Juncker: "The European construction does not stop today"
The clear French no vote has made it urgent for EU leaders to reassure the rest of the EU that the ratification process is not dead. All the major EU countries are playing the same tune, some more convincingly than others. EurActiv gives an overview of European reactions.
After a no vote from one of the EU's major founding members, the EU is now faced with the painstaking question: Does it make sense to go on? This is especially relevant for the public in in the countries where a referendum is planned.
Legally speaking the situation is clear and is set out in Declaration 30 on the ratification of the Constitution:
"The Conference notes that if, two years after the signature of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council."
There must, however, also be an expression of clear political will if the momentum is to be kept up. Otherwise abstentions may mark future referenda, most importantly in the Netherlands that will vote on 1 June.
On 29 May the French voters rejected the constitutional treaty by a clear margin - 54.87 per cent voting no and 45.13 per cent voting yes. Turnout was at 69.74 per cent.
Nine other EU countries have already ratified the Constitution either by referendum or by parliamentary vote. The French result puts the future of the treaty in uncertain territory.
- Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg PM and holder of the EU presidency, who will have the important role of taking leadership in the co-ordination of the reactions of the 25 member states, stated that "hearts are heavy" but underlined that "the European construction does not stop today". Pointing to the many different reasons behind the French no, he said it was "impossible" to renegotiate the treaty: "The ratification procedure must continue in the other countries" he said, and added: "We will evaluate the situation at our normal meeting at the EU summit in mid June".
- French President Jacques Chirac: "France will of course stay in the EU". "On 16 June the European Council will meet in Brussels. There I will defend the positions of our nation taking note of the message from the French people [...] But let's make no mistake - France's decision will inevitably create a difficult context for the defence of our national interests."
- UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was now a time for a "period of reflection" over the result, and added that the UK would ratify the treaty only through a referendum. "The result raises profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe, about the challenges to us from the rest of the world, about the ability of the European Union to respond to these challenges and to the demands of its citizens. "Britain should and will play a full part in these debates in the months ahead. And tonight's result properly deserves a period of reflection by all 25 member states," said Straw.
- Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was disappointed and called it a "set-back for the constitutional process, but it does not spell the end of it". Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he would naturally respect the vote of the French, but said it left the EU with a "major challenge".
Spain's PM José Luis Zapatero said that "the ratification process must continue".
The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country will go to the polls on 1 June, said: "We are disappointed [...] but the process of ratification continues and the result gives the Dutch one more reason to vote yes. We can't let the charter's destination be predetermined by the French."
Estonia's PM Andrus Ansip said "The French no must not stop other countries. The process will continue in Estonia".
Austria's foreign minister, Ursula Plassnik, said that France now "owes an explanation" to its EU partners. "The EU cannot be held responsible for waves of fear and national stomach aches".
Slovakia´s PM Mikuláš Dzurinda "regretted" the outcome of the French referenda and expressed his disappointment that "France, for the long decades one of the main engines of the European cooperation, became the first country to reject the Constitutional treaty." However, Dzurinda added that it does not mean the end of the integration process: "European Union had already shown in the past that the political will to co-operate is stronger than the challenges that EU is facing. Therefore it is important that the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty continues, and is finished, in each EU Member State."
Denmark's PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen vowed to respect the outcome. He added: "I think the Danes themselves must decide what they want. The clear starting point is that each country and each people must have a chance to pronounce itself. The process must continue," he said, while adding that in the end all 25 member states will have to sign the treaty "otherwise it will not enter into force, it is as simple as that".
Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga demands that the process should go on: "It is only when when it is finished that we will know where we stand."
In Ireland, a government spokesman very much regretted the French decision and said: "For our part, the government is continuing to prepare for ratification of the European Constitution by the target date of November 2006."
- The former Polish EU chief negotiator Jan Kulakowski said is was "one of the worst pieces of news in a long time".
Czech PM Jiri Paroubek: "I indicated earlier that it was a big mistake of the European bureaucrats to think the EU Constitutional Treaty in all 25 member states would be ratified in the first round. The result of the French referendum is not a suprise to me but I feel disappointed about it."
Czech President Vaclav Klaus: "I am convinced it will change the future in a good way. It has confirmed what I have been saying for a long time already: that there is a huge difference between the European political elite and the opinions of normal Europeans. And that is what the French referendum showed very clearly."
- Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EP President Josep Borrell declared in a common statement with Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg PM: "We take note of this act [...] We fully respect this expression of the popular vote, which comes as a result of an intense debate. The result of the French referendum deserves a profound analysis. Let us recall that nine member states, representing almost one half (49%) of the EU population, have already ratified the Constitutional Treaty, including in one case through a largely positive popular vote, and that the majority of member states have not yet had the opportunity to complete the ratification process [...] Europe has already known difficult moments in the past and has each time succeeded in coming out stronger and better than before, ready to take on its challenges and responsibilities. Today, Europe carries on and the institutions are fully functioning."
- Hans-Gert Pottering, EPP-ED group chairman in the European Parliament: "The ratification process will have to be continued in the other member states. In the end the European heads of state and government will have to evaluate the overall result of the ratification process and will have to examine all possibilities on whether and in which way the Constitution, or at least important parts of it, can still become legal reality."
- Martin Schultz, head of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament: “We respect the outcome of this democratic vote – a vote that can be interpreted as a vote against what Europe is like at the moment or against Jacques Chirac on domestic grounds. But by voting 'No', French voters have voted against the opportunity to create a better Europe. Our fight for the Constitution will continue because we want to provide for a more social Europe. The Treaty of Nice is not the basis for a social Union that shows greater solidarity."
Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal faction in the European Parliament, said: "The EU is composed of 450 million citizens and its future should not be hijacked by voters in one EU member state."
The Dutch will vote on 1 June in a referendum in which polls have indicated that a no vote is likely.
EU heads of states of government will discuss the situation at the EU summit on 16-17 June.