Friday, June 03, 2005

Archival Rescue 51 ~ EU Constitution

Netherland and French citizens distrust new constitution

Dutch voters deliver another blow

By David Rennie in The Hague
June 3, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

It may take months, even years, for Europe to work out what the double no from the Netherlands and France means for the European Union.

Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected a new constitution for Europe on Wednesday, following France in undermining the region's ambitions to play a stronger role on the world scene.

Preliminary results yesterday showed a 62 per cent "nee" vote in the Dutch poll, an even more emphatic rejection than the 55 per cent "non" verdict by French voters on Sunday.

But one message has already been made clear to all those countries hoping to join the European Union: Old Europe is turning in on itself. Frightened for their jobs and anxious about losing generous social welfare benefits, voters have little enthusiasm for further expansion of their once cosy club.

If one thing united the very different no votes in France and Holland it was a sense that the EU had expanded too far, too fast. In two decades, it has gone from 10 nations to 25, with Romania and Bulgaria both on course to join as early as 2007.

Croatia and Turkey have begun the formal accession process, while Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine and Georgia all wish to join.

Interviewing French citizens last week, it often felt as if the vote was a referendum on enlargement, not the constitution.

The debate was dominated by the mythic "Polish plumber" coming to France to undercut French workmen and steal their jobs, and the "Romanian lorry driver" about to roar down French roads for miserly pay, cross-eyed with fatigue thanks to unlimited working hours.

French politicians from the no campaign complained, more subtly, about the speed with which communist nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic had entered the EU. They had a moral argument we could not ignore, said leading campaigners, because they had suffered Soviet domination, and then the Berlin Wall came down. The fall of the Berlin Wall sounded like a trap that France had been unable to avoid.

The French no camp, on the left and the right, was particularly incensed the new member states were proving valued allies of Britain, Ireland and other low tax, free-market EU nations.

One French Green European MP complained that the Franco-German alliance had been replaced by an "Anglo-Polish axis".

Marek Belka, the Polish Prime Minister, said this week that enlargement was in trouble. "That is so obvious you do not need diplomatic language to say so," he said.

One Eastern European official said his government was deeply concerned that a freeze on enlargement would be matched by France, Germany or other founding nations forging their own smaller "hard cores" within a weakened EU. "This outcome in France and Netherlands brings a different quality to the EU," he said. "Maybe old EU states will try to build a hard core; we're really frightened of that kind of integration."

The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, said Wednesday's outcome spoke clearly of Dutch concerns about a "loss of sovereignty, about the speed of the changes and about our financial contribution".

"The Dutch people won against this crazy constitution," said Tiny Kox, a member of the small Socialist Party, which was pivotal in the "nee" campaign.

Britain remains a staunch advocate of further enlargement, including the admission of Turkey, in the face of clear opposition from voters in France and Holland.

Edmund Stoiber, the premier of Bavaria, said Germany's conservative opposition did not want Turkey in the EU, but rather to enjoy a "privileged partnership".

Telegraph, London, The New York Times


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