Monday, April 18, 2005

Will a Non be a Yes to Instability?

Practically all of my French friends are now telling me that it looks as if the referendum on May 29 is going to result in France saying "non" to the constitutional treaty of the European Union.

That might be a premature conclusion - it's still more than a month to go - but still makes it highly relevant to discuss which might be the consequences of a no in France. If there is a no in France, it seems likely that there will be the same result in the referendum in the Netherlands three days later.

Then, it will effectively be the end of this suggested Constitutional Treaty of the European Union.

It has often been said that there is no Plan B for this contingency, but then a Plan B would very rapidly have to be put in place. The June meeting of the European Council under the presidency of Luxembourg will be highly important.

The first casualty of a French no might well be the future of the process of enlargement. The issue of Turkey is already one of the major issues in the French campaign, along with a general sense of malaise over the rapid enlargement of the European Union in recent years.

The EU is supposed to start accession negotiations with Turkey on October 3rd. Although in a formal sense this is hardly affected by a failure of the ratification process, the reality is likely to be a different one.

There will be voiced raised in favour of a pause of reflect on the new situation. And even if the accession negotiations are in face started as planned, there will be a clear perception that they will be on a distant back burner for years to come.

But it's not only a question of Turkey. As has been argued elsewhere, there is an acute need for the EU to send a new message of commitment to enlargement to all of the countries of what is nowadays referred to as the Western Balkans. And there is also Ukraine, which also needs to know that the process of enlargement will move forward, eventually enclosing the lands of the Dnjepr and beyond.

If there is a no to the Constitutional Treaty, there is a very acute risk that all of this will suddenly be seen to be in doubt.

The consequences are unfortunately not too difficult to predict.

There will be an immediate slow down of the Europe-oriented reform process in all of these countries and regions. That's bad in itself.

But there is a corresponding risk that this will be associated with a further rise in nationalist sentiment in these regions already so exposed to the destructive effects of aggressive nationalism. Without a clear European perspective for the future, there is an obvious risk that those forces dreaming of a return to a nationalist past will gather in strength.

Together, these likely effects are likely to lead to increased both short- and long-term instability in the "near abroad" of the European Union.

Not a good result - mildly speaking.