FRANCE REALIZES MORE MEMBER STATES MEAN LESS EU
by Nicholas Karides, Director, ampersand communications ltd
Everybody knew that Turkey’s candidacy would divide the European Union. But nobody had thought
it would destabilize the Union’s integration process well before it actually joined the group. It is
happening already, as early as six months before Turkey begins accession negotiations.
France, a founding member and the soul of European integration in the last 55 years, appears ready
to shoot down the EU Constitutional Treaty as its voters perceive a Yes vote as the herald of
Turkey's eventual membership of the Union.
Polls indicate that French voters appear inclined to say No on May 29 because they believe that in
December last year Jacques Chirac and his 24 European Council partners, made a fatal mistake by
opening the door to Turkey’s membership. They are not alone in considering Turkey’s entry as
undermining the EU’s future.
The truth is that Turkey’s membership process and the coming into force of the Constitutional
Treaty are not connected. But in the more complicated context of a Europe gripped by growing
anti-Islamic sentiment and locked in the midst of a difficult economic downturn, the two have
become inexorably linked. Add to that a thorny Directive on the liberalization of Services seized
upon by the usually pro-European political parties and France’s No looks alarmingly probable.
It is questionable whether the French will be able to rebuild the construction if they decide to
rock its foundations but, rather than allow an Islamic country and potentially the biggest Member
State dilute the Union, they are willing to take the risk. And let us be clear: These are not
anti-Europeans. Paralysis they may bring, but this is not a country that had at any stage
suffered from symptoms of euro-sclerosis.
The debate in France is the signal of a much deeper dilemma, wrapped in melancholy, as the
country seeks to reinvent itself in a Union of 25-plus and increasingly English-speaking Member
There was a time when EU officials spoke the mantra of ''deepening and widening'' going
hand-in-hand in Europe: the concept that with every prospective enlargement the Community
had to integrate further, by streamlining its decision making mechanisms and voting in more policy
harmonization. It appears a limit has been arrived at. Europe cannot sustain going deeper and
wider at the same time, certainly not at its previous pace. It has to choose between the two.
France is signaling that it wants the former, especially if the latter includes Turkey.
The French message for EU leaders is that they need to slow down the enlargement process.
They’ve got the internal market, they’ve got the euro and they’ve fulfilled their historical obligation
of embracing the countries of the recent enlargement. Turkey in fact was never part of that grand
project. They should now consolidate what they have achieved and focus on their flagging Lisbon
Strategy to make the Union the most competitive knowledge-based economy.
In doing so, they should also consider that things aren’t as bad as their self-perpetuating goals force
them to believe. The Union has achieved a great deal. Whether it has institutionalized a comprehensive
common foreign and security policy or whether there is a single telephone number for its foreign minister
are not crucial at this stage.
Europe has and is making a difference. If its stays compact and cohesive, it will continue to do so.
The US may continue to launch wars but it’s the EU that will always be required to establish the peace.
In the end, every nation in the periphery of Europe looks to the Union for solidarity and support (including
Turkey, not to mention the Ukraine).
The Constitution was meant to determine where the Union wanted to go. The difficulties of the
ratification process are proving necessary because they are helping define the path it needs to follow
to get there. And the French are saying that this path need not run through Turkey.
To reverse the trend, the French government could make its public opinion realize that their No vote
would result in an indigestible side-effect. It would in fact get Tony Blair off the hook and deny the
UK its own eagerly anticipated chance to say No which may force it to reconsider its own membership.
A French No would delay the EU train but it would not derail it. In contrast, a British No would not only
fail to hold the train back but it could unhook the British carriage.
In the end, Mr Chirac may still convince his electorate to say Yes to the Constitution, however
marginally. In an act of solidarity, the German Bundestag has deliberately set May 14 for its own
ratification of the Constitution to generate positive momentum for France.
Whatever the result, public sentiment can no longer be ignored. Of course the European Union will
march on because it has to, and because both Germany and France need it to. It is, however, obvious
that France, much earlier than other Member States, has begun to realize that its role in the Union and
the type of Union it envisages are best served with less Member States, not more.
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