• 2005-06-08
After last week's stunning show of discontent by two of the European Union's founding countries, it was a pity to hear many commentators say that the French and Dutch rejections were a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the powers-that-be in the countries.

The poll, in other words, had little to do with the public's perception of European integration.

This is, to put it mildly, pure patronizing rubbish. Though most of those French and Dutch who went to the polls probably did not bother to read the full text of the constitution, they are well aware of union dynamics and over the years have formulated an opinion as to their overall utility on public welfare. Bear in mind the obvious here: it is not often that European voters, especially in the older member states, are given a chance to vote on EU affairs. When they do, it concerns whether to adopt the common currency.

Thus these constitutional referenda, therefore, are the perfect opportunity for the public to vent its frustration. Not surprisingly, the constitution has been under attack from both the right and left for being too socialist and too liberal. There's just too much capitalism, too much federalism, too much expansion (i.e., Turkey), too much labor migration, too much everything, the French and Dutch seemed to say all at once.

Part of this is the fault of the constitution's writers. First, the document is too long and unwieldy 's it contains too many unnecessary details for a constitution 's and second, not enough work was carried out to convince the public it was necessary. But even then there is no guarantee that a shorter Constitutional Treaty backed up by a rigorous informational campaign would have been accepted by French and Dutch voters. Simply put, too much anxiety has accumulated.

One can safely conclude that, for many West Europeans, the European project has proceeded too far too fast. It has gotten ahead of itself. Instead of focusing on Lisbon, EU leaders have become bogged down on the "single foundation." Unemployment remains high, economic growth negligible, and the union's future competitiveness a matter of grave concern. For those with an eye on demographics 's Europe's aging population and decreasing pool of taxpayers 's the alarm bells started ringing long ago.

So where does that leave Europe? As all wise people, EU leaders must make the best of a difficult situation. They can take some of the reforms contained in the constitution and attach them to the Treaty of Nice, by which the EU currently functions. But most importantly, they should stop and listen to what voters are saying. Because without a rapport with the people, the European project will lose all sense and be doomed to stagnate for years to come.