It is possible that a French no vote could result in the EUâs sticking solely with its current treaties, or that the other 24 member states will proceed with ratification sans France. But the more likely outcome is that Europeâs leaders will convene a mini intergovernmental conference to salvage the parts of the constitution that matter most. Yes, the grand rhetoric of the documentâs preamble will be lost, but key elements will be rescued: the creation of the new post of European foreign minister, the External Action Service (essentially, a diplomatic corps), a weighted majority voting system, and the ability of member states to apply an âemergency brakeâ? on European integration. And because it wonât be a grand constitution, it wonât necessarily trigger referendums across the EU.
The only thing that will be destroyed by Franceâs voting no will be its claims to a leadership role within Europe. If France balks, it will be exposed as a naked defender of national interest that can no longer trade off its status as a founding member of the EU. That moral leadership within Europe will remain out of Franceâs grasp as long as it is anti-enlargement, anti-American, and anti-change. And the crisis will be in France, not Europe.
This is a subject a bit close to the bone following my twice rejection of the Nice Treaty – and fat lot of good voting in that referendum did. I will be fascinated to see how this plays out – will we see Jose Barroso jetted off to Paris to tell the French that they voted wrong and they better bloody get it right the next time – or else.
Somehow I doubt it.