What happens if the French say “non”?
When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a “oui” vote. In today’s Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France’s neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non. A French rejection of the European Union’s constitutional treaty ...
When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a "oui" vote. In today's Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France's neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non.
When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a “oui” vote. In today’s Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France’s neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non.
A French rejection of the European Union’s constitutional treaty would result in the “fall of Europe,” Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission, warned on Sunday. His words came as the Yes campaign stepped up its increasingly desperate search for a strategy to turn the tide of public opinion ahead of the May 29 vote. In the starkest warning yet of the consequences for the EU if French voters reject the treaty Mr Prodi who was in office when it was drawn up told a French newspaper: “There would be no more Europe. We will pass through a long period of crisis. “The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.” Mr Prodi said the treaty was not perfect but was the best compromise possible. “It is impossible for me to imagine a French No. I have always thought of France as a pillar of Europe. “A No would be catastrophic for Europe, from a social and economic point of view, not only political. And that is the whole contradiction: everybody knows very well that there is no Europe without France, yet France does not realise the chance it has with Europe. She should reflect on that because an isolated France would be very weak,” he said…. However, the latest opinion polls in France suggest the No camp is consolidating its lead with 58 per cent support. They also suggest that a growing number of French voters are playing down the fallout from a No vote.
The fact that articles like this one and this Charlemagne column in the Economist are being printed suggests that experts are taking the likelihood of a non vote very seriously. Of course, this begs the question — would a rejection of the EU constitution really mean the end of the EU project? I’d like to hear from the Europeanists in the audience, but this strikes me as a gross exaggeration. The European project has managed to generate a common market, a common Court of Justice, the euro, Schengenland, an increasingly assertive European parliament, and even the faint stirrings of a common foreign and defense policy — all using the current set of legal and political arrangements. None of these will disappear if the French say non (a good indicator of its significance will be to see what happens to the value of the euro as the probability of a non vote approaches one. If it actually starts to fall in value, then I’m wrong). The “end of Europe” claim by Prodi is an extreme version of the “bicycle theory” of international integration, which says that if there is any slowdown in integration, the process starts to wobble like a slow bicycle, eventually toppling under its own weight. This line was also used after the Maastricht accord was signed in the early nineties. I suspect that warnings like Prodi’s will, if anything, further turn off people against what elites tell them about the European Union. Does this mean the EU would just sail along after a French rejection? Non, it would not, but I’m not sure that the ensuing difficulties would be any more severe than, say, what the World Trade Organization experienced after the 1999 Battle in Seattle. The EU will live on. What will be interesting to see is whether the rest of Europe would interpret a negative vote as an actual rejection of the planned future of the EU or explain it away as a rejection of Jacques Chirac and nothing more.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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