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Europe

EU In Agony After Constitution Fiasco

Europe agonized over the EU constitution's future Thursday after Dutch voters rejected it Wednesday. While some fear that the "no" could all but bury the treaty, most EU leaders said its ratification should continue.

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Juncker: "Europe no longer makes people dream"

The European Union's Luxembourg presidency and EU heavyweights France and Germany said the process of ratifying the charter should continue in other member states. Dutch voters on Wednesday followed their French counterparts in rejecting the draft constitution.

Many European leaders insisted the treaty was still alive and worth preserving. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he respected, but regretted the outcome of the Dutch referendum.

"I am convinced that we need the constitution if we want a democratic, social-minded and strong Europe," Schröder said in a statement.

Schröder said the ratification process must continue.

"The crisis about the ratification of the European constitution cannot become a general crisis about Europe," he said. There was no sound alternative, he added.

Europe will continue moving forward

French President Jacques Chirac said the Dutch vote, like the French, had highlighted "strong expectations, questions and concerns over the development of the European project," according to a statement by his office.

The EU's Luxembourg presidency said the process of ratifying the treaty in other European nations should be allowed to continue despite the setbacks.

Ein holländischer Bauer legt Poster mit der Aufschrift EU Grondwet - Boe! - Muh! über seine Kühe

A Dutch farmer covers his cows with blankets that read "EU constitution -- Mooh!"

"I remain of the view that the ratification process must be able to continue in other states," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said. He vowed to bring proposals to the upcoming EU summit in Brussels in mid-June that would help the bloc recover its poise.

"It is not the first blow to Europe," Juncker said. "There have been others, since the 1950s until late in the 1970s, and each time Europe got over them, got up again and continued along its road."

But he acknowledged the impact of the crushing Dutch vote, saying it showed that "Europe no longer makes people dream."

Which direction will Europe take?

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country takes over the rotating EU presidency next month, said the two referendums raised "profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe."

Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to hold a referendum in notoriously euroskeptic Britain next year, which opinion polls suggest would result in another defeat for the text. But the London media has been full of reports that the French and Dutch results may give him an excuse to call it off.

Bildgalerie 50 Jahre Römische Verträge Bild 18 2004 Italien EU Verfassung Plakat

The European Constitution was signed in Rome last October

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Giulio Tremonti went even further.

"I think that the European Constitution as it has been presented and managed is finished," Tremonti said.

"After a popular vote such as that which took place in France and the Netherlands, I think that the process on the text is finished," Tremonti said. "I see no alternative, technically or politically."

But analysts warn that if the ratification process were to be halted, the bloc could sink into an extended period of introspection with repeat referendums. In any case, negotiations are unlikely to change the bigger picture, said Klaus-Peter Sick, a political analyst at the Marc Bloch Research Center in Berlin.

"The process of ratification is a long one and there is quite a bit of time left," Sick said. "I don't think renegotiations will bring different results."

Taking the people seriously

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said his country would go ahead with its referendum on Sept. 27 and other nations should proceed likewise. But he conceded that the Dutch blow "must be taken seriously."

Germany's Schröder shared his opinion.

"We have to note that many Europeans have doubts whether Europe is in the position to supply answers to the pushing questions of the time," Schröder said. "We have to take the worries and difficulties of the people seriously."

The EU summit in Brussels on June 16 and 17 has now assumed crucial importance in determining the road ahead for the beleaguered bloc. Following Wednesday's "no" vote, it has been dubbed "the crisis summit."

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