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May 27, 2005

What Brussels Has Joined: European Disunion II
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just a quick Friday afternoon note, to get my points for prescience or look bad Monday morning:  things are not looking good for the EU Constitution referendum in France this weekend, and even worse for the follow-on in the Netherlands next week.

Folks I talk to confirm what we're seeing in commentary; this represents less a specific rejection of the frankenstein-of-a-constitution than a general sense of unease with the EU's "democratic deficit" overlaid by a very specific sense of anger at incumbent governments, the problems associated with immigration, and --dare I say it? -- a soupcon of malaise with the 21st century in general.

Saw a marvelous quote involving the Dutch foreign minister stumping for the treaty (amusing to imagine Secretary Rice pressing the flesh for a treaty, no?).  A citizen informed him that he couldn't possibly change her "no" vote, and he politely asked why.  "I just want to say 'no' to something," the woman replied. 

Meanwhile, the same day the German parliament approved the Constitution, having declined to submit it to popular vote, the German public showed its disaffection another way -- opinion polls showed Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative opposition CDU, overtaking incumbent chancellor SDU Gerhard Schroeder for the first time.  Polls said 60 percent of Germans want a new government -- at the same level they showed just before Germans dumped longtime chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1998.

All this suggests several things.  If France and the Netherlands both vote no, the EU will be consumed with containing the damage, and probably negotiating several less all-encompassing treaties to put some of the Constitution's practical provisions (the arduously-reached new rules on who gets how many votes, Commissioners, etc.) into practice.  Even if one or both squeak it out, which is looking unlikely, this heralds a period of turbulence and inward-focus for Europe.  Bad news, I think, for big issues like UNSC reform (Suzanne will correct me if not), final status for Kosovo, new approaches on development assistance, and other areas where Europe either does or should take the lead.  It shouldn't, one hopes, affect the highest-profile issues like Iran... but one wonders.  The more unsettled things are, as well, the more incentive for politicians on all sides to take shots at the US, disturbing those relationships just as they seemed to be calming down a bit.

Bad news for US exporters, good news for US tourists and foreign-affairs boondogglers:  BBC had someone on this morning confidently predicting that the euro would fall a bit if France votes "non."  Buy those plane tickets now!


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