European Union

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(HOST) For those who have been trying to understand the European Union lately without complete success, commentator Olin Robison has a helpful primer.

(ROBISON) It isn’t at all surprising that most Americans don’t have a clue about what is happening with the European Union. Is it all of Europe or just part? And what were those recent votes in France and the Netherlands all about?

Well, for starters, the European Union does not yet have a constitution. From time to time, one can hear talk of a possible United States of Europe, but, believe me, we are a long way from that. In the meantime, there was a commission – a large commis- sion – that came up with a draft constitution, and that draft does not become “The Constitution” until it is approved by all 25 mem- ber states. Some of the 25 member countries do not put this question to a popular vote, handling the matter instead in their respective parliaments. For others, the approval process is a referendum.

A few short days ago, there was such a referendum in France and then, a few days later, another in the Netherlands. In both cases, the “no” vote was overwhelming and, in both cases, this “no” vote came on the heels of the political leadership in each country strongly encouraging voters to vote “yes”.

First, a little history is in order. It all started right after World War II with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community. This was an attempt to revive the German economy, but to do so in such a way as to prevent any resurgence of Germany’s war-mak- ing abilities. It worked. France and Germany together then worked to expand their cooperation to extend beyond the rather narrow purposes of their initial efforts. It was back then often said that the goal was to have a European Germany rather than a German Europe. And that has worked as well.

Years later, with the number of participating countries having risen from six to 12 to 15, the Treaty of European Union was signed in 1992. Now, 13 years later, they still need a constitution. Part of the problem is that what is proposed is long and not much under- stood by anyone. The very length makes a lot of people cautious. The printed version comes in at well over 400 pages. By compar- ison, the U. S. Constitution can, and often is, printed in very small brochures that fit easily into a man’s coat pocket.

The second problem highlighted by the French and Dutch “no” votes is the stunning gap the votes reveal between the political leadership in those countries and the populations they presume to lead. The vote is considered to be an enormous embarrassment for French President Jacques Chirac.

The most obvious big winner as a result of the “no” votes is Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. He was on the brink of having to have a similar vote in the UK – something that was going to cause him a lot of sleepless nights without any certainty that it would carry. He and his government have “postponed” further consider- ation of the matter. In other words, it got them off the hook – at least for now.

No one knows for sure just what will happen next. Many European political leaders have invested their reputations in making this happen. They – and they are many – now face considerable public embarrassment. Look for a good many early retirements.

Nothing much is going to happen anytime soon. And for now, dear listeners, that is probably all we need to know.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison lives in Shelburne.

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