Thursday, May 26, 2005

France All But Concedes Non Vote On EU Constitution

The official line is that it's up to the voters, not the exit polls, but according to The Times of London, the EU Constitution is "lost":
“The thing is lost,” Nicolas Sarkozy told French ministers during an ill-tempered meeting. “It will be a little ‘no’ or a big ‘no’,” he was quoted as telling Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, whom he accused of leading a feeble campaign.

Although Europe would be thrown into disarray, the Government would be greatly relieved if M Sarkozy were right.

Ministers have privately told The Times that Britain is prepared to ditch its commitment to a referendum if France, or the Netherlands next Wednesday, vote against the constitution. They believe that if the French say “no”, President Chirac will have to declare the constitution dead or promise a renegotiation.

This has some rather important ramifications for Middle Eastern politics; for one thing, minus a united political front, the nuclear talks with Iran start to look a little weak. With the EU at an impasse, it also strengthens Russia's hand in Europe -- and elsewhere. For my part, I've always suspected the EU was an attempt by France to eat lunch and have Germany pay for it (i.e., they wanted the benefits of a strong currency without the fiscal discipline). Too, there have been those suggesting (something I recall reading in the Economist some time ago?) that immigration would be a silent factor in EU unification; France might publicly wish for unification, but if it means including Turkey, the deal's off, but they can't come out and say as much.

If the EU ultimately flops -- and without France aboard, it's hard to see how it could succeed -- how this will affect monetary union? Will the individual countries revert to their old currencies? Will the bureaucratic ediface of the EU also be reabsorbed by the various member states? Some very interesting questions now arise.

Update: More from the Times:

French diplomats say that M Chirac is expected to urge other countries to proceed with ratification because France does not want to be seen to be blocking the European project. Any attempt to persuade other countries to go ahead will dash the hopes of those in the British Government who believed that a French rejection would make a British referendum unnecessary.

British ministers argue that it will be impossible to hold a referendum next year because the final shape of the treaty on which the British would be voting will be unknown.

Why should they worry about something as trivial as what the law says? American legislators vote in favor of things they've never even read!