The French and Dutch "NO" votes seen as a new beginning

    by Andreas Theophanous, Professor of Political Economy and Director General of the Center


Both the French as well as the Dutch “NO” in the two recent referenda for the European Constitution

may have been expected; the high percentages of the “NO” votes, however, were a surprise. A new

situation has been created which needs to be evaluated. For years now, one of the issues discussed

at various levels in the EU – both in Brussels as well as in member countries – was the fact that EU

citizens felt somewhat alienated from the decision-making process of the EU. The other side of the

same coin was/is the sense that a democratic deficit exists in the EU. At the same time, a degree

of skepticism posed serious questions regarding the credibility of the EU. Euro-skepticism was being

expressed in various ways all these years. Recently, in the June 2004 elections for the European

Parliament, which were held after the latest enlargement, the level of voter participation was notably

low. One of the headlines – if not “the” headline – regarding these elections was the high percentage

of abstention.


Both in France as well as in the Netherlands, participation percentages in the recent referenda were

quite high. This fact by itself constitutes a significant political development. And therefore, the

reasons for the French and Dutch resounding “No” votes will be the object of serious debate. The

citizens of France and the Netherlands wished to convey certain messages both to their respective

governments as well as to Brussels. There are various factors that contributed to these results. For

years now, the socio-economic conditions in the EU – conditions of low economic growth and of

semi-stagnation – have been leading to unemployment, relatively high prices, the questioning of the

viability of the welfare state, as well as to the creation of a situation of uncertainty. At the same

time, while the EU has not been able to address efficiently the problems of its citizens, it has not yet

managed to achieve satisfactory integration of immigrants from Muslim countries.


The issue of Turkey should not be overlooked. While all polls showed that the majority of Europeans

were clearly against the accession of Turkey to the EU and that probably the best possible development

would be a special relationship, on December 17th the European heads of state accorded Ankara a date

for the start of accession negotiations with the EU, despite the democratic and human rights deficits in

Turkey and despite the fact that this country still occupies European territory and continues to refuse

to recognize a member state of the EU, namely, the Republic of Cyprus. It would be an exaggeration to

say that the issue of Turkey exclusively led to these results. It would, however, also be a serious

mistake if one did not take into account the fact that the controversial question of Turkey’s accession has

tipped the scales decisively in favor of “No”.


All these factors created or rather contributed to the creation of a gap between expectations and reality.

The referendum results are such that they will inevitably lead to a broader debate regarding the future of

the EU. However, we should not think that we have reached the end of the road. It is not the first time

that the Union has faced problems, which led to brave decisions that, in their turn, paved the way for

important steps forward.


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