- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

European leaders yesterday scrambled to prevent a political implosion as the Netherlands became the second country in four days to reject an ambitious new constitution for the 25-nation bloc.

Early projections showed that the Dutch “no” camp took more than 60 percent of the vote, despite support for the constitution from figures across the political spectrum. On Sunday, French voters also decisively rejected the accord, designed to streamline the European Union’s internal workings and make it a bigger force on the global stage.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner — commissioner for external affairs at the European Commission, the Brussels-based European Union’s executive arm — said the Continent’s political leaders should avoid “unilateral steps” as they try to chart a course forward.

“It cannot be business as usual for us, as we must respect the will of the people,” Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner and other EU officials pointed to a summit planned for June 16 as the first opportunity for political leaders to analyze the French and Dutch votes and decide whether to push ahead with the constitution.

Some favor continuing the ratification process in the 14 EU states that have not voted. Some favor adopting by decree key portions of the constitution, despite the votes. But constitution opponents argue that the votes have effectively killed the massive effort.

The popular revolt “raises profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London.

Ten EU nations have ratified the constitution, but only in one country — Spain — was the question put directly to voters. Britain is one of eight countries that have announced plans to hold a referendum, but the treaty faces a steep uphill climb and many think Prime Minister Tony Blair will opt not to bother with a vote.

Latvia’s parliament is expected to approve the treaty today, but even there, officials concede that the French and Dutch votes have transformed the debate.

“This is a huge wake-up call for the whole European project,” former Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks told the Associated Press. “It looks like everybody involved in drawing up the EU constitution miscalculated.”

Added Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who opposes ratification in his country, “The constitution, in this version, is history.”

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso echoed Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner in calling for a freeze on political action as leaders digest the vote, but said amending the complex constitution was not an option. All 25 EU members must approve the constitution for it to take effect.

“There is no clear alternative to the constitution that has been presented,” he said on French television.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac insisted that the ratification process proceed. There were some faint hopes among Europe’s political elite that approval by most or all of the other 23 EU states might force France and the Netherlands to consider a second vote.

But Mr. Barroso and Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner said the wide range of forces that fueled the “no” votes make it difficult to decide what to do next.

In France, far-right and far-left parties both rejected the constitution, as did voters lodging a protest vote over Mr. Chirac’s handling of the economy. Fears of globalization and the prospect of Muslim Turkey eventually joining the European Union also were factors.

In the Netherlands, by contrast, the “no” camp included those who feared the loss of Dutch sovereignty to a giant EU superstate, factions opposed to the euro currency and parties concerned about immigration.

“Some say Europe goes too far; others say they want a different kind of Europe. Still others say, ‘We want more of Europe, but not this Europe,’ ” Mr. Barroso said.

Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner, a former Austrian foreign minister, insisted in the interview that the European Union’s foreign-policy arm can still operate effectively under existing treaties. But more ambitious plans to create a single EU foreign minister and a continental diplomatic corps have clearly been put on indefinite hold.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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