International House of Dan: The EU Is Not Dead

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The EU Is Not Dead

In the days just passed, opponents of the proposed constitution of the European Union were able to secure majorities of voters in France and in the Netherlands. The 325 page draft constitution was done in Brussels last June, signed last October, and is currently undergoing ratification votes in the 25 member nations of the EU. Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain have already ratified the proposed constitution, the remaining states are scheduled to vote in the coming months.

The media and critics of the EU are incorrectly hailing the French and Dutch votes as "deadly blows" to the Union's future, overlooking the internal political realities of these countries as well as the details of the ratification process. The French vote is widely viewed as more of a statement against President Chirac than against the constitution, and the unfortunate timing of the Dutch vote allowed the right to capitalize on the recent uproar over the influx of Muslims in the context of the Theo Van Gogh assassination. These defeats have been largely due to extensive campaigning by the "no" camps; campaigning that has largely been exploitative of the unfounded fears of many Europeans.

In a continent that is accustomed to deliberation and gradual change, concerns over the rush to unite is understandable, but the form that these concerns have taken can be addressed through education and dialogue. Too many Europeans have misgivings about the proposed constitution: misgivings based on fear of change, on fear of immigration, on fear of weaker markets and economic hardship. Many are concerned that the influx of Muslim fundamentalists from accession states such as Turkey will result in the erosion of the liberal secular societies of Europe; for an example of this we need not look further than the recent fracas over Hijab in French schools. When I say that fears over issues like immigration are unfounded I don't mean to belittle the concerns of many European voters, but it seems counterintuitive that a common immigration policy would be desirable to those with that particular concern. Instead, the right has manipulated the issue away from "clearer immigration guidelines in European countries at the edges of the Muslim world", towards "closer proximity between European countries and the Muslim world."

Because the ratification votes are expected to continue in parliaments and referendums across the EU, one or two "no" votes does not mean the end of the ratification process:

Q. What happens if not all Member States ratify the European Constitution? A. 25 ratifications are needed, i.e. the ratification's of all 25 Member States of the European Union. If one Member State does not ratify the Treaty, it cannot enter into force. If, two years after the signature of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council.

As the rest of Europe votes, second referenda will likely be held in holdout states, assuming their number remains overwhelmingly low. Since the "no" concerns are being voiced more specifically, the ratification camp should be able to better address them before the two-year window for ratification closes. Even if the "no" camps pick up steam and the process is de-railed, it would likely be put back on track: this is, after all, only the first draft constitution for Europe. Critics would be well-served to brush up on their Social Studies notes and recall that the ratification of our own U.S. Constitution was itself a less than smooth process.

What will happen in the coming votes remains to be seen. I support a united Europe, and though I realize that the transition will be difficult, I expect that the long-term benefits will far outweigh current hardships. I urge all Europeans not to let their compatriots be swayed by the right's distractions, not to let their votes be dictated by fear, as they were for too many Americans in states where amid war and crises in the environment, education, poverty and health care, gay marriage was somehow an issue. The fear of erosion of the secular governments of Europe is laudable and valid, but the very nature of those government require societies that will turn to communication and acceptance as ways to temper extremism. Societies of that sort don't vote in reactionary fashion, I will be very disappointed in Europe to learn that they have.


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