OPINION

EU Constitution’s French test

Even if the French voters decide to approve the European constitution, it will be by a narrow margin. In any event, France’s EU referendum later this month will send a serious political message, even if it does not demonstrate the sort of classic Euroskepticism that will be on full display in 2006, when the British hold their referendum. French skepticism toward the draft reflects the dissatisfaction felt by large segments of society over domestic problems like high unemployment, sluggish development and the gradual dismantling of the welfare state, together with a widespread sense that enlargement has altered the character of the EU. The same trend is apparent in other member states too, but for various reasons this discontent is not aimed so directly at the European Constitution itself. Eurobarometer polls show that most French citizens support European unification, but still feel alienated by existing institutions and procedures. In other words, a «no» vote would be more of a domestic political reaction than a refusal to unite the continent. For despite the differences that still pervade Europe, a model for a genuine European identity is being forged, based on shared values such as democracy, the welfare state, environmental protection, and the bridging of differences through compromise. These hard-won values, despite occasional wavering, confer stability to the overall unification project. And it is precisely this stability which makes voting «no» a legitimate choice for a pro-European. The European Constitution is a step forward, but an imperfect one. It could be much better, but this is how the EU usually proceeds. Its history is one of disagreement followed by compromise. By its nature, Europe cannot be unified except by consensus, which take time and effort.