From Constitutional Crisis to European Crisis

Since the shock of the French and Dutch “no” votes against the European Union’s proposed Constitutional Treaty, events have followed their inevitable course, but more rapidly than expected.

The French “no” was a massive blow to the political credibility of French President Jacques Chirac. So he did what French Presidents usually do in such circumstances: rather than admit that French voters might be right, he sacked Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin as a scapegoat, replacing him with his protégé Dominique de Villepin, who has never held an elective office.

Opinions differ as to the reasons for France’s rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. But most analyses suggest that it was directed against high unemployment, magnified by the perceived threat to jobs from the new Central and Eastern European EU members. Naturally, Chirac immediately reaffirmed his faith in the French economic model.

The most undeniable implication of the French vote has been to raise a large question mark over the future of the EU’s traditional integration project. Rather than admit any such thing, Chirac hurried to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, so that they could jointly reaffirm their traditional alliance as the spiritual leaders of this European project, in the hope that the Constitutional Treaty might yet be rescued. Neither of them have been able to say how this should be done.