To leaders in Alice's magical
land it was a YES
The EU has been plunged into its deepest crisis for fifty
years after two of its founding members overwhelmingly rejected
its proposed constitution. But in Europes capital
there was little sign that anything had changed. Berlaymont
was a place in denial.
By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent
THE warped-cross Berlaymonster headquarters
of the European Commission was still standing yesterday.
The announcements poured out on the welfare of
broiler chickens, carbon dioxide trading schemes, telephone
regulation and approval for the takeover of a Finnish
Workmen continued constructing vast new offices for the
Council of Ministers. The subsidised canteens echoed with
the polylingual chatter of well-heeled functionaries.
Although 54 per cent of the French voted non,
and 62 per cent of the Dutch said nee, few
were prepared to admit that Europes elite had lost
touch with the people, and that in their relentless drive
for integration they had left their citizens far behind.
In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Brussels no
has been interpreted as yes.
As Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg,
which holds the EUs rotating presidency, said after
the French vote: If we were to add up all the votes
of those who wanted more Europe as a yes,
then I think that we would have had a yes
In her Ikea-furnished office, Margot Wallström,
the Commissions Swedish VicePresident, produced
a poll showing that 57 per cent of the French who rejected
the constitution actually wanted more European integration.
A majority who said no are favourable
to the whole European project, she insisted. It
is not that they have said no to the idea of European
integration. It is not a rejection of the European project.
The lesson was that the EU needed to create more European
feeling in its citizens, she said. We have to build
more meeting places. We have to create a European public
space. We need a European debate. There are still hardly
any media that are truly European. For political parties,
we need a political system that can work more at a European
Although French and Dutch polls showed that the more
people knew about the constitution, the more likely they
were to vote no, Mrs Wallström insisted
that the problem was ignorance. It is serious when
seven out of ten Europeans still say they know little
about Europe. It will take a lot of leadership to create
more knowledge, she said. Mr Juncker said of his
tiny country: We are like teachers, explaining the
ins and outs of the new constitution.
When Françoise le Bail, the Commission spokeswoman,
explained to the Brussels press corps the morning after
the French vote why no did not really mean
no because people voted no
for so many different reasons an American journalist
burst out: In my country we have a saying, W
hat part of no dont you understand? You dont
seem to understand any part of no.
Three days later, after the Dutch rejected the constitution
in far greater numbers than the French, and in far greater
numbers than anyone expected, Jan Peter Balkenende, the
Prime Minister, said: I am very disappointed, but
there are positive aspects like the high turnout
and the fact we had a debate.
But his Government clearly lost the debate, and the people
turned out in high numbers twice the rate at last
years European elections to tell it so. Even
after the Dutch defeat, European political leaders insisted
that the vote was not against the constitution. The European
Green Party rushed out a statement saying: No
in France and Holland does not mean no to
the European constitution.
Grazia Francescato, the party spokesman, added: It
is evident that this no vote is not a real
no against the constitution, but a vote of
protest against . . . the neoliberal policies of their
Surveys suggest that the French voted against the treaty
because they are opposed to the EUs free-market
economic policies, worried about enlargement and wanted
to punish the unpopular President Chirac. In the Netherlands,
surveys indicated that the Dutch protested against EU
enlargement, the euro, the cost of the EU, its remoteness,
its bureaucracy and just about any other EU complaint
they could think of.
But for Mr Juncker this did not mean they or the French
were annoyed at the EU. He said: We have a range
of contradictory reasons behind the no vote.
The arguments in France contradict other arguments in
France. Now there are another set of contradictions between
arguments in the Netherlands. His conclusion was
that we need to continue with our ambitious projects
An Irish journalist retorted: This reminds me of
the Titanic, where the orchestra carried on playing.