The French rejection of the EU constitution unleashed a shockwave and exposed the weaknesses of the union project. But there will be no chance for a united Europe if fears of the expanded union are not addressed.
A bright future despite current problems?
There were many losers the day the French said "no" to the EU constitution. First of all, there was Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was forced to resign. Then there was French President Jacques Chirac, whose self-aggrandizing and neglectful politics disregarded the majority of French voters' concerns.
The biggest loser is the European idea itself -- Europe should have, through the constitution, taken shape and achieved an increase in democracy. But this goal got lost because of French fears.
The "no" to the referendum is a further example of how politics as usual in the European states collapsed -- and of how "Good Old Europe" views the competition with the dynamic and pragmatic "New Europe" states of the expanded union in a negative way.
The fears of the people are the same everywhere: In France as in Germany, unemployment is too high. The old political order, of which trade unions are a player, is threatened the influx of cheaper labor from the south and east of the expanded EU, who don't belong to them.
"Old Europe" warns that it is losing its competitiveness -- economically and in education and employment. This feeling caused the voters in France to vote a resounding "non." The French acted on the principle that they would rather protect the old model as long as promised prescriptions for success are not in sight.
An identity problem
Of course, Europe has more than a communication or image problem to grapple with. It has a real identity problem. The rapid enlargement last year came at the cost of a true deepening of the union. Politicians waved their chance to make a "Europe of the people" goodbye.
That was exemplified in Jacques Chirac during a television talk show: For more than one hour, he avoided addressing the fears of the voters over the EU. The "non" of the French then took on a bitter meaning: European unity remains a purely elitist project.
Therefore, the EU summit in two weeks is really now a crisis meeting. The litmus test is, above all, the continuation of EU expansion through the negotiations with Turkey over membership.
In the light of Turkish police officers beating up demonstrating women on International Women's Day, as was seen on televisions around Europe, many are questioning what the common values would be of a united Europe that in the future might stretch to the Euphrates.
The values discussion has to become more clarified even regarding other potential EU member candidates from Europe such as Romania, where former members of Ceausescu's secret police still serve in government. Europe is only a society of common values as long as it is able to defend them vigorously.
No unified feeling
There is no question that many people have profited handsomely from the EU for decades and don't seem to remember this. Nevertheless, a "we" mentality or a collective feeling from the Europe of 25 is not arising. The conviction, that through common values and a collective history a common society can be built, is found in the new EU states, not France, Germany or Britain.
European politics must turn again towards the people. Then the union has a political future, if it becomes firmly anchored in the hearts and heads of its residents. And only then, if there is a common and clear idea of the European identity, culture and history, and a clear vision of the expanded union, will the people understand and accept it.
This complicated and controversial idea must finally be brought up. And the founding states of Germany and France especially have a duty to act as an engine for European integration. So the French "non" can then be still a chance for Europe.