European Voters Ask: Has EU Integration "Come a Long Way" or "Gone Too Far"?

Article excerpt

The process of European integration has come far since the 1957 Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC or "Common Market") between Germany, France, Italy, and the three Benelux nations. What began as a customs union between six nations has progressed steadily to become the European Union of now 25 nations (and growing) an organization with functions across the entire political spectrum, from social policy to foreign and defense issues.

For many visionaries of European integration, the real goal has always been a "United States of Europe" which would be at least as cohesive as the early United States of America under the Articles of Confederation. Some have dreamt and still dream of a United Europe as a political and economic superpower with peer status to the United States and Russia on the world stage. For others, European integration has been about making the nations of the continent so interdependent that war between them would be an impossibility.

The goal of a United States of Europe seemed one step closer as the 25 member governments agreed on a joint European Constitution in Rome on October 29, 2004. This master document, meant to define the future structure of the EU, was to be ratified by all member nations within two years of signing.

Ten nations opted to make ratification the subject of popular referenda, while the remaining fifteen chose to let their legislatures decide the issue. within six months of signing the document in Rome, nine national parliaments had voted for ratification, while the Spanish people in February 2005 supported ratification by an overwhelming margin in the first referendum on the subject.

Reality struck home as referenda in France (May 29) and the Netherlands (June 1) soundly rejected ratification. Meanwhile, opinion polls showed voters in five other nations planning referenda to also be leaning toward rejection. EU leaders quickly called a time-out, retracting the October 2006 deadline for ratification and (with the exception of Luxembourg) putting planned referenda on hold.

What is truly consternating about these developments is not the French "non" or the Dutch "nee", but the fact that European political elites were shocked by the negative votes. While some have classified the negative referenda outcome as popular repudiation of their respective governments' domestic policies rather than actual repudiation of European integration, there is in fact a palpable and growing Euroskepticism among the Community's populations. While some, especially Britons and Danes, have always been dubious of the European experiment, this sentiment is growing most rapidly in the original founding nations of the European Economic Community cum European Community cum European Union.

There are many reasons for this development. High unemployment makes Germans and Frenchmen increasingly bitter over new Eastern European members whose citizens go West and so the perception accept lower wages to get what few jobs come open. Citizens in wealthier EU nations, which pay more into the EU joint budget than they get back in subsidies or benefits, feel abused, especially during current times of belt-tightening and rollbacks of once- generous social welfare systems. Introduction of the common currency Euro is blamed by many for higher consumer prices. And not to be underestimated is the growing fear that the continent's rich patchwork of many cultures is slowly but surely being amalgamated into a face- and tasteless uniculture. …