BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The French rejection of the European Constitution by a substantial 55-45 percent margin is a repudiation of President Jacques Chirac, who helped shape the document. It also will give those Americans angry at the lack of French support for the war in Iraq and France's general anti-Americanism a feeling of deep satisfaction that Chirac has been humiliated.
There are many explanations for the French vote, including citizen anger over the more than 10 percent unemployment rate, an immigration policy that threatens French identity and a growing feeling throughout Europe that a huge bureaucracy centered in Brussels will contribute to a loss of individual state sovereignty and national identity for member nations.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned of these dangers two decades ago. It is why she and subsequent British governments resisted Britain's entry into the European Union and elimination of the British pound in favor of the euro.
With the Netherlands the next country to vote on the constitution on Wednesday, and with expectations the Dutch will follow the French in rejecting it, Britain has all but said it has no intention of holding a referendum. Following the French vote, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain needs a "period of reflection" before deciding what to do.
While hating most things American, the architects of a European constitution positioned themselves as "founding fathers" in the mold of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. The problem with this analogy is that the United States of America was founded, in part, on the idea that God was present at its creation and that unity of spirit was essential in bridging economic, political, religious and other divisions between the colonies.
The 474-page European constitution (the length varies according to the translation) is a contemporary Tower of Babel, a testimony to the "power" and ingenuity of man. Like that ancient architectural work, the European constitution -- at least in its current form -- has come crashing down, injuring those arrogant enough to think they could build something that is mostly a monument to self.
A "United States of Europe" could not be formed on a continent that debated whether God should be in its constitution and then rejected his name, as it has his presence in corporate and individual life.
The Times of London editorialized, "This text and the enterprise that produced it has long lacked the public enthusiasm that is required of democracies." It characterized Chirac's administration as "inconsistent and inept," while noting the uniqueness of the vote. "The French have never repudiated a 'European' cause in the past," the newspaper noted.
President Bush must be smiling over the French rejectionist chickens that have finally come home to roost in Paris. The seeds of European discontent over this constitution were sown long before modern times. European nations have a history of individualism and national identity that a single currency and a single document are not about to gloss over.
Wars, occupations and invasions, as well as internal oppression in some nations -- notably Germany -- have brought distrust and wariness to calls for "unity." Many Europeans properly wonder on what foundation such unity will be constructed. Economics and political pragmatism are not enough. It must involve a spiritual oneness. The closest the French get to anything spiritual these days is in their wine bottles.
The Dutch, like the French, are faced with a problem of their own making. They have admitted 1.7 million immigrants, many of them from countries that share none of their political or religious history. In a nation of 16 million people, the Dutch have among the highest concentration of Muslims in the EU. Their likely rejection of the constitution will come from fear they are already losing their sense of history and national identity.
If Europeans have any hope of drafting a new constitution that will win majority approval, the continent's ancient history and modern concerns must be considered and dealt with. But without a sense of oneness, there is unlikely to be unity, much less union.
Tribune Media Services