If French voters do indeed reject the draft EU constitution in Sunday's referendum, the European Union will likely be catapulted into a crisis and Franco-German relations may suffer serious damage.
The French want a different Europe
The constitution's opponents aim to bring down the draft treaty, but they aren't looking to bring the European project down with it, according to Daniel Vernet of France's Le Monde daily.
"In France there isn't this awareness that one could call into question the concept of Europe and (European) integration. On the contrary, some of those in favor of a 'no' say they're good Europeans, but they're in favor of a more social, political and transparent Europe, and they say: 'We want Europe but a different Europe'."
But Brussels EU experts agree that achieving this "other Europe" through renegotiating the constitution is unrealistic. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin too stressed earlier this week that the treaty would not be renegotiated.
The experts also largely agree that French rejection of the constitution would cause a crisis in the EU. "France isn't just any country, but rather an EU founding state," said Mathias Jopp, director of Berlin's Institute for European Politics (IEP). "France was always committed in a special manner to the European cause. We will then be faced with a certain ratification crisis, and it won't be easier for Franco-Germany relations."
Schröder (l.) and Fischer (r.) with French President Chirac
To start with, German politicians were heavily involved in the French campaign for the EU Constitution. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder campaigned repeatedly in France for voters to approve the charter. Nor was it the first time German political heavyweights set out to influence the French: Then Chancellor Helmut Kohl tried to curry French voters' favor ahead of the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
As Germany and France have long been considered the engine of the European Union, French rejection of the constitution would certainly affect their special relationship. Germany would have to try to help France -- which would find itself isolated in Europe -- out of the hotspot.
"There's the idea of a defensive union between Germany and France; Why shouldn't one then start with a social union?" suggested Mathias Jopp. "In this way, even in the bad case of a 'no,' one could find an opportunity to build a bridge to France. If this issue were seized upon, one could construct something between Germany and France that could after some years be carried over to the European Union as a new element of policy."
Initially though, the Nice Treaty would continue to define the rules within the EU. Over time, the EU might then adopt certain parts of the failed constitution, according to Jopp. But in the long term, Brussels would have ever more difficulty passing legislation, since Nice practically encourages blockades rather than majority decisions.
It's unlikely that the much-discussed "core Europe" of leading states would develop or that a second round of voting would take place if the French overwhelmingly oppose the constitution on Sunday. The Danish variety, which envisions backing out of selected aspects of the treaty, is also practically unworkable because the different parts of the document are contingent upon each other.
The fall guy in case of a "non": French Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin
The situation is made no easier by the fact that French criticism focused on a supposedly neo-liberal Europe also applies to the treaties of Nice and Amsterdam, fundamental EU documents. But Prime Minister Raffarin (photo) surely won't go searching for a Plan B. Instead, the most immediate effect if the referendum fails will probably be the premier's resignation. Though he would be hard hit too, President Jacques Chirac has already said he will remain in office regardless. But his prospects for a third term as head of state will be significantly dimmer.