At the heart of this confusion is the remarkable ability of pundits of almost every stripe to project their own identity on to that of the victorious anti-constitution majority. The American center-left has persuaded itself that the 'no' vote represents a backlash against laissez faire Anglo-Saxon capitalism.
In contrast, American conservatives are celebrating the defeat of the constitution as the rejection of everything represented by the left-leaning European elite.because in fact to some extent the voters did both reject the dreams of the European elites and Anglo-saxon capitalism. However the final paragraph is wrong:
To a certain extent, I am puzzled by the fact that the relatively bland E.U. constitution has become the Rorshach-style ink blot onto which European citizens have projected all of their resentments. Yet there are few things that antagonize democratic citizens more than an institution that threatens to take away their control of even some small part of their own lives and hand it over to unelected bureaucrats.Firstly the EU constitution is not a bland document. It is a turgid collection of bureacratese and frequently appears to be ambiguous if not deliberately contradictory, but it is not bland. The problem is that it is so long and ambiguous that anyone can find something to disagree with in it. Furthermore I don't think the problem is the unelectabiltiy of the bureaucrats so much as their foreigness. In almost all of the "no/non/nee/.." rhetoric one telling point has been how national governments lose power to Brussels with its lack of local control. This hasn't been helped by the way that politicians of all nations and political stripes have used Brussels as a helpful excuse for unpopular measures, but I think it would exist despite that and is a sign that most Europeans think of themselves as English or French or Dutch (or ...) rather than as European.
It's all too easy to be a pessimist on Europe these days – especially when you'd rather be an optimist.
Look: Europe has got to integrate, even though a Single Europe goes against a century of American policy (and more than two centuries of British). Left to their own devices, European nations get into all sorts of mischief, like starting world wars, cleansing their ethnics, or colonizing entire subcontinents. Left alone, modern European states are too prone to protectionism and welfare statism to compete to global markets. Left alone, there's not a Continental nation with markets or muscle enough to matter on the world stage.
But didn't we fight a couple world wars, just to keep Europe safely fragmented? Didn't Britain play all the angles against Napoleon for the same reason? Well, yes – and whether we admit it to ourselves or not, any thinking person must be of two minds on the European integration. Without a Union of some sort, Europe's nation-states can cause – and have caused – grief all around the world. But united, Europe could prove bigger, richer, and meaner than even we are.
Reminds me of my third-favorite Cold War joke. Goes like this: "France wants a West Germany strong enough to keep the Soviets at bay, but weak enough to be held in check by Luxembourg."
Ironically enough, today we find ourselves in the same situation as de Gaulle's France: We'd like a Europe strong enough to keep things quiet over there, but weak enough not to threaten our interests.
If a single strongman (named, say, Hitler or Stalin or Napoleon) ran the Continent, then we'd be in trouble – hence all those nasty wars, hot and cold. A federation of mostly-equal states, much like our own, would nicely fit our needs – and Europe's, too.
Problem is, the European Union – at least as currently constructed – isn't the answer. While the EU is far too weak to produce a Hitler (or even a Mussolini), it's also too strong, too suffocating to give Europe's economy the dynamism required to compete in the 21st Century. Instead of a NAFTA-like free-trade zone, the Eurozone is a managed economy. And as everyone knows – even those people loathe to admit it – a managed economy can manage only to just scrape by.
So shouldn't we rejoice now that French and Danish voters have all rejected the niggling EU constitution? Not really.
Some French voters said "non" because they feared the new charter would lead to too much capitalism, and others to stick it to President Jacque Chirac. And still others voted just to demonstrate some good old-fashioned French nationalism. Worse still, many Dutch voters were showing their newfound (and somewhat earned) anti-Muslim xenophobia by voting "nee." Joining a club with Turkey knocking on the door just didn't sound fun to a lot of Dutch. Not after what they've been through the last couple of years.
In other words, the French and Dutch didn't reject the EU Constitution because it would increase the welfare state, harm competitiveness, or lead to peace with their Muslim neighbors. They rejected it because they feared it would shrink welfare, increase competition, and make things too easy for too many Muslims.
With or without a new Constitution, right now the EU looks increasingly unhealthy – politically, economically, and culturally. If this road looks familiar, it is. We went through much the same during the years before the Second World War. But that's not to say Europe is gearing up for WWIII.
In the modern age, wars between nation states are almost passé. Even the American-led invasion of Iraq was less about nation-on-nation warfare than it was a pre-emptive strike to try and prevent a global "clash of civilizations." So – don't buy into fabulist notions of Europe getting us into a new World War, at least not in this lifetime.
That doesn't mean Europe, or at least a few key cities, couldn't devolve into new Sarajevos, with all the random murder, mass rape, and ethnic cleansing that implies. Don't believe me? Then look at French attitudes toward Muslim immigrants, and then look at the Muslim slums outside Paris. Still not convinced? Then ask a fourth-generation German Turk why he doesn't count as a second-class citizen – or even as a citizen at all.
There's a lot of resentment on both sides, some earned, some not. A booming economy could smooth things over, but that's not going to happen so long as European voters cling to their outmoded welfare systems. The EU Constitution wouldn't have helped any, but its defeat doesn't mean that anything is going to improve, either.
We want Europe economically strong, and we need Europe internally at peace. As things stand now, the best we can expect is one or the other, but not both. Recent events, however, indicate we won't get either one – and that's bad news in any language.