Startling news from France. Of all the countries in the European Union, the arch socialists and generally goofy French appear to be on the verge of rejecting the EU Constitution in a referendum coming up in May. This is something I would have expected of England or Denmark or one of the more sensible countries, but loony France? What on earth is going on?
In the second poll this month, the French public showed a clear inclination not to vote for the EU Constitution, and surprisingly the strongest opposition is among French leftists, not French nationalist right-wingers. After looking over the document I have to conclude that this must be because the new Constitution doesn’t give away enough national sovereignty. The sneaky Brits have weaseled in some wording which protects business and industry from EU government interference, and that must gall the French leftists quite a bit. Could they be voting against this Constitution in hopes of getting a stronger EU government on the next try? Or could it just be the growing anti-Islamic sentiment in France which is making them nervous about future EU members like Bulgaria and Turkey?
The French trend is a surprise to many, so it’s getting a lot of press coverage. What’s not getting as much coverage and may be even more significant is that a number of other countries are also likely to reject the new EU Constitution. In Britain polls show a very strong majority opposed to not just the EU Constitution, but to continued membership in the EU alltogether. An ICM poll shows a 55-25% split opposed to the EU Constitution, with 70-90% majorities stating a preference for British sovereignty over the EU government on a variety of issues. Since that poll the numbers in Britain have gotten somewhat better for the EU, mainly because Britain was bribed with an offer of the presidency of the EU in 2006 when the referendum there on the Constitution will take place. Even so, The Sun shows only 24% for the Constitution and 56% opposed.
The situation in Denmark is also very bad for the EU Constitution. Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen suggested the likelihood that Denmark would have no choice but to pull out of the EU if they voted down the Constitution as they have voted down many other EU programs. Some other countries remain enthusiastic – mostly those who stand to benefit most from outside aid and increased trade from the EU, like Poland and other Eastern European members, except for the prosperous Czech republic where 17 out of 24 EU parliament representatives voted against the Constitution and the public is even more opposed.
Theoretically, for the Constitution to pass it needs to be approved by every one of the member states. It actually already has 15 favorable votes at this point because a number of countries passed approval through their parliaments without a referendum, but it may be unable to get more than 1 or 2 more. Right now the only remaining country showing a majority supporting the Constitution is Ireland. but others, even France seem right on the borderline. The remaining 10 countries are scheduled to hole referenda over the next year.
Optimistic supporters of the Constitution think it will pass everywhere with the possible exception of Britain which is the last to vote, but the reality is that it may well get rejected by 3-5 countries before the British even vote on it. In that situation the only option left to the EU would likely be for countries which voted against the Constitution to leave the EU. Altertatively, to keep those countries involved the EU would have to come up with another Constitution, presumably with greater weakening of EU government authority and more restrictions on immigration, since immigration and issues of national sovereignty and the preservation of local law and government seems to be the main concern of most of those unhappy with the Constitution.
Of course, there could be surprises like the one earlier this year where Spain which had almost a 2/3 majority in opposition to the Constitution in polls had surprisingly low voter turnout for the referendum and the Constitution ended up winning – apparently all the opponents didn’t bother to come and actually vote. This pattern might repeat itself in other countries despite the strong ‘get out the vote’ efforts from both sides largely because Europeans seem remarkably unaware of the Constitution or its contents. Polls are showing that in many of the EU countries as much as three quarters of the population had never even heard of the EU Constitition and according to The BBC only 11% of the European population has any idea of the Constitution’s content. Of course, this might be because the Constitution is about 450 pages long. Nonetheless, wiith 10 countries voting in the next year that seems like an awfully high level fo ignorance and it might explain low voter turnout.
What all of this reflects is what appears to be a growing level of dissatisfaction among both the general public and the political leadership of many of the member states with the EU Constitution, or more specifically with the way the EU is doing business and the way it is treating the sovereignty of member nations. However, the main concern seems to be the pattern which is emerging of more and more poorly managed, debtor nations clamboring to join the EU, which will ultimately prove so much of a drain on the union that it will start to harm the richer more successful nations. The Baltic republics have already been let in and are proving not to be much of an asset. The applications of Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania make it clear that every impoverished and troubled nation in Europe would love to be part of the EU too.
Countries like Britain and the Netherlands have to be asking themselves why they should be involved with the EU, when unlike more and more of the other members, they have a growing GDP a healthy and self-sufficient economy and no real need for EU help with trade and finance or much of anything else. Some countries – particularly Germany – have suggested permanently blocking certain countries like Turkey and the former Russian republics from membership, because they are aware that there will come a point where the EU will just be dragged down to destruction by countries with more needs than assets who will join the EU for the economic benefits but have little to give in return. If even the French are starting to see this, then the EU may indeed be doomed.
With 25 members and heading towards 30 or more, the EU may also just be too large to work together effectively. The US has been able to accomplish it, but we started as a federation of small and weak states which had never really experienced sovereignty. Trying to impose federalism on foremerly sovereign nations and trying to fairly govern nations with so many different interests and of such different levels of means, may prove almost impossible.
This may explain why the EU needs a 450 page Constitution (the basic document is only 220 or so dense pages, but it’s more with all the associated material) when the US has been able to hold together 50 separate states with a 6 page Constitution which has only been amended slightly more than 2 dozen times in 230 years. My guess is that with modern nations with a lot of history behind them the window of opportunity for establishing simple, federal government has already closed. And if that’s the case, no matter how many hundreds of pages you put into your Constitution it’s never going to please everyone or maybe not even enough of a majority to make it viable at all. And a Constitution with special sections to cover every contingency and no strong, simple, overriding philosophy of government, isn’t going to inspire much confidence.
So good luck to the boys in Brussels. I’m looking forward to seeing the wisest countries of Europe out from under the yoke of the EU and striding forward to prosperity on their own terms.