If public opinion polls are to be believed, on May 29 the French will reject the European Union’s draft constitutional treaty. Because all EU member countries must ratify the constitution, a French “Non” will, in effect, kill it.
Amazing as this turn of events seems, it has been long in the making. It is amazing because France is not just a founding member of the European Community, but also has been the main driving force behind all major steps toward “ever closer union.” But French opposition was also predictable because, for over a decade now, France has veered away from Europe and now finds itself increasingly isolated. Of course, Europe has also moved away from France through successive enlargements, but the main roots of the estrangement lie in France itself.
The French regard with great sadness their declining status and prestige – not only in world politics, but also in culture, science and, importantly, language. Europe, in their view, was always a way of reclaiming world influence.
For three decades, this worked. France and Germany had forged an alliance that called the shots in Europe. Not interested in geopolitical power – a legacy of its Nazi past – Germany was content to back France’s ambitions as long as the Common Market allowed it to be Europe’s economic powerhouse.