Le vote français plonge l'Union européenne dans une période d'incertitudesThe French, the great leaders of the European cause have done the unthinkable and given the thumbs down to the EU Constitution. The EU is one of those great political phenomena which has wonderfully inoffensive objectives, but when the practical details are considered, manages to offend nearly everyone. The Constitution has been adopted by nine countries already, although rarely is this due to popular support - most countries, such as Germany most recently, have chosen to adopt it via a parliamentary vote.
Much as this latest vote might be a setback, Europe, or more rightly the EU, will survive and eventally prosper. Individually, each European nation knows that it is vulnerable economically and culturally if it seeks to stand out on its own. In an era of trade blocs and strategic alliances, each nation is in a fairly weak bargaining position and will otherwise confine itself to irrelevancy. Together, though, the nations of the EU have the potential to major world powers, rivalling the US, and down the track perhaps China, as vital international players. Deep down, most Europeans realise this and would hate to be left without the safety-in-numbers that the EU provides. When they think they can get away wit a dummy spit, though, they will.
The French rejected the Constitution fairly vigourously on Sunday, despite everyone from the conservative Jacques Chirac to François Hollande, the leader of the Socialist party lending their support to the Yes case. There seems to be a similar discourse emerging in France that had emerged in many other parts of the world - elite opinion pushing toward great national projects (an Australian republic, democracy in Iraq, a single Europe) whilst popular opinion seeks to undermine this rush toward grandness and draw attention to their feelings of being left behind.
This interesting graphic (oui, aussi Le Monde) says much about the division between the affluent metropolitan and the struggling regions. Three of the highly populated Parisian départements (départements 75, 78 92 for the hordes of French psephologists who reguarly flock to this site) voted strongly in favour of the European constitution, as did the affluent west-coasters. Right through the rest of the country, much of it rural and small cities, voted no in great number. Whilst those with wealth feel they can afford to dream of Brussels, most of their countryfolk can thing only of their next Brussel Sprouts (groan). For the great European project to work, ordinary punters need to be shown the benefits rather than simply told what's good for them. Show them the benefits of a powerful currency. Show them the benefits of flexible labour. Show them the benefits of a united defence force. It's hard work but it's the only way to win hearts and minds.