May 31, 2005

"Intelligence Brief: European Constitution" : PINR

The vote in France on May 29 rejecting the referendum proposing approval of the European Constitution has brought to the surface divergent interests within the European Union that are likely to stall the drive of its political class to transform it into a regional power bloc able to counterbalance the United States, negotiate with other regional economic power centers -- most notably China -- from a more advantageous position, and develop over the long term a single comprehensive foreign policy.

Through a large turnout of 71 percent of voters who turned down the constitution by a margin of 54.87 percent to 45.13 percent, the French public sent their national leaders and the elites in Brussels a message that they had failed to accommodate interests that are threatened by further European integration along the lines laid down by the constitution.

The diverse coalition that defeated the referendum included left socialists and communists, anti-globalization groups, Catholic traditionalists and ultra-nationalists who were brought together by common opposition rather than a positive program. The left, along with the trade unions, feared the weakening of the French welfare state under the provisions of the constitution calling for a competitive Europe-wide internal market, job loss to low-wage Eastern European countries and increased immigration of cheap labor. The religious traditionalists objected to the absence of reference to Europe's Christian cultural roots in the constitution. The right was concerned with the loss of national sovereignty to a European "super-state" and the eventual incorporation of Muslim Turkey into the Union.

Opposition to the constitution extended to all segments of the voting public; only voters over age 65 gave majority approval to the referendum's proposition. Rejectionist sentiment was highest in rural areas, among the working class and, in a surprise to the political class, among youth, who had been thought to have been socialized into a "European" perspective.

Europe: Community or Power Bloc?

Despite the varied interests composing opposition to the constitution, the major trigger for the referendum's defeat was the recent expansion of the Union to include the post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe and plans to continue that expansion through Southeastern Europe and into Turkey and perhaps the states of the Caucasus.

From the viewpoint of Western Europe's political class, the emerging multipolar configuration of world politics, coupled with globalized market capitalism, requires that the Union extend its territorial boundaries as far as possible and build an economy capable of competing on an advantageous footing with other regional power centers. Fulfilling those requirements means that the "social model" of continental Western European states will have to be pared down in favor of market efficiencies, multiculturalism will have to be embraced and national sovereignty over economic, security, social and foreign policy will have to be slowly ceded to European institutions.

Buried under the inflated rhetoric of all sides in the debate preceding the referendum is the fact that in itself the constitution is only a small, though necessary, step in the direction of realizing the geostrategic and geoeconomic aims of Europe's political class. The 448 articles of the document mainly aggregate provisions in treaties that already constitute the E.U. under a single structure, which becomes the framework for substantive moves toward integration in the future that will not have to be negotiated in treaties, although action on central issues such as tax, social security, defense and foreign policy will still require the approval of all member states.

In light of the modest advances in European integration codified in the constitution, its primary function is to set the stage for further developments rather than to institute significant changes. It is not the contents of the constitution that spurred opposition to it in France, but the sense that greater formalization of the Union would mark a turning point, after which its march toward becoming a power bloc would be irreversible and the post-World War II European "social contract," which traded popular acceptance of capitalism for a welfare state, would be broken, spelling the end of the European "community" as a distinctive set of social arrangements that was envisioned by the core of Western European states that initiated the process of European integration.

It was inevitable that at some time along the road to integration, interests of protected and privileged populations in Western Europe would come into conflict with the interests in economic development of Eastern Europe and the geostrategy of the Western European political class. The French referendum marks that moment, ushering in a period of uncertainty in which conflicts between forces backing neo-liberal "reform" and regionalism, and those supporting the "social model" and nationalism will crystallize and intensify throughout Western Europe.

The Bottom Line

The defeat of the referendum on the European constitution in France reveals that the drive of the Western European political class to transform the E.U. into a power bloc has, at least in the short term, reached its limits. Further progress toward European integration depends upon resolving difficult economic, social and cultural issues that will have to be addressed within national political systems rather than on a Europe-wide level. The E.U. will remain a major player in global politics, but its momentum towards consolidating power has decreased in the medium term.

Report Drafted By:
Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader.

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