As of 1am GMT with most of the votes counted and a 70% turnout, French TV5 shows the European Constitution defeated by 55% to 45%. The BBC confirms this result from partial returns and exit polling. The ‘no’ vote was actually higher than anything predicted in the series of polls prior to the referendum, though they all showed the Constitution being defeated.
Voters were eager to be heard and turned out in large numbers and early. Opposition to the Constitution was fiercest among the moderate and extreme political left – socialists and communists – and also on the extreme nationalist right. Moderates and right-leaning moderates supported the Constitution. Their opposition was based on the general belief that the Constitution would move the EU away from its traditions and towards a more capitalistic model promoted by the British, a belief originating in compromises made on issues relating to business regulation and taxation to protect entrepreneurs and small businesses. The authors of the Constitution had expected the British to be the most likely to vote it down, so they had made concessions to them in advance, alienating the French in the process. The British, of course, don’t think the concessions were significant enough, and many there still object to the Constitution on the grounds that it is too intrusive and takes away too much business and legal sovereignty.
Another major concern was that the new Constitution would help to open borders for business and encourage more outsourcing of jobs from France to countries in Eastern Europe. Supporters of the Constitution maintain that both of these fears result from ignorance of the document, but the extreme length of the Constitution made it easy for special interests to represent it to serve their purposes because very few voters have the patience to actually read it. Polls indicate that the large majority of those who voted in the French referendum got their knowledge of the Constitution from other sources and had not actually read it.
Under the rules of the European Union the Constitution cannot be implemented if even a single member country votes it down. The likelihood of this was reduced by passing the Constitution by parliamentary approval rather than public referendum in most countries, but some of the larger nations insisted on referenda, and failure was also expected in The Netherlands later this week and Britain sometime this summer. The referenda in the remaining countries are expected to go forward as a measure of public opinion if nothing else.
Although there is opposition on many grounds from many quarters in Britain, one of the strongest objections there is concern that the Constitution is too pro-French. Other common objections include the length of the document – which almost no one has read at over 300 pages, the large and overpaid class of permanent unelected bureaucrats in the EU government and the loss of sovereignty and legal autonomy threatened by transfer of more and more power to a government outside of the British Isles. Many Britons feel that the EU government has grown beyond its originally intended purpose and that it costs a great deal of money and provides nothing in return that their own government doesn’t already do better and cheaper.
There is great concern in Britain that the defeat of the EU Constitution will result in the same efforts which followed the defeat of the original proposal of the Euro currency in the early 90s, with new versions of the Constitution being presented, tailored to the interests of the most actively objecting country, until the voters get bored, turnout goes down, and the Constitution gets approved. Even before the French referendum, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac had already publicly indicated their eagerness to meet with other EU leaders to work on changes to the Constitution in preparation for another vote. In anticipation of these efforts, opponents in a number of country have already expressed their resentment at having the Constitution ‘rammed down their throats’ the way the Euro and other EU policies have been.
So it seems that although the EU Constitution has now been fairly soundly defeated in the country which for many years was a leading cheerleader for the EU, it’s not going to go away any time soon.
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