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“Yes to the Europe I want – but No to this one”

Reflections on France’s rejection of the EU Constitution

by Henry Milner

I spent the 2004–5 academic year in Europe (the first two months in Sweden, the rest in France), culminating with the May 29 referendum on the European Union Constitutional Treaty. Fifty-five per cent of French voters rejected it. Three days later, 62 per cent of the Dutch did likewise. Across the Channel in Britain, a nasty general election was fought. Had they been able to vote on the EU Treaty, the British too would have rejected it.

In this article I offer some criticism of French politicians, keeping in mind that, as a Canadian, I am not in an ideal position to cast stones, given the sordid revelations of the Gomery hearings and the unsavoury manoeuvrings of Paul Martin to stay in office, which coincided with these events. (The silver lining was that, for once, my colleagues could not dismiss Canadian politics as dull.)

The French campaign was puzzling and ultimately worrisome. In other member states, including the Netherlands, a simple rule generally applies: those whose priority is to strengthen the EU are on the Yes side, while the No is identified with those who emphasize national interests. This makes for reasonably straightforward debates. For example, opponents of adopting the euro in the Swedish referendum in the fall of 2003 were able to convince a sufficient number of Swedes that it wouldn’t be good for Sweden. They didn’t claim that Sweden’s rejection of the euro would be good for Europe.

While the Dutch outcome was affected by the still simmering anger over the murder of outspoken filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical (see Paul Lucardie, “A Multicultural Murder?”, Inroads, Summer/Fall 2005), the No side won essentially because it persuaded enough people that the course being pursued by the EU threatened Dutch interests. To do so, it played on resentment of Brussels for taking Dutch people’s money but ignoring their concerns – “the same people who fooled you with the euro are fooling you now with this constitution.”

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About the Author

Henry Milner
Henry Milner is co-publisher of Inroads and a political scientist at the Université de Montréal.


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