With exit polls giving the No side 54,5 % of the vote in France the fate of the Constitutional Treaty is de facto sealed.
We have missed a possibility to create a better functioning European Union with the possibility of a stronger voice in the world and better possibilities of fighting crime in Europe itself.
That is, needless to say, bad. But it’s not the end of neither the European Union nor of Europe. When some prominent voices claim that a No would mean ”the end of the future of Europe” – in this case it was Romano Prodi – it is of course unmitigated rubbish.
Europe goes on. The question is how. There will be the need for a new leadership in a new situation.
The majority in France gave their no because they were dissatisfied with the present and fearful of the future. A substantial part of that clearly had to do with the domestic affairs of France, but a substantial part was also related to Europe as a whole.
They feel lost in a Europe where globalisation and integration is making change the necessity of the day. They evidently feared that their – in my view hopelessly outdated – view of France would be a loser in that Europe. In that sense, they might not have been that wrong.
The immediate result of the vote is obviously a crisis for France. It’s a failure for both President Chirac and for the Socialist Party. There will have to be a serious soul-searching in the political forces of France before they can start to approach these issues again.
In itself, this might not be a bad thing.
In the capitals of Europe, and not the least in Brussels, the question is of course how to proceed with the issue that the French have now voted on – and the Dutch will vote on this Wednesday.
Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg – holding the European Union presidence at the moment – have said that everything should go on and every country should take its decision on the treaty. A referendum should be held in Luxembourg on July 10.
But this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
First there is the very obvious risk that it will be just an accumulation of further negative decisions. Even Luxembourg might well vote No if France and the Netherlands have already done it.
Then it is now clear that this particular text will never enter into any force. The decision of France must be respected. To continue with ratification in different countries is just to prolong the agony.
When the European Council meets in Brussels on June 16 they should close down the process officially. But they should also stick to their previous agreement to meet in November of next year to consider the situation and discuss what to do.
Then the period until then will be a period of further reflection and debate. In the meantime, everything will work in accordance with all the treaties in force.
In the meantime we might see changes in the political landscape of Europe. There will in all probability be a new government in Berlin by this autumn. There might well be a new Prime Minister in London within this period. And shortly thereafter – in March 2007 – there will be a new President in France.
Clearly, the Europe of today can provide the leadership that inspires. But after a debate across the borders in the coming years, there is at the least the possibility that we will get it.
We are entering a new and not uninteresting phase in the evolution of the European Union.