Two days that shook Europe
Two days that shook Europe
The French and Dutch "No" to the EU constitution on May 29 and June 1 has shocked Europe. "Chirac disavowed, Europe destabilised," lamented the French paper Le Monde. The Dutch daily Algameen Dagblad commented, "In shock the political elite watched as a large majority delivered a crushing no." Another Dutch newspaper, Trouw, said the people of the Netherlands "are not against Europe. Their 'No' is a powerful signal that (they) are seriously concerned about the development of Europe."
The referendum will stop all talk of a third presidential term for President Jacques Chirac, who made a scapegoat of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin by replacing him with former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. The damage is not limited to the government. The leaderships of the Socialist Party and the Greens were also repudiated. Europe is indeed destabilised, with the EU edifice shaken to its very foundations.
A nervous Tony Blair is considering cancellation of the vote on the EU constitution. Even Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker is voicing concerns after the Dutch refusal, although his country is considered pro-Europe.
Questioned on the reasons for their vote, France's "No" voters cited the economic and social situation in the country, especially the issue of unemployment and the "too liberal" character of the treaty.
Exit polls had already showed that primary motive for the French no vote (56 percent of the respondents) was the state of the economy. In other words, unemployment. The second most frequently mentioned motive was the "neo-liberal" nature of the constitution treaty (46%). The third was the desire to have the constitution renegotiated. Similarly, in an opinion poll published on May 19 by Centre Data, half the Dutch voters about to say "No" justified their negative vote by their wish to oppose the euro and demonstrate their discontent about the rise in prices that followed the introduction of the single currency.
Far-right leaders like Jean-Marie le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are jubilant. But the sociological and political composition of the vote shows that the bulk of the "No" votes didn't come from the supporters of these politicians. For instance, in France 67% of leftwing voters cast a negative vote. The supporters of the Communist Party and the far left unanimously voted "No," 59% of Socialist supporters and 64% Green supporters did likewise. Most importantly, 61% of non-aligned voters said "Non" as well.
The social categories that voted "no" include: 81% of manual workers, 79% of the unemployed, 60% of white-collar workers and 56% of "intermediary professions". Executives and intellectual professions (62%), those with a university education (57%) and pensioners (56%) voted "Yes." In terms of age, 59% of those between 18 and 34 and 65% of those in the 35-49 age group said no. But the majority of those over 65 cast "Yes" votes.
The pattern was repeated in the Netherlands.
The "anti-Europe" trend is not restricted to the two countries. Last year, Sweden had a negative referendum on the Euro. Everywhere it's been the establishment (the parties and the media) versus the people. But the damage done by the Scandinavian "Nej" remained restricted. The French and Dutch no, however, could have far-reaching repercussions. This is particularly so in the case of France, because of the country's larger size and influential role in Europe.
New York Times commentator Richard Bernstein wrote: "The Europeans are worried, among other things, that the rapid enlargement of the European Union, especially the prospect of Turkey's membership, will leave them more vulnerable to uncontrolled immigration, especially by Muslims."
The United States has kept a distance by declaring the referendum a European matter. There are two arguments on the US attitude on a unified Europe.
According to the first one, Washington stands to lose if the EU drive collapses. Since the EU constitution promises a common president and foreign minister, as well as greater coordination among national police and security forces, it would be easy for the US to deal with one main authority. Above all, with its NATO forces stationed across Europe, a unified Europe will best suit the US, as Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland points out. "A politically stable Europe that is strong enough to cooperate with the United States on a consistent basis is preferable to a faltering, insecure Europe that feels it must constantly establish its own identity and independence in opposition to the United States," he wrote.
The second is the "EU-versus-US" argument. This argument was even sold by some supporters of the "Yes side" in France. A strong EU is the only alternative to US hegemony, it is argued.
As far as the Third World is concerned, the EU being built by Eurocrats will be another empire competing against the exiting one for a share in world trade, and is therefore not a good alternative for the developing countries. Only an alternative EU functioning beyond the globalisation regime will suit Pakistan and the rest of South.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Sweden.Farooq Sulehria
122 41 Enskede. Swedenwww.jeddojuhd.com
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