The Role of the European Societies in the EU Deepening Process
One of the important components of the sui-generis character of the European Union is that it is not only an association of member states, but citizens are also recognized as direct parties to the Union. The dual character of the Union, which unites both states and citizens, has a direct effect on the nature of the EU and the decisionmaking process.1 Participation, as a key part of the notion of citizenship, is a way to be involved in the ratification process of EU related treaties, and it allows European societies to vote in the referendum regarding declare an opinion about certain issues on behalf of their own country. The referendums as a representation of public opinion can affect the deepening process, which leads to closer union and increased integration, among the EU. Conversely, the deepening process can influence public opinion as well. To illustrate the role of citizens in this sense; France and the Netherlands, the two of the six founding members of the EU, have discussable results of the referenda related to the Draft of Constitution Treaty in 2005. The rejection of the treaty that establishing a constitution for Europe is analyzed with respect to economic, cultural, political, and social perspectives. Later in 2008, the Treaty of Lisbon, which is also called the Reform Treaty, was initially rejected in Ireland. Although it was approved in the second referendum held in 2009, it has still significant consequences -since the ratification of all EU members is required before entering into law-. However, the French, the Dutch, and Irish referenda have both common and distinct features. Moreover, the voice of European societies indicates economic and cultural concerns that encourage us to reevaluate further integration.
To begin with France, where 55% of voters rejected the EU constitutional treaty, “no” votes mostly are the result of economic concerns particularly the unemployment problem according to Eurobarometer post-referendum surveys.2 Although unemployment is a significant problem in France, it is still unexpected since France is one of the six founding members of the EU. Moreover, 80% declare themselves in favor of European integration.3 It is not usual for other member states who are divided in favor of strengthening the EU and promote national interest. In addition to the unemployment problem, a remarkable proportion of French “no” voters find the draft too liberal. Furthermore, William Wallace argues that “The French campaign brought out all the demons of globalization, Anglo-Saxon capitalism and neo-liberalism, as threats to France’s European social model embodied in the constitutional treaty. This was a vote against economic reform, in a country that desperately needs a more flexible labor market.”4 Besides economic concerns, the reasons for the “no” vote also contains domestic political tendencies, loss of sovereignty, and disposition against the accession of Turkey. In this sense, it can be said that domestic politics such as opposition to the government and social concerns such as national identity have great importance -in addition to economic concerns- in terms of both integration process and enlargement (example of Turkey).
On the other hand, 61% of voters said “No” to the European Union Constitution in the Netherlands. The Dutch referendum is different because the main reason was the lack of information for the %32 of the people who said “no”.5 In other words, the Dutch public expressed their dissatisfaction about how they were left uninformed by the political elites. Unlike France, the major concern is not economic, rather it is the loss of national sovereignty and opposition to European construction.6 In addition to opposition to the national government and the idea of expensive Europe, Dutch “no” voters mostly concerned about their national identity, promote national interest to strengthen their own country and they may see this treaty, which intended to establish a more consolidated EU, as a threat. Four dimensions of interpreting “no” votes in Dutch are summarized as a cultural threat, post-materialism, euro, and enlargement (Turkey).7 In this case, it is shown that the role of political elites in informing citizens and the fear of losing national values have an important impact on public decisions. As a result, possibility of an intense or fast deepening process may increase the threat of national sovereignty to the publics’ eye.
Both French and Dutch society rejected the Constitution Treaty despite the differences among the main motivations of saying “no”. However, I think the most important interpretation on distinctive features is that economic concerns as a domestic problem obstruct the deepening process in France while the speed and threat of integration increased the apprehension of losing national sovereignty in the Netherlands. It shows the mutual interaction between the EU deepening process led by European societies and the idea of citizens shaped by EU policies. Moreover, two campaign processes during the referenda can be compared besides survey results of reasons for “no” votes. Hobolt and Brouard express the differences between the two campaigns for referenda “the French campaign was long and impassioned, while the Dutch was shorter and less intense.”8 The campaign concerns were also different in the two countries. French campaign emphasized the economic and social issues, while the Dutch campaign was preoccupied with procedural issues. The difference between the two campaigns also influenced people's attitudes toward Europe. Attitudes of French people towards EU include concerns over the liberal market economy and losing national social model instead of supporting European integration. On the contrary, traditional concerns were
1 Ben Crum, Learning from the EU Constitutional Treaty: Democratic Constitutionalization beyond the Nation-State (London: Routledge, 2012), 99.
2 Eurobarometer “The European Constitution: Post-referendum survey in France,” European Commission, accessed November 24,2020, https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/flash/fl171 en.pdf
3 Henry Milner, “‘Yes to the Europe I Want; No to This One.’ Some Reflections on France’s Rejection of the EU Constitution,” PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (2006): 257
4 William Wallace, “A Treaty Too Far,” The World Today 61 (2005): 5
5 “The European Constitution: Post-referendum survey in the Netherlands,” European Commission, accessed November 24,2020, https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/flash/fl172 en.pdf
6 Theo A. J. Toonen, Bernard Steunenberg, and Wim Voermans, “Saying No to a European Constitution: Dutch Revolt, Enigma or Pragmatism?” Journal for Comparative Government and European Policy 3 (2005): 602
7 Sara Binzer Hobolt and Sylvain Brouard, “Contesting the European Union? Why the Dutch and the French Rejected the European Constitution,” Political Research Quarterly 64 (2011): 315
8 Hoboult and Brouard, “Contesting the European Union? Why the Dutch and the French Rejected the European Constitution,” 319