The French "No" through a Czech lens

Photo: CTK

After weeks of anticipation this was the result that the heads of the European Union feared most: a resounding "No" by one of the union's founding members, France, rejecting the constitution. Pundits say the French had many different reasons for voting against, including disillusionment with the country's president. But the fact is following Sunday the future of the treaty - and European integration as a whole - is in doubt.

Photo: CTK
For supporters of the Constitutional Treaty across the European Union, including the Czech Republic, the situation is really no laughing matter: the French "No" threatening to scuttle an oft projected vision of a more integrated EU. While supporters - here in the Czech Republic and elsewhere - have been struggling to put a brave face on the result, they realise the situation is serious. Czech political analyst Jiri Pehe:

"I think it is - without any doubt - an earthquake in the ratification but I would go further. I think this result could have serious consequences for the entire project of European integration."

In the Czech Republic, where the constitution has yet to be ratified, the government has already firmly pledged to see the constitution passed - despite the French "No." The Deputy prime minister for Economic Affairs, Martin Jahn thinks that the French have made a mistake.

Martin Jahn
"I think it's quite unlikely that we could reach a better compromise because if you look at the Czech opposition to the constitution treaty, they criticise the treaty for exactly the opposite reason than the French opposition to the treaty. The French see it as too liberal and the Czech opposition sees it as too social. So, that just shows me that maybe the treaty is a good compromise."

The government thinks that there is still hope for the constitution but it will not have it easy. Long-time opponents of the treaty include Czech President Vaclav Klaus, as well as the country's strongest opposition party, the Civic Democrats. Civic Democrat and European Parliament member Jan Zahradil says that after Sunday the treaty is dead.

Jan Zahradil
"The European Constitution could be adopted only unanimously and if only one member country says 'No' then this document is invalid, it is not valid anymore. The French said that, so this document is dead and there is no reason to work with it anymore."

Whether Czechs will themselves still get to decide on the treaty at all is now an open question. The country is nowhere near adopting a referendum bill on the issue, and in the wake of the French vote, the opposition Civic Democrats have made clear they will not be ones to support it. As for the future of the EU, the French "No", as well as a possible rejection in the Netherlands later this week, would make it a whole new ball game. Analyst Jiri Pehe once again:

"If the Dutch do not approve the constitution I think we will see strong pressure to discontinue the ratification process in other countries. It is difficult to imagine that two countries, one of them a major European power, would be sort of asked to 'correct' their decision one or two years from now. The Dutch 'No' could have serious consequences - it could be the last stop. "

Radio Prague: if indeed the constitution is rejected in Holland as well, what kind of crisis are we in? How long would it take before representatives came back to the table to try and find a new framework for an expanded EU?

Photo: CTK
"European politicians, those who have been 'driving' the process of European integration, will try to negotiate a new outcome, they will try to go back to the negotiating table and find some kind of solution. They have always done so and in the past they have succeeded. The problem is that now we have one country which has been an engine in the process of integration reject the EU constitution. As a result it may demand, as a solution, something other countries will not agree with. All of this - in the French view - can only be rectified if something more Socialist and Federalist is accepted by other countries. But, this is not very likely. On the horizon are very serious problems about the nature of European integration, and at this point I am not very optimistic."