Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


JUNE 2005

French and Dutch voters' rejection two weeks ago of the proposed European constitution calls into serious question whether the drive toward a United Europe is permanently stalled or merely taking a break before pushing on.

The Washington Post, in a May 31 editorial titled "The French Rejection," underlined the basic problem, observing that "Europe needs to find a motor for integration that can replace French nationalism." The Economist on June 4 said the outcome demonstrated a "profound grassroots dissatisfaction over how Europe's political elites have steered the EU."

The social/psychological gulf in France between the government's grand vision of a powerful, integrated Europe led by France, and the frustration of workers, small business owners, and farmers finally reached a breaking point. Protesters didn't buy the price they were asked to pay for their leaders' dream of a united Europe led by France.

Dutch voters reinforced France's rejection with a huge majority protesting the constitution. This backlash against further integration in two of united Europe's six founding states foreshadows a major political shakeup in several EU countries, notably France, Germany, and Italy.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder decided to call early federal elections in Germany after his Social Democratic Party suffered a humiliating defeat in the largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia. If Germany had held a referendum on the EU constitution, many observers think it would have been rejected.

French President Jacques Chirac, who dismissed his prime minister after the referendum's defeat, is not likely to seek reelection in 2007. Britain's Tony Blair has decided not to schedule a referendum next year as promised because of the constitution's unpopularity in Britain.

Explanations for this stunning turn of events have been widely discussed in European and American media. Two major factors seem to account for the French negative vote.

First, fear of losing generous social welfare benefits if low-wage workers from Eastern Europe, and eventually Turkey, were permitted to move freely into Western Europe. Second, deep frustration with the elitism of France's political establishment and the bureaucrats who run the powerful European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

Paris' rebellious mood was highlighted by a demonstration at the former Bastille where protesters recalled the events in 1789 that triggered the French Revolution.

The social/psychological gulf in France between the government's grand design vision of a powerful, integrated Europe led by France, and the frustration of workers, businessmen, and farmers finally reach a breaking point. Protesters don't buy the price they are asked to pay for their leade4rs' dream of a Europe led by France.

Rejection of the EU constitution by French voters results from a deep distrust of their leaders to build a Europe that also preserves their secure and comfortable way of life. This concern is less pronounced in Germany because most Germans do not want a return of virulent nationalism that caused two disastrous wars. Germans see the European Union as a safety net, but they too are concerned by the prospect of low-wage workers from Eastern Europe taking their high-paying jobs.

The elitism of French political leaders is perhaps puzzling to Americans because far greater numbers of young people attend university here than in Europe, where the best graduates compete for well-paid and highly regarded civil service jobs. French elites also seek high paying jobs in the European Commission's bureaucracy where they are able to write a huge number of regulations that impact the lives of all Europeans.

Where does Europe go from here?

Jacques Chirac's view is that the referendum's outcome is a brief setback on the march toward a united Europe, and that the EU ratification process should continue.. Blair concludes that the proposed constitution was far too ambitious and thinks it should be substantially revised. He wants a new document that entails a decentralized government, one that preserves a large degree of political sovereignty for member states.

A third view is that Europe has hit a political wall that will prevent further progress toward full political integration. It concludes that Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey will not be given membership in the 25-nation EU, the unpopular European Commission will lose substantial amounts of power, and revision of the constitution will be put off Indefinitely.

Under this scenario, Europe will not speak with one voice on major political or defense issues, and Washington will in the future deal with governments in London, Paris, Bonn, and Rome on most political issues, instead officials of with the EU Commission in Brussels. I believe this view could be the likely consequence of the French "no.".

Germany will hold general elections in September and many predict that a conservative government will replace Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats. This would help Washington and Berlin resolve many defense and foreign policy issues. In France, however, a significant change in foreign policy will not occur, even with a new government, because French leaders continue to dream that one day they will lead a united Europe that matches the United States in world power and influence.

File last modified on Tuesday, 14-JUNE-2005 07:25 PM EST

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