Crisis ridden

No political leader in Europe can afford to ignore the resounding rejection of the new EU constitution by French voters last Sunday. Coming right after a beleaguered Chancellor Ge-rhard Schröder of Germany was forced to call new elections, and right before the Netherlands is to cast what is likely to be another “no” against the constitution, the French referendum clearly shows a Europe suffering from an identity crisis.

President Jacques Chirac has necessarily shifted swi-ftly to damage control, replacing Prime Minister Jea-n-Pierre Raffarin. But shuffling old faces may not assuage the masses. While the EU itself is in no danger of collapse, damage has been done to the dream of a continent that would continue to deepen and broaden its unity. There are two strands for the no vote. The first is fear. This includes the fear of losing their 35-hour work week thanks to an onslaught of cheap labour from new member states.

The second strand is a loss of common ground between business and political elites and ordinary people: those who cast the majority of “no” votes. Europe is now in for a prolonged period of reassessment and retrenchment. Perhaps that’s just as well. Indeed, after today’s Dutch referendum, further ratification votes should be suspended until a revised draft has been fashioned th-at takes account of the voter backlash. — The New York Times