It really wasn`t much of a surprise, but the French electorate did Europe a big favor Sunday when it decisively rejected the draft constitution it had taken the Eurocrats of Brussels more than three years to compose. You only need know that it covered 485 pages of do`s and don`ts to understand it would call into being a dead-weight federalism, one that would anchor the member states to the interests of the elites. It was notable that the centrists in the electorate voted heavily for the referendum while the far left and far right voted heavily against it, a clear indication the document would not sufficiently protect the rights and interests of the minority. Here's how the New York Times Elaine Sciolino sized it up this morning:
President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, whose country has yet to decide whether to support the charter, declared it "a thing of the past." He added, "The French referendum, and its result, clearly demonstrated the deep division that exists between the European elite and the citizens of Europe."
That view was underscored by the voting trends in the vote in France.
According to the Ipsos polling agency, 70 percent of farmers voted no, despite the fact that France is the largest recipient of European Union farm subsidies.
Public and blue-collar workers and the unemployed, all low-pay groups vulnerable in a country with more than 10 percent unemployment, voted no by 60 percent to 79 percent.
Although most of the Socialist Party hierarchy lobbied in favor of the treaty, 56 percent of Socialist voters rejected it. On the political extremes, 98 percent of the Communist Party and 93 percent of the extreme right National Front voted no.
What these voting patterns indicate is a questioning of the mechanisms for dealing with a dynamic economic environment embodied in the document. Those who drafted it believed it would win majority support by fairly addressing the known, the status quo, while those who have less to begin with worry about how their interests will be weighed in a future unknown.
It`s certainly no big deal that the Eurocrats will have to go back to the drawing board, especially as it looks fairly certain the Netherland voters will follow the French lead. If they are smart, they will ditch the 485-page draft and start from scratch. Simplicity should be a primary objective, to leave room for maneuver when unknowns arrive to be dealt with, perhaps with supermajorities required at key turning points. We shouldn`t be surprised if it takes another four or five years for the Europeans to work things out. If they asked my advice, I`d tell them it would be easier if they first eliminated the unknowns caused by their floating currency, a point I have been making for almost 30 years.
It would also help if the constitution could be drafted by a Madison or a Hamilton, political philosophers rather than garden-variety politicians. It was nice to see Jacques Chirac naming Dominique de Villepin, his Interior Minister, as France`s new prime minister, replacing Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who resigned after his failure to sell the constitution to the electorate. I became mightily impressed with Villepin during the United Nations Security Council debates over Iraq, when he was Foreign Minister, and while he is not necessarily a man of the people, he strikes me as the kind of intellectual who could help produce the kind of constitution the ordinary people of Europe would be happy with.