After the French "No" vote: Part Two - Europe Debates its Future
Quentin Peel (International Affairs Editor of the Financial Times), Dr. Denis MacShane MP (Former UK Minister of state for Europe), Jean-Pierre Langellier (London Correspondent, Le Monde), Lord David Hannay (Former UK Ambassador to the UN), Peter De Waard (Columnist, De Volksrant) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
After the French and Dutch no-votes on the EU Constitution, there were a great many lively debates in every country across Europe. Ordinary people, students and policymakers discussed what exactly the two negative votes actually meant for the EU and which direction it should now take. TV news programmes were also full of debates on the topic with leading politicians and analysts sharing their insights. If nothing else, the two no-votes forced Europe to vigorously debate its future.
As in other EU countries, in the UK many universities and research institutes held debates about the issue. In London, one of the most stimulating was held at Chatham House (the Royal Institute for International Affairs) which invited a prominent Dutchman (Peter De Waard), Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Langellier) and Englishman (Denis MacShane) to share their views on the issue.
Jean-Pierre Langellier and Peter De Waard both explained how for a host of different reasons both the French and Dutch electorates had fallen out of love with the EU dream. Denis MacShane regretted the no-votes, and felt that politicians themselves needed to be more consistent and honest about the EU if they want it to be successful. He also suggested that the constitution should have been called a treaty as this might have given it a better chance of being ratified. This is because the word constitution is too emotionally and politically charged for many Europeans.
Although the trio all had different perspectives on how the no-votes should be interpreted, the three were in agreement that the constitution in its current form was dead. This is an assessment echoed by many GLOCOM platform readers in the first part of this article.
After the three presentations, there was an interesting exchange of views with the audience, a few extracts of which are reproduced below.
Quentin Peel: There are now three major problems. Firstly on EU enlargementůSecondly, there is a big problem on economic development. The core of Europe is far too economically sluggish, but very unwilling to move in the direction of Anglo-Saxon liberalism. Where do we reconcile that and get the European Union economy moving? Thirdly, the democratic disconnect between people and their national and European legislative elites. People do feel there is a democratic disconnect. We have a problem on all three fronts.
Sean Curtin: From a common European citizen's perspective, the EU constitution appears dead. However, we have now entered an almost surreal situation which can perhaps best be described as a "Monty Python Dead Parrot" phase. We have the dead parrot experts of Europe, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and [Irish Prime Minister] Bertie Ahern, saying the EU Constitution is not dead, "It is just stunned" or "It is merely sleeping " This morning [7 June] Bertie Ahern announced that Ireland is going to hold a referendum on the constitution. To many people, this is like selling raffle tickets once all the prizes have been won and there is nothing left. What is the point of this expensive exercise? One has to ask the question is there some strategy behind it or have some European leaders simply lost the plot?
Denis MacShane: I am not quite sure what Mr. Ahern has said. The Irish government has been saying different things at different times. If they have a referendum in Ireland, then I wish them good luck and hope they get a yes-vote. I doubt if they will. I think it is all starting to look rather Kafkaesque going on and on having referendums. But this is supremely an Irish national sovereign decision.
Peter De Waard: One of the problems in Holland was that people were bombarded with information. Our prime minister said one of the positive gains about the referendum was the big debate about the Euro. However, one of the key features about the debate was that people got all the negative information but none of the positive messages.
Denis MacShane: When I leant Latin at school, I didn't do it in four weeks [the time the EU constitution was debated]. It would simply not be possible to learn it in four weeks. You have to do something every day, every week over a period of time. To understand Europe takes time, you need debates and discussions over time. Europe has to become part of our culture. Most British people know infinitely more about American history and the different states than they do about Europe. They can name the governor of California, the mayor of New York, but few could name the foreign minister of Poland.
Jean-Pierre Langellier: The no-vote has taken its toll on Chirac. Since last week Chirac's popularity has dropped quite a lot, right down to about 24%. I think now there is a problem with his authority. I am not sure if his adoptive son Mr. [Dominique] De Villepin [the new French prime minister] will inject enough energy into the system to reverse the shock that was delivered last Sunday [by the no-vote].
Lord Hannay: I think the discussion today has illustrated how dangerous it is for Europe if we conduct a purely navel-gazing, internal introspective debate about what happened and the way ahead. It basically demonstrates the very negative assessment some have given and we are likely to give an even greater impression to our electorates that we are at sixes and sevens, getting nowhere. Would it not be more sensible to reflect on the fact that the world is continuing to turn, despite all that has happened and that there is not such a wide discrepancy amongst the 25 members of the European Union about what it should be doing in the world. Iraq is to some extent behind us and we have a large number of objectives about which we can agree and perhaps about which we can demonstrate to our electorates that Europe still has, as it is currently constituted, a real purpose and a real value. It is going to be rather important to concentrate on things that we all agree about and not spend the whole time talking about issues we disagree about.
The first part of this article can be found here.
The above comments were made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 7 June 2005.