French, Dutch EU votes create shockwave

As French voters decisively said “Non” and Dutch voters said “Nee” to the draft European Union constitution, the future of the 25-nation bloc was left in question this week.

The French vote, in which 55 percent rejected the 325-page draft document, led to thousands of people, particularly workers and youth, celebrating in the streets. It caused an immediate shakeup in the government, with President Jacques Chirac appointing Dominique de Villepin to replace Jean-Pierre Raffarin as prime minister. Fallout from the vote is expected to reverberate for weeks.

French workers and farmers voted in large numbers against the constitution, citing fears that it would strengthen the hand of the big monopolies and result in further assaults on living standards, pensions, democratic rights and other hard-won gains. The Communist Party of France (PCF) was among the draft’s most vocal opponents. The “no” vote coalition included other left groups and, for their own reasons, elements of the far right.

Despite appeals from the leadership of the Socialist Party to vote for the constitution, a solid majority of its members voted against it.

“This ‘no’ of our people is a European no, generous and in solidarity,” said PCF National Secretary Marie-George Buffet. “It is an invitation to those who are organized in other countries, and on the level of Europe itself, for another Europe. Through this we give the hope to create a force so strong that it will dictate the direction of the renegotiation of the treaty.”

The treaty must be passed by all 25 member states to take effect. It has already been passed by parliamentary vote in 10 nations, including Germany, Spain and Italy. The French rejection, though, leaves many questioning whether other nations will continue with the ratification process.

After the French vote, opposition to the draft surged in the Netherlands, where it already faced a majority opposing it. In a statement, the New Communist Party of the Netherlands said, “The French population has not let itself be intimidated. A clear majority most wisely stopped the project to neoliberalize Europe. … Also, in our own country … the resistance against the hard economies will be given in a political form.”

British politicians have called for a “period of reflection” after the French and Dutch votes. Great Britain had been loosely scheduled to have a vote on the EU constitution next spring.

Ireland and Portugal, however, will go forward with their planned referenda. It is likely that June’s EU summit will decide whether or not the ratification process should continue.

The constitution would set rules for the decision-making process of the EU, which is based in Brussels. However, many critics say that it lays out too many detailed policies, making it impossible for future generations to escape a corporate-controlled, militarized Europe. The treaty would also give the bloc a president and foreign minister. While some claim it would allow Europe to stand as a superpower competitor to the U.S., voters voiced concern that it would simply allow Brussels to open Europe to a capitalist free-market model.