Establishing a Constitution for Europe during European Union Enlargement? Visions of 'Europe' in the Referenda Campaigns in France and the Netherlands

Article excerpt

The construction of imaginings of 'Europe' is increasingly closely intertwined with the institutions of the European Union (EU). Constitutional reform of the EU is therefore a crucial moment in the production and reproduction of European imaginaries and requires a cultural geography analysis of the public debates surrounding it and the resulting voting patterns. French and Dutch citizens, in referenda on 29 May and 1 June 2005 respectively, rejected the ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. This article examines the highly contested visions of political elites and citizens in these two countries to explore how Europe is imagined and re-imagined in a period of rapid territorial and institutional change encompassing both the widening and the deepening of the EU. It focuses on two dimensions of integration: widening (ie. enlargement) and deepening (ie. institutional reforms towards more integration) and the associated visions of 'Europe' and 'European-ness.' Questions addressed include "who belongs to Europe and who does not?" (with regard to widening), and "what belongs to European competencies and what should be done nationally or locally?" (with regard to deepening).

Keywords: EU enlargement; Europe; European Constitution; European Union; referenda; geographical imaginary


This article focuses on visions of 'Europe' in the 15 'old' European Union (EU) member states. It explores the highly contested imaginings of what 'Europe' and the EU should be and addresses the gap between the views of political elites and of citizens regarding the future of the EU and moves to 'widen' and 'deepen' it. Specifically, it deals with these issues in the context of the French and Dutch referenda about the Treaty on the European Constitution in 2005. Constitutional reforms of the EU are crucial moments in the production and reproduction of European imaginaries. When referenda on reform are organized they generate intense public debate in which visions of 'Europe' are produced and contested revealing aspects of the cultural geography of European identity formation.

This paper investigates how 'Europe' was imagined and re-imagined in the mid-2000s, in a period of rapid and institutional change in the EU encompassing both widening--the eastern enlargement of the EU leading to the inclusion of 10 former Eastern European states--and deepening--attempts to adopt a Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE). The second section introduces geographical imaginations of 'Europe' while the following section discusses the ways the relationship between widening and deepening the EU can be conceptualised. The fourth section deals with the gap between the visions of political elites and citizens which were deployed and contested in the 2005 referenda on European integration. The next section introduces the Treaty and the ratification process. The two main sections which follow present an exploration of the French and the Dutch referenda on the Constitution. The analysis is based on electoral data, Eurobarometers, (1) national exit polls and post-referendum Flash Eurobarometers, (2) publications in the press and on the internet and secondary sources. In the conclusion the two referenda are compared to evaluate the gap between the visions of 'Europe' constructed by political elites and the public.

Geographical imaginations of Europe, reunification and the European Union

At the crossroads of cultural geography and political geography (more specifically critical geopolitics) issues of identity, meaning and representation have increasingly been addressed (Dijkink 1996; Sharp 1996; Mitchell 2000; Anderson et al. 2003; O Tuathail 2003; Gregory 2004; Dodds 2005; Dittmer 2005; Dalby 2008). Similarly, the importance of culture and the construction of identities are increasingly being addressed in International Relations and European Studies (Lapid and Kratochwil 1996; O Tuathail 1996; Smith 1999). …


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