“Crisis? What crisis?” ” To what extent does the outcome of the French and Dutch referenda of May/June 2005 represent a crisis for the EU?”

di Forte Ivan
       The European Union is a family of democratic States which have voluntarily decided to act jointly in order to achieve certain common aims. Giving that, one must asssume that the relationships within the member States of the European Union are the same as in a normal family. Consequently, it means that situations of crisis and missundertandings must be considered, as a phisiology and not a pathology of this system.
       In fact, the process that has built up what is called nowadays the European Union has been characterised by various critical moments that, paradoxically, were at some points able to streghten the integration within the UE member States despite the typical difficulties, in overcoming each crisis. Therefore, one can say that this process is not a linear one but it is an “up-down” process because there is an alternation of successful phases that seemed to push the integration even further than initially expected and phases of crisis that seemed to represent the end of this ambitious project.
       However, fortunately, in each past crisis there were brave people who believe in the integration despite the difficulties[1]. All the same, if it is true that the gravity of a crisis depends undoubtedly on the reactions of the people affected by the crisis itself, it is undeniable that the events happened on the European scene from the end of May until now have shocked the European collectivity generating a popular involvement never seen before in the integration of the EU.
In particular, as far as the recent crisis is concerned, three events have disrupted the European asset provoking a political and budgetary crisis:
a)      the failure of the French referendum concerning the approval of the European Constitution;
b)      the failure of the Dutch referendum regarding the approval of the European Constitution;
c)      the failure of the European Council for the financial perspectives 2007-2012.
       Before analyzing the causes and the consequences that those three events have generated, it seems it is worth remembering that, as already mentioned, this new European crisis, mostly generated by the French “non”, is not the first in the European process and for sure it will not be the last one. Generally speaking, the process of the European integration has been capable of getting over other dramatic moments such as the refusal of the French Parliament to ratify the Treaty creating a European Defense Community[2], the “empty chair” of De Gaulle in the European Council[3], the Danish refusal to the Maastricht Treaty and the Irish refusal to the Nice Treaty.
       Surprisingly, in each of the over-mentioned crises, the European Union has avoided the collapse and the secession and has created new ways and new solutions to deepen the integration. Consequently, the analyze of the causes and the consequences of this crisis will facilitate to understand exactly which are the reasons behind this situation and what will be the future of the Treaty and the process of the European integration in general.
       To begin with, the European Council of Brussels has sanctioned, last 16 and 17 June, the opening of a serious political crisis in the European Union[4].
       Undoubtedly, this crisis began two weeks before, when during a short four days period the French and Dutch citizens, have surprisingly refused the Treaty adopting a Constitution for Europe and have compromised the possibility that this Treaty will enter into force from November 2006[5].
So far in fact, the Constitution has been approved by a great part of the Member States[6] with a population of 255 million of habitants, whereas it has been rejected by two Member States with a population of 76 millions. Accordingly, due to the necessity of unanimity in order to guarantee the entry into force of the Treaty, one can say that in theory there will not be possibilities for the new Constitution to be applied[7].
It appears necessary to put our attention over three aspects:
a) The importance of the French and Dutch refusal and its differences with previous situations involving ratification of European Treaties:
       As regards this first point, first of all one should consider the high number of French and Dutch voters; in France, where the referendum was legally binding, the 70% of people has voted whereas in Netherlands, where the referendum was consultative the 61% voted[8]. The 54,8% of French choose “non” whereas in Netherlands it was the 61,6% of voters to reject the Constitution[9].
       Consequently, one cannot underestimate these numbers because they represent a huge difference with the results of the last two referenda concerning the Treaty of Maastricht and Nice.             In fact, in both cases the refusal of Denmark[10] (concerning the Treaty of Maastricht) and the Irish one[11] (regarding the Treaty of Nice) were not so evident and massive. As a consequence, the Danish and the Irish governments managed to repeat, successfully, the popular consultation, some time later.
       To come back to the numeric considerations regarding the most recent referenda, those statistic make us understand that the victory of “NO party” was not due to the lack of interest or information of French and Dutch citizens over the constitution.
      Not similarly, in the Irish referendum there was a small number going to the pull; that is why the victory of no was considered to be due to the Irish incomprehension for this popular consultation.
In France and in the Netherlands there was a public discussion over the Treaty which was able to involve both people and the political forces during the months before the vote, consequently these outcome must be taken seriously into account[12].
b) The possible solutions that the EU must negotiate with the not ratifying countries:
       The possible solutions for negotiate with the not ratifying States are without any doubt problematical. In the speeches after the defeat in France and in the Netherlands, the President of the EU Commission Barroso[13] and the President of the European Council, Jean Claude Juncker have shown their intention to go on with the procedures of ratification in the other member States until October 2006[14]. If at this date there will be more than five not ratifying countries the Treaty will be definitely set aside, otherwise if there will be less that five all the procedure will be grant to the European Council.   
       It seems that these declarations cannot hide the seriousness of the problems in the EU underlined by the French and Dutch refusals. In fact, even if within the time for ratifying the 4/5 of Member States will ratify, neither in the Treaty nor in the Attached declarations is established something concerning the decisions that the European Council should take regarding its future.
To begin with, the entry into force of this Treaty is still subordinated to the rule of the double unanimity – in the Intergovernmental Conference and in each Member State – established in the article 48 TEU. Furthermore, there will be a serious difficulty concerning the negotiations with the not ratifying countries, whose solution is still unknown and both legally and politically tricky.
In fact, even though just France and the Netherlands will not ratify, difficultly it will be possible to use the “opting out” system[15]. In fact, these derogations were possible in Denmark firstly in order to obtain a positive outcome in the referendum (in the following year) and secondly because this particular regime concerned European politics.
       Consequently, given that in this case they should concern institutional modifications and decisional procedures it can be actually argued that there will not be opting out clauses.
Likewise, it will be impossible to imagine their withdrawal from the EU or the concession of a particular status which is politically unacceptable for two founder States.
Regarding the possibility of negotiating a new Treaty, Barroso has considered “unrealistic and impracticable this hypothesis because of the contradictoriness and the irrationality of the reasons of the “no-voters”[16]”.
       With reference to the speech of Barroso[17], it seems that that his behavior hides his willingness for not influencing the vote in the rest of Europe, where the citizens will not be enthusiastic for voting a Constitution whose revision is already under discussion.
All the same, it seems to be quite impracticable both the hypothesis of the entry into force of the Treaty only for the ratifying countries within the 10th November 2006 (provided than the 4/5 of the States will ratify the Treaty) and the hypothesis of its renegotiation.   
This situation, has been created by an inadequate modus operandi of redaction and in particular by the improvidence in not taking into any account the likelihood of refusal by one or more member States.
The fact that the period of reflection will allow, within the spring 2006, to find some common solutions seems to be only a way to diminish the traumatic effects of the definitive rejection of the Treaty.
c) The causes of the political crisis:
C.1)internal reasons in France and Netherlands
       Concerning France and the Netherlands, the “non”/”nee” reflects a mix of dissatisfaction for the national Governments (in particular the French one led by Chirac), for the economic situations (in particular referred to the increasing of prices due to the introduction of euro) and for the troubles caused by immigration. In other words, there was fear of economic liberalism[18], panic for the destruction of Welfare State, alarm for the enlargement, fear of lost of sovereignty, panic for a EU without a strong international identity. Thus, economic problems cause social uneasiness and willingness to protect the national identity. Consequently, the refusal of the Treaty was not against the Treaty itself, but it was just a way to communicate own discontent for the present situation in their country and in general in Europe[19]
       As regards the economic reasons, the European Union is a low growth area with a high rate of unemployment and inflation, and furthermore this zone is affected from phenomena as delocalization and deindustrialization. As a consequence, there was a certain reluctance to accept liberal reforms in this phase of stag-flation.
       Moreover, it was a reaction to the democratic crisis given that since ten years the European Council is involved in an endless enlargement without consulting the citizens and as it is known, even because of the problems caused by immigrations, French and Dutch citizens wanted, by refusing the Treaty, express their reject for an eventual enlargement of the EU to Turkey.
In brief, one can argue that French and Dutch citizens, instead of answering to the question concerning the Constitutions, have answered to the question: “Are you happy of your present situation”? Of course the reply was “non/nee”.
       Furthermore, another relevant factor has been the tendency of National Governments to charge over Brussels all the responsibilities for unpopular choices taken by the EU in order to maintain and improve its influence in an international framework which is characterized by exceptional political and economic changes.
C.2) technical problems in the Constitution
       Undoubtedly, we are living a political crisis, which is the result of a lack of alternatives to the definitive dismissal of the Treaty.
In addition to this, regarding some other technical aspects at the base of this political crisis one must underline some further elements about the procedure of redaction, approval and ratification of the Treaty.
In particular one can stress over:
a)      The failure of the process aiming to create specific Convention in order to create some projects for revising the European treaties.
In fact the creation of the “method of Conventions” has generated a lot of criticisms.
       Firstly, concerning the not representative nature of this organ, whose members are not elected by the European citizens but by the EU Commission, EU Parliament and national Governments and Parliaments. Consequently, giving that they do not have a popular mandate they are not responsible for their decisions “vis à vis” citizens.
       Secondly, the use of “Consensus” instead of voting may provoke the creation of general and ambiguous rules. Because of that, it can be argued that it would have been preferable the establishment of a “Constituent Assembly” freely elected by the EU citizens. That would have been the best solution in order to democratize the whole process by involving the citizens which will be affected from the consequences of the Constitution. Thus, it is politically incorrect to create a Constitution for the citizens in which there is not a popular involvement in the process of redaction[20].
b)      The necessity to have a double unanimity in the Inter Governmental Conference and in the national ratifications for the entry into force of the Treaty.
This principle, expressed by the article 48 TEU, has been applied entirely without any kind of adjustment that would have been forcefully necessary considering the possible developments of the process. Because of this, it appears that the incapability to generate a “Constituent break” has as a result, the maintenance of a principle that could have been appropriate for a six Member States’ Union but it turns out to be obsolete and dangerous for EU25.
In other words, they were confident that eventual problems would have concerned small Member States and consequently they would have been easily solvable[21].
D) The causes of the budgetary crisis
       The institutional crisis has been strengthened even because of the failure to find an agreement concerning the EU budget 2007-2013. In fact, during the European Council in Brussels the Member States have refused the proposal realized by the Commission (a contribution of 1,26% of the UE GDP), the draft of the European Parliament (a contribution of 1,18% of the EU GDP) and surprisingly even the project elaborated by the Presidency (1,06% of the EU GDP).
       It seems that the lack of consensus regarding the budget has been negatively influenced by the lost of all the perspectives concerning a new institutional asset, created by the Treaty signed in Rome last year in order to regulate the correct functioning of EU-25.
       To sum up, it is impossible to compare this crisis with the others happened during this on-going process. The reason is that in this crisis there is a mix of economic, political, social and democratic factors that make forcefully this impasse stronger than the previous. Moreover, there is a strong popular involvement that never was so present in the other crises which were solved in an “elite decison”.
       As it has been argued, the failure of the referenda in France and in the Netherlands is not only the result of the technical aspects exposed above, but mostly all a way to react both to national and European problems.      
Not surprisingly, if Brussels is at any time accused by national political elites to be the main cause of all the national troubles, it is quite obvious that this campaign of misinformation and systematic insult against the EU leads to a wrong popular perception of the EU. 
       In brief, the “European elite” (charged to create the Constitution) has not taken into account the problems created by the enlargement and by the economic crisis that has affected the Euro-zone, consequently citizens do not consider any longer the EU an instrument of an economic development, but the reason of their financial weakness[22]
       Indeed, one cannot avoid taking into account the outcome of the referenda, but nonetheless it would be useful to conclude the process of ratification in the whole Europe “in order to have a complete picture of the EU and in order not to give to France and the Netherlands a power of “veto” [23]”.
       It is a common opinion that an axe between France and Germany may be the solution to overcome this crisis, but it seems that this axe would not be a joined boost towards the right direction for the EU future[24].
       It appears that in order to have a merely economic conception of Europe it is not necessary to change the direction taken, whereas if the aim is to build a political union, in order to overcome the crisis, there should be a Europe with “deux vitesses”[25].
       The most significant challenge for the EU will be to obtain again the trust regarding the process of integration, from the European citizens. The European Union should increasingly take into account the problems connected to social protection, economic growth and employment by promoting European infrastructures and by adapting the monetary and trade policy to the concurrence.
       In order to become stronger and to prevail over the crisis, the EU should throw again an idea of Europe based on values and not only shared rules, a new Europe more political and less administrative, a Europe which is not measured as an abstract sum of rules.
       As Francesco Alberoni, one of the most important Italian journalists has written in one of his article[26], “Men get over their divisions only thanks to the emotions and the fanaticisms of collective movements. In fact, without this passionate and turbulent participation there will be a unification only using bureaucracy or weapons. Even so, there will not be a collective identity whose each citizen feels to be part[27]”.    
       It is time to build a new Europe, in which European citizens will be increasingly involved without being forcefully affected by unilateral decisions taken by political elites which do not consider their opinions[28].
According to the Spanish sociologist Ortega y Casset, “in order to join different people in a coherent system it is necessary to offer them an attractive project of common life[29]”. The lack of this project has provoked across the European citizens a feeling of isolation in their particular national interest without feeling as a part of a superior entity.
       The ratification of the treaty is indispensable but not sufficient; the EU institutions have created a trust across the EU citizens ensuring peace, stabilizing economy and defeating inflation but have provoked disillusion promising welfare and employment.  
       It is necessary to create a new engine able to push forward the process of integration until the creation of the fundamental pillars of a Social Europe[30].
DINAN Desmond, Ever Closer Union, European Union Series, 2005.
ORTEGA Y CASSET Josè, L’Europa invertebrata, Mulino, 1962.
MONNET Jean, Mémoires, Le Livre de Poche, 1976.
CALVO Enrique, “Après les non français et néerlandais, que faire de l’Europe d’en bas?”, in Courrier International, n. 773, 25 August 2005, p. 42.
STANKOCZY Andràs, “Qu’on le veuille ou pas, il faut lever le pied”, in Courrier International n.762, 9 June 2005, p. 17.
ALBERONI Francesco, “Le emozioni dei movimenti fanno superare le divisioni”. Available here:
, 16.10.2005.
AUBERT François, “La France ne sait dire que non”. Available at:
CASSEN Bernard, “Ce non qui redistribuira les cartes en Europes”. Available at:
GANGNE Michel, “Un non franc et massif”. Available at:
LEFORT Sylvain, “Un non Franco-Néerladais de crise”. Available at:
OXLEY Greg, “The referendum in France: workers say no to capitalist Europe”. Available at:
PILA Renaud, “Un 21 avril bis”. Available at:
ROMANO Sergio, “Non alzare bandiera bianca”. Available at:
“Après mai, le déluge?”. Available at:
“Arretons nous”. Available at:
“Constitutional referendum in France, a mid term assessment”. Available at:
“Constitutional referendum in France”. Available at:
Crise sur crise en Europe”. Available at:
“Dead, but not yet buried”. Available at:
“L’Europe ne fait plus rever” . Available at:
“L’Union politique en mort cérébrale” . Available at:
“L’Europe ne sait plus où trouver son salut” . Available at:
“L’Europe sommée d’interroger son projet” . Available at:
“Les Européens n’aiment plus l’Europe”. Available at:
“Les Pays bas renforcés dans leur réjet du Traité” . Available at:
“Quelles perspectives pour l’Union?” . Available at:
“Référendum, la France dit non au Traité européen”. Available here :
, 18.10.2005.
“Six Néerladais sur dix disent NEE”. Available at:
“The economist vote non”. Available at:
“The future of Europe” available at
“The failure of a dream”. Available at:
“Un nouveau gros non à la constitution” . Available at:
Declaration by the heads of state or government of the Member states of the European Union on the ratification of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe (European council, 16 and 17 June 2005). Available here  , 16.10.2005.
President Barroso calls on the European Parliament to work closely with the European Commission to stimulate Europe-wide national debates on the future of Europe. Available here: , 16.10.2005.
Joint Declaration of President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell Fontelles, President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso on the results of the French Referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty. Available here: , 16.10.2005.

[1] For instance Jean Monnet, after the failure of the approval of the EDC explained in his memories that despite of the sadness for the French refusal, there is a defeat just in case you accept it; and in an ambitious project such as the European integration is not suitable wasting time in accepting defeats. For further explanations: Jean Monnet, Mémoires, Le Livre de Poche, 1976.
[2] It was on the 30 August 1954 when the French National Assembly refused to ratify the Treaty of Paris signed by France, Germany, Italy and BENELUX in order to create a European Defense Community. This refusal generated a kind of political crisis because it paralyzed the political integration in Europe and a marginalization of France in the role of European promoter.
[3] It was in 1965 when Charles De Gaulle refused with this protest the proposal made by the European Commission aiming both to develop the own resources in order to finance the Common Agricultural Policy and to give some more powers in the budgetary field to the Parliament. The crisis, that generated a six months impasse, was solved with the Compromise of Luxembourg in 1966 .  
[4] Declaration by the heads of State or Government of the member states of the European Union on the ratification of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe (European council, 16 and 17 June 2005). Available at:
[5] In fact during the Council, the Heads of the European Governments decided to set up a period of reflection for having in each member State a debate that can involve the European citizens, the civil society, the national Parliaments and the political parties. This was a reaction to the decisions taken by the Irish, Danish and Czech Governments to postpone their popular consultation concerning the approval of the European Constitution.  
[6] Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, Spain.
[7] Bernard Cassen, “Ce non qui redistribuira les cartes en Europes”. Available at:
[8] These results are impressive if we think that last year, for the EP elections in France voted the 43% of the having right whereas in Netherlands the 39% of the population expressed their opinion.
[9] Michel Gangne, “Un non franc et massif”. Available at: http://news.tf1.fr/news/europe/0,,3222485,00.html16.10.2005.,
[10] Desmond Dinan, Ever Closer Union, European Union Series, 2005, p. 124.
[11] Desmond Dinan, Ever Closer Union, European Union Series, 2005, p. 127.
[12] Sylvain Lefort, “Un non Franco-Néerladais de crise”. Available at:
[13]President Barroso calls on the European Parliament to work closely with the European Commission to stimulate Europe-wide national debates on the future of Europe”: Available at:
[14] “Joint Declaration of President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell Fontelles, President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso on the results of the French Referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty”. Available at:
[15] This system was used in the negotiations with Denmark after the failure of the referendum over the Treaty of Maastricht and granted to Denmark a particular status in the EU in matters like defence, justice, internal affairs and citizenship.
[16]President Barroso calls on the European Parliament to work closely with the European Commission to stimulate Europe-wide national debates on the future of Europe”. Available at:
[17]President Barroso calls on the European Parliament to work closely with the European Commission to stimulate Europe-wide national debates on the future of Europe”. Available at:
[18] Greg Oxley, “The referendum in France: workers say no to capitalist Europe”. Available at:
[19] “L’Europe ne fait plus rever” . Available at: http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=301033, 16.10.2005.
[20] « Il faut rapprocher la construction européenne de ses habitants », this was the message sent during the European Summit of Laeken in 2001.
[21] Like easily solvable were the Irish and Danish refusals to Nice and Maastricht.
[22] “L’Europe ne fait plus rever” . Available at: http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=301033, 16.10.2005.
[23] Personal translation from the article: Sergio Romano, “Non alzare bandiera bianca”. Available at:
[24] Difficultly it would be “joined”, given that Germany has ratified whereas France has refused. Impossibly it would be a “boost” due to the economic difficulties of both the countries. Concerning the right direction, actually I think that in this moment to find a right direction should be the EU priority in order not to act uselessly.
[25] Accordingly, on the one hand there will be the Founders States to deepen the integration and on the other hand there will be the others to widen the principles of democratization and political stabilization in the not-EU countries.
[26] Personal translation from the article: Francesco Alberoni, “Le emozioni dei movimenti fanno superare le divisioni”. Available at:
[27] According to Mr. Alberoni, the European idea has been created by elite and the main decisions have always been taken by institutions in which the European citizens were scarcely represented. Consequently in his opinion it is definitely a good result that finally the European citizens will be involved in a deep debate concerning how the political organization in Europe shall be.
[28] Andràs Stankoczy, “Qu’on le veuille ou pas, il faut lever le pied”, in Courrier International n.762, 9 June 2005, p. 17.
[29] Enrique Calvo, “Après les non français et néerlandais, que faire de l’Europe d’en bas?”, in Courrier International, n. 773, 25 August 2005, pag. 42; Josè  Ortega y Casset, “L’Europa invertebrata”, Mulino, 1962.
[30] Such as: defend of welfare state, stabilization of the employment and the rights of the workers, protection of human rights.

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