Le Grand Non

The BBC is reporting that French voters have rejected the EU Constitution by a vote of 55% to 45% according to the latest exit polls. Final results will be available later tonight. Already President Chirac has officially announced the failure of the referendum.

This vote was as much as a referendum on the leadership of French President Jacques Chirac as it was a referendum on the EU Constitution. Chirac’s leadership has led France to near-depression, and the approval ratings for President Chirac and his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin are abysmally low.

Expect Raffarin to be the first to fall on his sword. Raffarin will likely be replaced with the very popular former Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has been widely held to be the likely successor to Chirac in 2007, and he may have a chance before that.

At the same time, Sarkozy has some problems of his own as his marriage to his highly-admired wife Cecilia is on the rocks. How this might effect Sarkozy’s future political career is up in the air at this point.

The other big loser today is the European Union. The EU Constitution was a massive bureaucratic wish-list that would have been a completely unworkable governing document. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French President and father of the EU Constitution created a document that was a laundry list of various social programs that are totally at odds with a free economy. The fact that the pro-EU side mailed thousands of copies of the EU Constitution to French voters didn’t help – the unreadable document only illustrated how massive and unnecessarily complex it was.

The terms of the Constitutional Treaty require a unanimous vote, which now means that re-negotiation of the document is assured. The Netherlands holds its referendum in a few days, and it is likely that the Dutch will also reject the Constitution as well.

The EU has faced only one popular vote for ratification, when the Spanish overwhelmingly approved the document in February. The others have all been legislative approvals. The fundamental discord between the elites of the EU and the people are showing in a fundamental manner. The idea of an integrated federal European superstate has been pushed down the throats of the European people for years now, but centuries of nationalism don’t disappear so easily.

The idea of a federal Europe isn’t necessarily a bad one. The idea of a federal Europe run by an unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucratic elite is not. The EU has stretched itself too far, and this sharp rebuke to their ambitions should make the leaders of the EU reconsider their relationship with the electorate. The EU has been a polis without a demos – a state that is largely a creation of elites that is almost entirely separated from the will of the people.

Such an arrangement is not a recipe for responsible government. The French electorate has made the right choice, if not for the best reasons. The European Union needs to redefine their relationship with the electorate or face further popular resistance against its technocratic rule.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds (unsurprisingly) has a roundup of links on the French vote.

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