The resounding rejection of the European Union’s proposed constitution by French and Dutch voters has thrown the future of continental integration into doubt. Some questions about what’s in store, and possible answers:
Question: Is the constitution dead?
Answer: Technically, no. The document needs approval from all 25 members, but there is a provision for governments to discuss what to do if a handful of nations reject it. In reality, the overwhelming defeats in two founding EU nations – France and the Netherlands – all but kill the charter in its current form.
Q: Will the ratification process continue?
A: It has not been officially called off, but pressure is mounting to stop the process, with France’s former European affairs minister calling it a “waste of time.” A firm decision is not likely until EU leaders meet June 16-17.
Q: What are the main aims of the treaty?
A: The charter strives to streamline decision making following last year’s addition of 10 nations, provide mechanisms for closer economic integration and boost Europe’s international muscle by creating the posts of European president and foreign minister. It also bestows symbolic trappings of statehood, including a flag and an anthem.
Q: With closer integration stalled, is EU expansion – notably the possible membership of Turkey – in trouble, too?
A: European leaders say the constitutional question is separate from expansion. But many French and Dutch voted “no” in part out of fears the EU’s current path will lead to more immigration, culture clashes and a dilution of the influence of original members. That could generate pressure against adding more nations, especially predominantly Muslim Turkey. Spain’s foreign minister said Thursday the charter rejection “is going to affect” the expansion process.
Q: Why did the French and Dutch say no?
A: In both countries, many people fear an abdication of sovereignty to bureaucrats at EU headquarters and also struck out against national leaderships they viewed as out of touch and elitist. In France, a main concern was the specter of free-market reforms. The Dutch worried they would lose their independence on social issues like acceptance of marijuana and euthanasia.
Q: What happens now?
A: European leaders will use the summit to discuss the possibility of crafting a new constitution. British Prime Minister Tony Blair – a strong proponent of more EU integration but leader of the bloc’s most “Euroskeptic” nation – takes over the rotating EU presidency July 1 and faces the difficult task of shepherding the alliance out of its crisis.
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