OPINION

Public sends strong signals on EU text

The fact that the imminent referendum on the European Constitution has split French society shows that a lack of legitimacy is plaguing European institutions. The crisis is hardly exclusive to France. According to opinion polls, the Dutch, who will cast ballots three days after the French, have grave misgivings about the EU text, too. The message that the citizens are sending to their governments and the political elites in Brussels is too strong to ignore. The «no» vote sentiment does not derive from typical Euroskepticism. It is mostly a reflection of people’s disappointment with low growth rates, the waning of the welfare state, and high unemployment levels. Popular disenchantment is also widespread in other EU member states but a number of factors have prevented grievances from entering the EU charter debate. It is no coincidence that many governments chose the safe path of ratifying the text in their national parliaments. Without doubt, the web of «no» voters is diffuse and sometimes inconsistent. The «no» folks are united by a desire to stir the waters. However, this is beside the point. The crisis is very real – and it must be tackled. This is not mission impossible. Eurobarometer surveys show the bulk of Europeans are in favor of European integration but feel alienated from European institutions. Their urge to denounce the treaty is more a political reaction and less a rejection of the vision of an ever-closer Union. It is no coincidence that another source of the widespread disaffection is the fact that the latest wave of European enlargement took place according to summary procedures. And there is more. Public surveys indicate that a large number of Europeans view the prospect of Turkish membership as a threat. Many Europeans fear that Ankara’s entry would undermine the identity of the Old Continent and put an unprecedented strain on Community funds. The EU has seen repeated waves of expansion while plans for political integration have been put on the back burner. Europeans fear their the Union will degenerate into a loose and sluggish bloc. Europeans need a unifying political vision based on their fledgling idea of common identity and destiny. The European Constitution is a flawed step forward and does not fulfill that vision.