Sunday, May 29, 2005

France Rejects European Union's First Constitution

France rejected the European Union's constitution in a referendum, Sunday, creating a potential crisis for the EU as the organization attempts to enlarge the block with East European nations. President Jacques Chirac swiftly conceded defeat after polling groups showed about 55 percent of the voters opposed the EU's first constitution.

This is a big, complicated story in Europe. The European Union is basically a large trading block of nations which have opened their borders to trade, developed a new currency for all member nations--the euro--while the member nations have nullified their own currency, and have tried to integrate their economies into a large free trade zone. It is almost economically akin to the United States of Europe--but without a joint military policy, foreign policy, or a single political government. The EU member countries include France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Great Britain. The EU was first born out of the old European Coal and Steel Community which established an economic treaty between France and Germany, then later expanded to six countries under the European Economic Community. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 established the euro as a common currency for the EU, and integrated monetary and budgetary policies among the member states. The EU constitution would allow the EU to streamline some of its parliamentary and government procedures, as well as attempt to develop a common defense and foreign policy for the EU as a whole.

So why did France reject the EU? The most likely reason is that France wanted to have a greater say in EU affairs. France has always had a need for both a greater say in political affairs, and to reiterate its independence as a means of security. France originally joined in an economic alliance with Germany with the European Coal and Steel Community as a means to both check the rising economic power of West Germany, and to influence West Germany in policy matters reflecting French interests. In regards to its independence and need for security, France first became one of the original members of NATO until French President Charles De Gaulle took France out of the NATO military command in 1967 and expelled all foreign-controlled troops from the country. You have to wonder if De Gaulle was worried that France would become another occupied country, similar to her occupation under Nazi Germany, but under the benign influence of the U.S. and Great Britain. When the Maastricht Treaty was signed, French leaders probably saw themselves as a counterweight to an expanded Germany who could dominate the European economy. As the EU was expanded to include the East European countries, the French would have realized that their power and influence in EU affairs would be diluted as the new constitution was established. And so France reverts itself back to an independent streak, though not completely out of the EU.

But there's a greater, underlying problem regarding the EU's constitution. There is only so much that a nation-state can give up for integration, before it starts to give up its sovereignty and its right of existence as a nation-state. When the European Union was formed, the member nations had to give up their right to print their own currency for a common European currency known as the euro. The member nations also had to give up some monetary powers in their economies such as setting interest rates, and maintaining low budget deficit and inflation rates. Giving these powers up to a greater political organization means giving up your sovereignty. And since the EU's constitution also alludes to the idea of developing both a common foreign policy and a security policy, the member nations would have to someday give up the greatest power a nation-state has: The power to make war. France is certainly not ready to give that power up.

I'm not sure where the EU's constitution will go from here.

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