French voters massively rejected the EU constitution on May 29.
The EU constitution is the first of its kind made in line with the enlargement of the European Union. It is of milestone significance in the EU history. It will enable the EU to achieve joint diplomacy and defence, as well as a higher degree of integration.
One of the founding nations of the EU, France has made no small contribution to the integration of Europe. Both Jean Monnet, "the father of Europe", and Valery Giscard d'Estaing, "the father of the EU constitution'' are French.
However, unlike during the Cold War, the referendum results showed, the French people are now thinking differently towards Europe integration. Certainly, France stands for a powerful Europe and wishes to see the powerful Europe become a pole in the world to counterbalance the American hegemony. But France is a country with profound national tradition and keen sovereignty awareness. It is quite sensitive to "the hand-in of sovereignty'' and enough people remain doubtful about the economic globalization, fearing that the EU will go on a path towards over-liberalization. Unfavorable conditions in the country, including 10 percent unemployment rate (23 percent among the youth) and soaring prices after the euro entered circulation, all contributed to the tragic fate of the constitution, turning it into a "scapegoat" of the sluggish economy. Comment has it that many French people have little knowledge of the content of the constitution, therefore what they cast down are their dissatisfaction over the current conditions and their distrust of the Chirac government, rather than opposition to the constitution itself.
There are still 15 EU members queuing behind France to go through the ratification. Whether the French rejection will produce a domino effect, we will see upon the Dutch referendum set on June 1. As a matter of fact, both Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Jean-Claude Juncker, EU's rotating presidency Luxemburg Prime Minister, have made it clear that the constitution would not be revised simply because of France. The constitution is not dead. What needs change is France, who should have another vote next year, they added.
The problem is: the constitution will take effect only upon unanimous ratification. It will certainly face a "To be, or not to be" question if it is turned down by several countries and chance will be slim for it to take effect as planned by November 1, 2006. In that case, what must be changed, perhaps, is the EU, or even the constitution itself.
How to face such a grim situation? The EU summit, scheduled in mid June, Brussels, will focus on the subject. For France, government reshuffle is among the set agenda. More important, the new government should turn the difficulty into an opportunity for reviving the economy, so that the constitution will win support from both ordinary people and the social elite. Only by doing so can the public greet the challenge of European integration and economic globalization in a confident and outspoken manner. This is also the key to the passing of the constitution as well as to the French restoration of its central position in EU.
This article by Zheng Yuanyuan is carried on the first page of the Overseas Edition of the People's Daily, May 31, and translated by People's Daily Online