Europe Divided

Despite the fact that the vast majority of EU countries, which voted on whether to adopt the EU constitution, voted for adoption, the recent French and Dutch rejections highlight several serious problems for the future of the European Union.

In France, the “non” vote appears to have come about as the result of several factors. First, there was a xenophobic right- wing, preying on the fear of too many foreigners in France. However, the “non” vote was primarily a victory of the left, which claimed that the “neo-liberal” constitution was a threat to their cradle-to-grave welfare state.

It is important to note that France was the initiator of the project to integrate Europe. It supports the Maastricht criteria and chairs the European Convent. In rejecting the EU constitution, the French have given a slap in the face to those countries that have thus far ratified it.

For the Dutch, just as for the French, fears of further enlargement, including the further influx of new immigrants clearly contributed to the “no” vote. However, in Holland, it was also the behavior of the present-day EU “leaders” that pushed the Dutch into rejecting the constitution. The Dutch, who have engaged in effective fiscal reforms and who contribute 380 Euro per head into the EU budget, were outraged by France and Germany’s recent about-face regarding their not meeting the Maastrict budgetary criteria.

In the Czech Republic, the debate about the EU constitution remains characterized by the absence of meaningful facts. Instead, along classical Czech lines, the debate is all about the two chief protagonists, president Václav Klaus and Premier Jiří Paroubek, measuring their egos. What remains for president Klaus and for other possible Euroskeptics of smaller countries to explain is, just how these smaller countries should defend themselves against economic powerhouses such as Germany – particularly if such countries decide to choose their own pace.

There is often the perception among new EU member states that they are being used as potential scapegoats by the older and larger countries such as Germany or Great Britain. This, in spite of the fact that it is these new members which are exhibiting the greatest “can-do” attitudes within the EU, and which are implementing free-market reforms with the greatest gusto. Indeed, many of these new member states feel that they are not part of the problem, but rather part of the solution.

The simple fact is that many Europeans seem to view the concept of integration as part of the problem rather than the solution. Instead of optimism and compromise, latent frustration and xenophobia have emerged as the leading emotions underpinning much of the integration debate. In this sense, Europe is far more united by negative feelings towards the integration project than ever before. The debate about the EU constitution is proving not to be a debate about the constitution at all. Though there is talk of welfare-states, pensions, and social rights, the debate has also exposed that high levels of nationalism and xenophobia exist within member states. What has also been revealed is that both political and business leaders have become completely disconnected from the wider populace, which is still in many ways tied to the concept of the socialist welfare state. The absence of leaders, able to articulate the benefits of further integration and unification to their citizens, has only made this gap wider.



The New Presencesummer 2005

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