'Non' in France would spark major EU crisis

22nd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, March 21 (AFP) - A French rejection of the European Union (EU)'s new constitution would deal a killer blow to the historic document and trigger a major political crisis for the expanding bloc, analysts said Monday.

BRUSSELS, March 21 (AFP) - A French rejection of the European Union (EU)'s new constitution would deal a killer blow to the historic document and trigger a major political crisis for the expanding bloc, analysts said Monday.

The first-ever EU constitution, signed among much fanfare by EU leaders last October in Rome, must be ratified by all 25 EU member states in order to come into force.

Commentators have long noted that, while that is true in theory, in practice a "no" vote in any one country could be politically managed in a number of ways, such as by having a poll re-run or by sidelining the state concerned.

But "France is not a like any other member states. It is a big member state, and a founder member state" of the EU's forerunner, said Paul Magnette of the Free University of Brussels.

"A plan B is unthinkable because a French 'no' would spark a major upheaval of the current system, a breakdown of trust between the French people and Europe," added an EU diplomat.

The EU constitution aims to streamline the EU's institutions and avoid decision-making gridlock in a bloc which expanded from 15 to 25 members last year, with several more waiting at the door.

A new poll Monday showed 52 percent of French voters planning to vote "no" in a May 29 referendum, even more than the 51 percent against it in a survey last Friday.

Yves Meny, head of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, said the immediate consequence of a French no would be to block the process of ratifying the constitution.

The other EU states could nonetheless continue the ratification process - whether by referendums or parliamentary vote - but commentators say a French thumbs down would inevitably influence results elsewhere.

"It would inevitably have a domino effect," said Meny, pointing to countries like Britain and Poland whose voters could then "comfortably" vote no without feeling guilty that they were responsible for scuppering the constitution.

"The French would have set the example," he said.

With the document dead in the water if France votes no, the EU would be forced to continue working with the creaking institutional framework it agreed in the French city of Nice in December 2000.

"Europe would continue to function for better or worse with the Nice Treaty," said Magnette, adding that a French "non" would not only trigger a political crisis but a crisis of its very institutions.

This would produce serious tensions between governments, and a "worsening of the Union's image on the international stage," he said.

"The friends of (US President George W.) Bush would be very happy, above all if it were the French who sank the project," he added.

Faced with a French thumbs down, some suggest that the "Irish option" might come into play: Dublin famously asked its voters to cast their ballots again after they rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001.

But while smaller countries might be tempted to opt for a re-run, Meny said such a scenario would be unlikely to work in countries like France or Britain.

Indeed Prime Minister Tony Blair has already ruled a second poll out.

Amending the constitution to make it more palatable to French voters - who appear to be turning against it notably due to its perceived support for a free-market model of Europe - seems equally improbable.

"I just can't see how a crisis could produce ... a new treaty which would be any more socially-orientated," said Magnette.

He added that a French no would produce "such a feeling of discouragement" in France's allies like Germany, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg that it would make efforts to hammer out an alternative "much more complicated."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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