiot. The alternative is authoritarian rule and by saying that the people are not smart enough to understand the constitution you are in essence advocating authoritarian rule (in this case by elites). Intelligence becomes the standard in which power is given.
The US constitution was passed after two years of debate. The Federalist Papers are a record of this debate. It was a complex debate. The US constitution was complex (not as complex as the EU one) but it was explained and debated. The Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) was originally 15 but rather than enshrine all of these in the constitution they were put to the people and 10 of them passed. This reflected a consensus on what the rights should be. In the end there was a consensus of support for the new document.
If the EU ever hopes to unify they must find a consensus among the people not the elites as to the Europe of the future.
The EU constitution was written by elites who would not trust the people and chose to make major choices for themselves. This is not democracy. Yes they had and were given their authority by elected representatives but anything this momentous should have gone back to the people. My final take on the matter is to say look at who voted the constitution down, the French who have been the biggest cheerleaders of the EU. If they saw problems then the rest of Europe should take a close look at this document and ask themselves, "Do we want this document to rule us for the rest of our lives?"
Sean Curtin: I attended a stimulating post-referendum debate in London on the issue and one of the most interesting comments I heard was form Denis MacShane, the Former UK Minister of state for Europe, who said he felt one of the biggest mistakes in the entire process was calling the document a constitution instead of a treaty. As this discussion has illustrated, the word constitution carries much more political and emotional baggage with it than does the word treaty.
Clayton Sanderson: I enjoyed reading all three articles. One of the things I heard most in the days leading up to the vote in France is that the average Frenchman didn't like the document because of the ease of immigration it created. The fear of Eastern Europeans taking French jobs was an issue. How big of an issue was it? You mentioned the economics playing a role, was the immigration problem part of a greater economic issue, or is that a separate issue?
I also agree with Mr. Curtin that there is no way they can move forward without France and the Netherlands, and that they are just killing time while they figure out what to do. It is a sort of a chicken with its head cut off right now.
What is the feeling about the ratification process of people in the nations where the legislature ratified the constitution without a referendum? I bet some of those wish they could have a chance to say "No" or "Nein."
Lastly, one last thought I have about the French and Dutch that I think went unmentioned in the three articles is pride. That is "national pride". I think part of the reason that this referendum process didn't work is because people are afraid of losing identity. "One Europe" means more gray areas on what it means to be French or Dutch. France and the Netherlands at one time or another were two of the most powerful nations in the world, and to be seen as equal with other nations in Europe that they feel are inferior. I think this sentiment played a role, especially France.
Kevin Cooney: Of course there are many factors behind the "no" votes of the Dutch and the French. The mythical "polish plumber" carried a lot of weight in France. Jobs, social welfare policy, and immigration were huge issues. I think that many votes had suspicions about the constitution and then upon looking further grew hostile toward it when they began to view it as a threat to their pocketbooks. Immigration and economics are intrinsically interlinked in the EU debate. The French and the Dutch had more to lose economically. The biggest mistake the EU made was to expand to 25 members before passing the constitution.
Sean Curtin: It is worth noting that the EU is still functioning fine, with or without the constitution. In fact, there is no noticeable difference between post and pre-referendum life for the average EU citizen as the existing treaties are keeping the union running smoothly. However, with 25 countries now in the EU, there certainly is a need for more streamlining, a process which is taking place without the constitution. The main question is what is the best way for the EU to move forward?
The second part of this article can be found here.