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   Vol. 69/No. 23           June 13, 2005  
French, Dutch ‘no’ votes doom EU constitution
(front page)
In a May 29 nationwide referendum voters in France rejected the proposed European Union (EU) constitution by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. About 70 percent of those eligible cast ballots, a relatively high turnout. As this issue went to press, a similar referendum was decisively rejected in the Netherlands.

These results increased instability in Europe, making the adoption of an EU constitution improbable. While dealing a further blow to the EU’s Franco-German center, the no votes also presented greater difficulties for Washington’s push to expand the European Union in order to weaken it and minimize the ability of the main imperialist powers in the EU to compete against the U.S. rulers.

Chauvinism and anti-Americanism marked both those who campaigned for yes and those who advocated a no vote. Both camps bickered on how best to defend the interests of “France” against its main competitors in Europe and beyond.

The EU constitution was officially adopted by government representatives in the European Union in October 2004. Before taking effect, however, it has to be ratified within two years by each of the 25 EU member states, either by a parliamentary vote or in a referendum. The no vote in France, one of the most powerful imperialist countries in Europe, dealt a virtual deathblow to its implementation.  
No rejoicing in Washington
“The derailing of the European Union’s constitutional project means a trace of undesired uncertainty in the [U.S.] administration’s dealing with the Europeans,” noted a May 24 International Herald Tribune article by John Vinocur titled, “Politicus: If EU constitution fails, U.S. won’t be gloating.”

“A negative outcome requiring Europe to rethink its future path very likely means slowing down the entry process of Turkey and Ukraine into the EU—both projects for Europe’s future that the Americans stand behind,” Vinocur said. “The more advanced candidacies of Romania and Bulgaria…could falter too.”

In campaigning for a greater and more rapid expansion of the EU, Washington seeks to further weaken the ability of German and French imperialists to use the EU as an alternative competitive bloc to U.S. finance capital in the drive for markets and raw materials. With expansion of the EU, Washington also seeks to force its allies in Europe to bear the cost of integrating into the world capitalist market and imperialist military alliances the countries of Central and Eastern Europe—where capitalist social relations were overturned after World War II—and increasingly the former Soviet republics as well.

“The decision of France inevitably creates a difficult situation for the defense of our interests in Europe,” said French president Jacques Chirac, who had campaigned for approving the EU constitution.

Other French government officials were more blunt. “This is the first time in 50 years that the French and Germans have diverged in Europe on a fundamental issue,” said French foreign minister Michel Barnier. “Without this constitution, Europe is broken down politically.”

So far nine governments have ratified the treaty—those of Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. Eight national referenda are scheduled to take place. The next one, which was held June 1 in the Netherlands, also resulted in a resounding defeat. An exit poll broadcast by state-financed NOS TV there reported the EU constitution was rejected by a vote of 63 percent to 37 percent.

The French vote also showed that national boundaries cannot be erased by declaring a “union” of capitalist states.

The EU is in reality not a “union” but a body marked by shifting state alliances and conflicts as rival national capitalist classes compete over markets, capital, and labor. The admission of some of its newest members, which include states in Central and Eastern Europe, also further accentuates economic, social, and political disparities among industrially advanced capitalist countries and those with more economically underdeveloped regions. At the time 10 additional governments—in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, and Cyprus—were admitted into the EU in May 2004, they had an average per capita national income that was less than half that of the other 15 members.

One of the simmering disputes within the EU is over Ankara’s application to join. Turkey is a semicolonial country with a population of some 69 million people, which would be second only to Germany in the EU. A number of capitalist politicians in France and other EU member states have been outspoken against admitting Turkey, arguing that it will allow Muslims to predominate against “Christendom.” “Do we really want the riverbed of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?” French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said last September. Raffarin, who led the French government’s campaign for a yes vote on the EU constitution, submitted his resignation two days after the May 29 referendum. While Chirac has stated he’s officially in favor of Turkey joining, he has vowed to hold a national referendum in France on this issue.

Among those who campaigned for a no vote in France were ultrarightist National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, as well as the Stalinist Communist Party, and some leaders of the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party was divided down the middle over the issue. Although the social-democratic party officially adopted a position for a “yes” vote, a number of leading members, like former prime minister Laurent Fabius, campaigned for a no vote.  
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