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EU constitution hits a speed bump

Looking at it from this side of the pond, it may seem as though Europe is in trouble: Two countries elected not to ratify a unified constitution.

France voted 45 to 55 percent on Sunday not to ratify the document that many, including myself, have heralded as the last step toward the formation of a bona fide superpower. Tuesday, the same happened in the Netherlands with a 62 to 38 percent result.

Since all 25 member states of the European Union have to ratify the constitution in order for it to take effect, this is bad news for those who were hoping for a problem-free passing.Many of the talking heads at CNN, MSNBC and other big media houses that are not Europe-based are now asking if the EU is doomed.

It’s understandable that this mistake is made, but the obituary may be a little premature.

At first glance, the rejection of the European constitution in France and the Netherlands deals a deadly blow to Europe’s newfound identity. But upon closer examination, Europe remains unchanged and the respective countries’ rejection of the document has little to do with ill will toward the EU.

In the Netherlands, the backlash against the EU goes back to a horrific murder that occurred last November. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had made a film criticizing treatment of women in Muslim countries, was shot and stabbed to death in one of Amsterdam’s busy streets. “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Have mercy. Have mercy!” the Algemeen Dagblad quoted Van Gogh as saying while horrified onlookers watched him first get shot, then stabbed and left bleeding in the street.

This single event sent a shockwave through the small country. The Netherlands’ longstanding policy of openness to foreigners that has been instituted since the days of Dutch trade and colonization in the 17th century was called into question.

Van Gogh, many argued, was killed not because the Netherlands was deemed an enemy of Muslims, but because the Dutch government had been so tolerant of extremism that it was practically inviting an incident such as Van Gogh’s murder.

The truth of this claim is debatable. But it is understandable that the Dutch public felt that the EU was growing too fast. While proclaiming a public policy of openness, the public now felt that under the surface, problems were looming that had been ignored for years.In France, matters seem to be simpler.

French farmers have felt threatened by a Europe-wide open market for years. Protests in which farmers block roads in larger cities have been common. It is safe to say that a fair amount of French citizens do indeed feel that the EU may put France in a bad position with regard to their jobs or other interests.

Another issue has to do with the long-standing fear that French culture will be eroded. The infamous law that was passed to ensure that a certain quota of music played on French radio stations is sung in French is only one of the many examples that illustrate how irrationally French politicians have acted to protect their language and culture.

But the discontent the French harbor for their national government is probably more to blame for Sunday’s results.

French President Jacques Chirac’s administration has been blamed for rising unemployment rates as well as many other national problems. By actively campaigning for a “yes” vote on the constitution, Chirac probably did the cause more harm than good.

Chirac is very much aware that the non the French population ticked on their ballots Sunday was as much about him as the constitution. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin stepped down on Monday and accepted blame for the vote. Former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is seen as a French traditionalist, replaced him. Chirac hopes that this will change the mood in the country and give him a chance to be re-elected and give his government an infusion of popular approval until then.

But what has been easily forgotten during news coverage of the two recent votes is that many other countries have already ratified the document. Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain have all voted in favor of the constitution, albeit some of them through a legislative vote within their government rather than a referendum. Since the constitution must be approved unanimously, it may not be passed for a few years, but when one considers that countries such as Germany and France were at war a mere 50 years ago, this is an amazing achievement.

In the short term, the constitution may not be necessary anyway. The 485-page document has been criticized as being bloated with needless sub-clauses and paragraphs. While it is clearly longer than other constitutions, including the United States’, it has to be all encompassing, as it was intended to replace many of the existing European treaties that govern or legislate everyday procedures in Europe. Until the constitution is universally ratified, nothing will change because the other treaties remain in effect.

The EU is still a force to be reckoned with. The euro is still stronger than the U.S. dollar, and several countries outside Europe — including Russia — have recently decided to abandon the dollar in favor of the euro as basis for international trade. And by just numbers alone, Europe’s 665 million citizens dwarf the 294 million living in the United States.

Rather than “gloom and doom,” most Europeans see the lack of unanimous consent on its key document as a speed bump.

Even with the “no” vote the new Europe is still a force to be reckoned with. It just means that U.S. presidents’ trips to Europe will have to stop at more than one European capital for a while longer.

Sebastian Meyer is a seniormajoring in geography and the Oracle Opinion Editor.He lived in Europe for 20 years.