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When France Says No

Not long ago, an American political analyst compared France’s loss of influence in Europe following its “No” vote in the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty with France’s surrender in 1940. A provocative analogy, but is it apt? The collapse in 1940 revealed the fragility of France’s democracy and its loss of confidence in the country’s capacity to face outside threats. In rejecting the European constitution, France expressed its fear of, among other things, globalization.

A better analogy for the No vote was the rejection in 1954 of the treaty to establish a European Defense Community (EDC). In both cases, a major historical mistake was made. France had to a large extent initiated both treaties, had managed to get them accepted by its European partners, but in the end vetoed its own undertakings.