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Press Review: French Flex Their Muscles

DW staff (jb)May 30, 2005

European newspapers went from raging at the French rejection of the EU constitution to calling it an opportunity to listen to voters who feel remote from the Brussels bureaucracy in a manner that fits with their wishes.

Likely a "no" voteImage: AP

Many French newspapers such as Le Figaro called the vote a flexing of French muscle. "The French have realized their real power, to bend European construction towards their will and with it the destiny of 450 million people."

Other newspapers in France saw the referendum's results as a rejection of Chirac: It was a vote on "the political class with its head in the sand, accustomed to lying over many years, notoriously incompetent and at the bidding of the president," wrote Liberation. It is "a general disaster and an epidemic of populism sweeping away everything in its way -- European integration, enlargement, elites, control of market forces, reformism, internationalism, even generosity."

In London, the Financial Times commented: "The reasons for the French 'no' are diffuse. Part is clearly a backlash against Mr Chirac from the left, combining frustration at the failure of his government to reduce unemployment, and a powerful anti-globalisation movement blaming international competition for France's plight. But that fear of competition has been confused with anxiety about the effect of EU enlargement, with France losing influence in a 25-member union and losing jobs to cheaper labor in the east...On balance, it would seem most sensible to allow the ratification process to continue, even if it does mean that others may vote 'no,' including the UK. Only when it is clear where all the members stand can a sensible effort be made to rework the treaty. The French 'no' is a shock. It is also an opportunity for a fundamental debate to be held on the shape of the future EU."

The euroskeptic British press was more gleeful. "In defiance of a united media, a monolithically pro-Brussels political class and blizzards of propaganda, they (the French) have said a resounding 'non' to the Euro-elites who have governed them for half a century," wrote the Daily Telegraph.

The tabloid Daily Mail commented: "A grotesque and wrong-headed document has been all but buried."

The Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich attributed the French rejection as anger and alienation from far-away Brussels bureaucrats and opined: "The EU has suffered a setback. But it is a chance to take a closer look at the way European unity is being managed. Whether the next attempt at a better EU constitution or the next enlargement of the EU: The EU must learn that if it wants to survive, it has to finally allow the spirit of democracy to live."

Spain's El Mundo remarked: With their egotism and their implacability, the French have plunged the EU into its greatest crisis yet. If a smaller or middle-sized country had rejected the EU constitution, the vote could have been repeated. But not in France, also because of the high participation of voters participating which bestowed on it such a high degree of legitimacy. Now the EU constitution is at an impasse...and Europe turns back to an era of nationalism.

Moscow's daily newspaper Kommersant called the rejection a symbolic act with little practical effect: "Above all, it is a symbolic act with little influence on the practical matters...and will change little, even if the Dutch add their 'no' on Wednesday. The Euro and the Schengen agreement are, for European Unity, more important than a symbolic document."