Crisis in Europe

The French and the Dutch have said 'no' to the proposed constitutional treaty. Should other EU member states continue with ratification? What broader lessons should Europe draw from those 'noes'?

See TGA's Guardian columns on this subject:
Votez oui malgré tout
What is to be done?



R. Rivas, Australia/Spain

I feel happy about this sharp braking of the "EU Project". People were being asked, no, shouted at by their political and bureaucratic elites to RUBBER STAMP a massive 400 page lawyer and bureaucratic wet dream that nobody really understood, which was confusingly called a "Constitutional Treaty". In Spain, a strongly pro EU country, it was affirmed, but this affirmation should have been ruled "off-side" as less than half the electors bothered to vote on this historically decisive treaty-constitution-thingy-whatever! France and the Netherlands , traditional stalwarts of the EU resoundingly shouted NO! The reaction of the elites was that it was a disaster, that the peasants are revolting and ignorant, and that the NO was all due to specific domestic political issues, etc, etc.
Let's get this last suggestion straight - yes there were a lot of specific and contrary local issues - a lot of (employed) French love their straight-jacketed economy (wait till bankruptcy hits!) and the Dutch, though with one of the most open economies in the world - but suffering from the hangover of nine years of an out of control housing boom (no politician had the guts to demand that it be controlled with specific taxes) are out of sorts, and suddenly disgusted to discover that their ultra tolerant society has imported an ultra intolerant foreign culture into its cities - one in which women are definitely not equal and the killing of politicians and journalists has become one of the risks of free speech!
But this hides a more fundamental reason - the EU, which was alway based on economics is no basis for a state! The Euro elites seem to think that mere economics which disregards the cultural roots of European society, and also ignores the identities of peoples, can be the basis of a state. This is pure moonshine. When people talk of "multi-culturalism's success" say in Canada and Australia, they ignore a few key points - firstly, the vast majority (about 90 percent) are of Western origin and so have enough in common understandings to hold them together. Secondly the relatively tiny Islamic societies within these countries number only a few hundred thousand and are therefore unable to isolate themselves from the wider community. From sheer daily necessity they have become relatively well integrated. This contrasts with the huge Islamic communities in some French and Dutch cities where many live in a parallel universe, hardly ever needing to come into contact with non-muslims in their daily lives, with the inevitable result of strong communal tensions with the wider, secular, western society - which then manifests itself in extremism and counter-extremism on both sides.
But I've diverged - the EU, which was not long ago the European ECONOMIC Community, is essentially driven by economic abstraction which doesn't even acknowledge the cultural basis of societies, and so cannot be the basis of a state, which, after all, is ultimately the political apparatus by which a society regulates its internal tensions. This is the true meaning of the adamant French "Non" and Dutch "Nee" - these peoples are simply not prepared to blindly handover ultimate sovereignity to this disembodied, abstract, economically, bureacratically and legally driven organisation of which they feel has no real connection with their societies. To put it in practical terms: Who is sufficiently motivated to fight, as a soldier, in defense of the EU?

Michel Bastian, France

No, the constitution should not be pushed through forcibly. That would spark an instant mutiny against the EU in general. Broader lessons? All governments and Brussels should listen to the people more. And they should reform the european institutions so as to guarantee democratic representation in EU lawmaking processes. And they have to build up confidence in the EU again. Then we can talk about drawing up a european constitution (a real one, not another treaty in disguise).

Robert Burnett, USA

Americans are enjoying seeing the pompous frog and his German dachshund get egg over their pusses. Couldn't happen to nicer elitists. What a pity others don't want to be ruled by a neo-Vichy-Prussian axis. Dirty 'ol Anglo-Saxons.

Antti Vainio, Finland

Even though the xenophobic noises are disgusting who can blame the Dutch and the French? Concentrating the power in Bruxelles and neoliberalism is not what majority of Europeans want. The Scandinavians have shown that you can have both, a market economy and an independent wellfare state within the union. I'm refering, of course, to Denmark and Sweden. Finland is becoming a sad example of illfare state run by the chosen greedy ones, mostly from abroad. Yeah, we didn't vote about the constitution, it's just accepted by the wise

Charles Warren, USA

The French goal of transforming Europe into a sort of Third French Empire able to confront America as a geopolitical equal has foundered, as I knew it would, on the sheer fact that the people of Europe (even the French !) are not willing to pay the cost in sovereignty and lifestyle to bring it about.
When someone puts a 400 page contract and a pen in front of you, don't sign unless you are absolutely confident of the motives of that person. In 1787 the American people were given a concise, dry, but readable four page document that they understood completely and signed off on after full public debate. The American people knew what they were getting into. Nobody understood the European 'constitution' and nobody had ever been sold on what exactly the European people stood to gain from "an ever closer union".
The people of Europe do not want a constitution because they do not want a unitary state. They understand that the only level on which politicians can actually be held accountable, on which democracy can actually be exercised, is that of the nation state. They have no wish to be governed by a mandarin class utterly removed from democratic accountability.

Michel Bastian, France

To R. Rivas:
> To put it in practical terms: Who is sufficiently motivated to fight, as a soldier, in defense of the EU?
(Antti, stop reading or get some coffee, this is going to be a long one again ;-)). You mean personally put their life on the line for the EU? I would be, no questions asked. "Why?" do you ask? After all, the EU is just a bloated bureaucratic monster, right? Wrong. The EU is an ideal. It´s the concept of 25 different nations not only living in peace with one another, but actually cooperating closely for the greater good without losing their national identities. The EU is more, much more than just the sum of all its parts. It´s the prototype for a global society.
Oh, yes, I can hear all those eurosceptics saying I´m a hopeless dreamer and that it´s never going to work. All I can say to them is: it works. How do I know that? Because I experienced it first hand. You see, I was fortunate enough to be brought up in an inconspicuous small town in Flanders (Belgium) that had one particularity: it had a european school. These are a few schools drawn up by the first EEC member states all over western Europe. The object is to provide education for the children of EU civil servants. For information you can go to . The educational concept of these schools is to provide the pupils with a broader view that is not restricted to their own nation. In practice, that means you have a fairly normal scholar curriculum (starting with a nursery cycle, a primary cycle and a secondary cycle), but you´re in school with pupils and teachers from all over Europe. Most lessons are taught in one primary language (depending on what section you´re in; there were english, german, french, dutch and italian sections in my time; it´s bound to have changed a bit since then, because I left school in ´82), but from day one you learn at least two foreign languages from native speaking teachers. Also, at least two of your major non-language subjects in the secondary cycle are taught by native speakers from another section. Myself, I had a choice of getting history and geography taught in english or in french by english or french teachers. I chose french at the time. I also took classical greek classes, taught by a french teacher (we didn´t have Greeks in the school back then). So in my case I had a french geography teacher, a belgian history teacher, german teachers for maths, biology, chemistry, philosophy, latin, german (mother tongue), art, a dutch music teacher, a dutch dutch teacher, a french greek teacher, an englishman for english, a frenchman for french (as a foreign language, which I admit was a bit unfair in my case ;-)) and last but not least a scot for physical education (depend on a scot if you want all-weather outdoor sports, believe me ;-)). The director of the school was an englishman, the sub-director was german and the director of primary school was a belgian (nowadays they´re irish, spanish and swedish respectively).
Sounds like a right jumble? Well actually no, it wasn´t. Since you didn´t have to worry about languages (everybody could speak at least three languages more or less fluently in there), the whole thing functioned just like a normal school.
And that´s the reason why despite all the cultural differences, I know the EU can work if people just give it half a chance.

Tony Earnshaw, UK

Constitutions in general are a good thing, as they codify procedures so that we all know where we stand. Even my local bowls club has one.
None of the critics of the proposed constitution ever seem to specify which clauses they are against. But it's only by citing the clauses they don't like that we can ever get a rational, non-veto, EU off the ground.
EU ratification should continue, if only so the individual clauses (yes, all of them) can be debated by commentators and politicians alike. Once we know what clauses we all like, we can return to the drawing board.

Rik, Netherlands

I think there can only be a 'no' vote. I also think the French voted no for the wrong reasons and the Dutch for the right ones. The essential problem of the EU are it's & it's roots. The latter you can safely identify as Hitler and the Nazi's (what Hitler could not achieve with his armies, the EU has now realized), the former is fundamentally undemocratic. Had Schumann & Monnet but adopted or written something similar to the American Constitution, there would be no problem today.
I think there is a clash between 'popular' values and those of elites and the governments. Popular here means the Enlightenmentpropaganda we're bombarded with on the Big and the Little Screen. Governments of course adhere to completely opposite values: they have to. (for enlightenmentpropaganda and the attack on modernity by the neocons in the US, I'd advise you to read the blog of David Brin, an American writer/scientist). Governments failure to acknowledge to shift in values (or to properly deal with it) is leading societies all over Europe into disaster. Because, if we want to have a future - believe in one, I mean - this will require the adoption of certain values. But this can not be proscribed by governments. That is the great problem.

H.B.Muller, Spain/France/Germany

There was a short note in La Libération on June 9th, that fits into the discussion about a "crisis":
So now we finally learned that Washington thinks that there is an "European crisis". It took obviously some time for the Americans to find out if the "noes" in the French and Dutch votings are good or bad for their imperial plans for a unipolar world. However, the fact that the US seem to be so interested in the results of the plebiscites should ring some alarm bells on our side of the pond.
Actually, Europe is in the good position that it doesn't need to care if the World Bully is happy or worried about what is happening on the path of development of the EU. Europe as such is big enough and its member states are strong enough to cope with the process all by themselves, and also with temporary setbacks that are completely normal and might happen eventually.
The United States are certainly interested in a united Europe; in a Europe, though, which corresponds to the plans that Pennsylvania Avenue has for it. In that picture, it would certainly not be a strong Union but rather a satellite to America: Economically strong enough to be the playground for their corporations, the raiders of their hedge funds and equity funds, but politically weak enough to obediently fulfill the wishes of the masters in Washington in the global game of influence and pressure.
The recent "noes" to the European "constitution" have brought politicians back to earth; it has given us the opportunity to lean back for a little while and ponder what exactly we want to do with the partial successes that we have achieved so far. We have to remember the European values: They are ?still-- humanistic, meaning that the human welfare stands in the center of our thinking. Europe stands for dialogue and the resulting consensus in social matters, in contrary to the dictate of predator capitalism that unfortunately rules in the US.
"Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus", said neocon thinker Robert Kagan a few years ago. We should really be proud of that estimation. It's a compliment. Europe stands for tolerance, America stand for bullying. Europe stands for negotiations, America stands for missiles. Europe stands for Kant and Rousseau, America stands for Adam Smith and Hobbes. Europe is Mozart, America is Mike Tyson. Perfect ? all that is reason enough to be rejoycing.
Europe now has the big chance to build a strong entity out of the loose conglomerate that it is right at the moment. The most important prerequisite is, though, that it must not admit any meddling into its internal errands from outside. This is going to be an extremely difficult task, considering the political configuration that it will be facing during the next years: In Britain, there is Tony Blair, blindly convinced that there can only be a unipolar world, subject to the United States; in Germany, from September onward we will most likely see Mrs. Angela Merkel happily receiving her orders from Washington; and both will be strongly backed up by the "New Europe". France's Mr de Villepin will then have a really tough job to hold the European Union's course on the independent path. The proceedings in Brussels are likely to slow down because of the neoliberal opposition and he will probably have to stand against some severe attacks from lobbyists and pressure groups. But that is nothing else but a normal process on the way that leads Europe to its goal: To be par inter pares on this planet and not a colony of Wall Street.
In this sense, there is not really a crisis going on; maybe a few lobbyists in Brussels are panicking, that's about all. No one ever thought that building the EU would be a straight highway without obstacles. What we are facing now is the opportunity to think, and it were the French and Dutch citizens who gave us this chance. They made it clear that Europe is supposed to be a Union for every single human being, based on democratic and humanistic principles, and not a playground for the élites. We should be thankful for it.

Paul, Ireland

As for the recent crisis in Europe, I strongly disagree with anyone who claims that the current bickerings among EU leaders will eventually lead to an end of the EU. They certainly differ on a number of issues, yet to describe the state of the EU in the midlle of 2005 a far more appropriate terminology is necessary. The current crisis is a crisis of two or three leaders on their way out of politics, and we, the people who elected them simply have to come to terms with it.

Robert Rivas, Australian/Spain

There may be a day when an inspiring, to the point and short Constitution may be voted for - but I ask the question: are you prepared to sacrifice your life to defend Europe? Until people can answer anambigiously "yes" to that question, there is no point in a constitution, since something that entails a binding "qualified majority" vote implies statehood, and statehood implies a single, indivisible society. And the individuals within that society have a commitment, body and soul, to the preservation of that society. This is why, given its present state of development, not only is a proper constitutional referendum grossly premature, but so is the European Parliament.
Note, that one of the great complaints within France and Netherlands was the lack of consultation of The People in the eastward expansion of the EU into the former Warsaw bloc. The political and economic and legal elites would say that the ((ignorant, reactionary)) people would of said, ((selfishly,aheem))NO regardless of all the great benefits! That they just don't get it - look at that "Polish Plumber" populist nonsense in France.
But its the elites caught in their disembodied managerial flow charts that don't get it (haven't they studied John Ralston Saul's "Voltaire's Bastard's?). Oh those peasant, um, I mean ordinary people, are confused and ignorant. NO THEY'RE NOT. The EU has, without their sovereign permission, achieved quasi statehood. Many of its laws are already trumping those of national states. Ohh goody! say the philosophically challanged Euro-(e)lites - this is progress (that is, THEIR PROGRESS). But let's look at that Polish Plumber so called populist "nonsense". What it implies is that the "ordinary" French are saying, "if you want to be part of our Federation, you first must achieve certain minimal standards" and then ask us, LE PEUPLE, for permission to join - in other words so as not to undercut the way of life of our "ordinary" people by suddenly upsetting the existing social balances. So what the French "populists" are in fact insisting on is a kind of "apprentiseship" period, at the end of which the "ordinary" SOVEREIGN people and not the econometric and legal managers decide. Put it another way, why this unholy rush at giantism - I mean many successful European enterprises like Airbus and CERN are proceeding nicely and don't need it. The Euro elites will say it'll be good for Europe's economy. The "ordinary" people opposing it will say "but is it good for me, my family, my local community?" and are quite rightly concerned with being lectured at by econometric philistines.
Sure, the French (and German, and Italian) economic sclerosis, (where the costs of hiring and firing of workers so limits French businesses ability to take risks and innovate) may very well be a railway accident waiting to happen - but when it does, the French will deal with it in their own innimitably Gallic way - just as the British dealt with their problems their own way under Thatcher. This will happen when politicians like Chirac can no longer blame the UK, Globalism, the Euro, China and any other convenient scapegoats for France's economic troubles. But at least the French public will feel it has some control of its destiny through the French political process.
If the EU wants to succeed, hasten slowly in expansion, and first put its current house in order!

Paul, Ireland

A couple of thoughts on the issue of the EU constitution. First of all, I find it pathetic that the current debate on the EU constitution has literally been highjacked by the no votes in France and the Netherlands. Nobody, I repeat, nobody mentions the fact there are ten European countries that have already ratified the constitution. Ironically, we seem to linger over the two countries which said no to it, without even bothering to include the view of those who already accepted it. Would it not be better to wait and see how many countries eventually ratify or reject the constitution? Finally, is it really sensible to think that such a big issue would be decided by twenty five countries without one or two dissenting voices? Wishful thinking!

Paul, Ireland

The current state of the European Union has been seriously complicated, not by the CAP, UK rebates or enlargements, but by the consequences of the end of the Cold War. The lack of co-operation among the EU leaders on major issues manifests itself in the fact that Europe, temporarily, does not face any immediate external Œenemy‚. Russia is there no more and China will probably need another twenty years to couterbalance the US. By that time, however, Europe needs to seriously get its act together as the stakes are extremely high and the cost of inaction even higher. So what is to be done?
The EU constitution in one form or another has to be adopted. What shape it will eventually take remains to be seen. Nevertheless, efforts aimed at the adoption of a single document for the whole of Europe should not be scrapped. In the global world of the twenty first century, Europe not only needs to specifiy its future objectives, but also enshrine its ideals and values in the form of a written document, not a set of unwritten and ambiguous rules. This is necessary when we consider that there are currently twenty-five members in the EU club, and that number may rise to thirty something in the next two decades.
On the issue of the current squabbles over the EU budget, let&

Ross Gurung, France

To R. Rivas, Australia /Spain,
I dare giving you baffling cut-and-dried opinion:
The American dream is worth Œdying‚ for it, whereas
The European dream is worth Œliving‚ for it.
Excerpt from „The European Dream‰
-By courtesy of the Author, Jeremy Rifkin.To Charles Warren, USA,
The EU is none of your business. Keep yourself off!!

Michel Bastian, France

To Antti Vainio:
>The Boss of the Central Bank of France Christian Noyer says in Financial Times that Scandinavian way seems to be quite clever. No shit, Sherlock, maybe your leaders should do something instead of whining about the food the leaders of Italy and France had to suffer when they agonized couple of hours in the precidential palace of Helsinki.
Hey, Antti, sorry for Chirac´s temper. Perhaps you´ll best do what us french do when dealing with this kind of verbal diarrhoea: ignore it. I´m like the 49% in the US: I have to live with a president I don´t really like (despite one or two things he did right). Next election is looming...

Phil Karasick, Seattle, Washington, USA

Michel Bastian wrote: " Just to put things straight: I´m not an EU official or in any way employed by or associated with the EU. I´m self-employed, together with four other people I built up my own business (without any subsidies or help from whomever, especially not from the EU) and worked hard for the last 10 years to keep it running. Oh, and my firm also employs an (albeit small) number of persons that would be out of a job otherwise. I did use the language skills I learned at school quite a bit though. Sorry if that´s too 'european elitist' for you.
Say WHAT??!?!
Let me see if I get this straight: You're self-employed? You created your own business, together with four other partners? You worked hard and scrimped and saved and sacrificed to keep your business running? You created employment and income for people who would otherwise be on the dole or otherwise unemployed? And.. and.. you DIDN'T take a dime or franc of subsidies from anyone, ESPECIALLY not from the EU?
Michel, are you SURE you're not an American small-business Republican? You sure are doing a great job of talking and sounding like one. Maybe I should send you an invitation to join the local Chamber of Commerce here. People like you are exactly the kind of hard-working, risk-taking, job-creating, subsidy-scorning, business-friendly Republican-leaning capitalist Individualists that the Chamber proudly support.
(Not that I meant to insult you or anything, so please don't take it that way).

Phil Karasick, Seattle, Washington, USA

Let's see, so far I've seen Antti Vainio in Finland refer to "gooks", "niggers", KKK, triads, Asian sex slaves, etc. etc. You seem like a pretty racist guy there, Antti. Must be from living in a country that's basically a single-cell gene pool with a history of interbreeding. Pretty easy to be racist when you never see anyone but people who look just like you, and who are probably all related to you at one time or another.

Phil Karasick, Seattle, Washington, USA

On the one hand, Antti Vainio wrote: "...believe or not, our standard of living is not at all as bad as your GOP say. We are having it quite dandy..."
Yet, on the other hand, Antti Vainio wrote: "In Finland and generally we pay highest taxes. In Finland our food is most expensive. Our wages are lowest in Europe."
Now, let's see if we can make some sense of this, if that's possible.
On one hand, Mr. Vainio claims that the lifestyle in Finland is "just dandy" and that their standard of living "is not at all as bad as" our GOP members (names unknown, he doesn't say) claim.
On the other hand, Mr. Vainio candidly states that he and others in Finland pay the highest taxes in Europe, pay the highest food costs in Europe, and earn the lowest wages in Europe.
I would suggest that Mr. Vainio try attending school in some country other than Finland. Apparently the schools in Finland need significant improvement, since they have apparently brainwashed Mr. Vainio.
Anyone who would actually, seriously think that earning the European Continent's lowest on-average wages (his claim, not mine), having the continent's highest food costs, and having to pay levels of taxation that would send an American into cardiac arrest, somehow equates to having a standard of living that is "just dandy", is in serious need of some remedial education.

Antti Vainio, Finland

Ok, this is what pisses me off in the new Europa:we in Finland have been building this wellfare state since the Big War. Now the communists in all of the former eastern bloc have turned into capitalists who are even worse bastards than Margaret Thatcher. The Estonians are laughing to us because the greediest over there are having it quite fancy while we are generally doing just ok. Their poor are starving but who cares. They are cheeky enough to say we as well in Finland should have their flat 20% tax which made them rich. Fuck this new arrogant right:Finland, Iceland, Sweden & Denmark are good places to live exactly because we pay huge taxes and put them in things like education, hospitals, libraries and the care of the elder. The Dutch do likewise. Money talks and bullshit walks is probably nice idea if you've been under a communist regime but the European constitution should not support any of those ideas


Regarding the EU constitutional crisis: It's perfectly ok for people to vote against things from time to time - it's normal in a democracy.
As for those who compare the EU constitution with the American one - I grant you that the American one had fine prose - but does it work in practice? Only look at Katrina and her aftermath - part of that is a result of muddled lines of authority between federal and states and the muddle stems directly from their antiquated constitution. After Katrina is there anyone on earth who would wish to be American?
Their budget farce is also a result of their antiquated 18th century way of doing things - get this - the White House comes up with a budget, the senate comes up with a completely different version independently, and the house of representatives comes up with a third version, again independently - then they try to reconcile the three versions. And the preferred method of reconciliation? They bribe each other with pork projects so that the budget swells to at least three times it's size - no wonder they are going bankrupt in a hurry.
Message to the Americans on this board: fine prose is not enough to run a country - much better to have a dull document that actually works. It might be time you rewrote your document before you go down the tube entirely. Don't be like those medieval Islamists who claim that these documents are sacred and therefore can't be touched.
One of the benefits of the EU is that it operates on a process of evolution - there is improvement and a new treaty every decade, it evolves, it adapts. So the constitution got rejected. No matter, we'll come up with a new improved version. America by contrast has been drawn up by people who believe in Intelligent Design - designed on the vision of a fixed unchanging future - only life is not like that in practice, as they are finding out.