An elite undertaking

If the French «no» vote dealt a severe blow to plans for a European Union Constitution, the massive rejection by the Dutch was the nail in the document’s coffin. Embarrassingly, European officials insist that nothing has been lost and the ratification process must continue. Admittedly, the constitution will be officially dead if more than five countries reject it. But this is not an institutional question. Above all, it is a political one and in that sense the treaty is now dead. France and the Netherlands are more than just founding EU members – they actually belong to the EU core. Both rejections reflect the growing wave of disgruntlement across the pre-enlargement EU-15. Societies are trying to preserve their particular way of life and are resisting pressure on their cherished welfare systems. Each nation focuses on what it perceives as the biggest threat. The argument that the French and the Dutch merely cast a protest vote against their governments is too convenient and superficial. Certainly, the «no» vote sentiment served as a catchall for domestic political grievances. But it went well beyond that. Political changeovers are no longer adequate mechanisms for letting off steam. The ideological convergence of the main parties has dehydrated the body politic. Political conflicts increasingly resemble turf wars between feuding gangs. In that context and as dividing lines between the national and the European become blurred, public disillusionment comes to the fore in unexpected ways. The French and Dutch «no» votes could mobilize underlying dissatisfaction in other countries. Besides, the constitution adopted a path that threatens to dismantle the European social model. People were given a chance to react. And so they did.