Popular will

The rejections of the proposed European Union (EU) constitution by the French and Dutch electorates, with 55 per cent and 61 per cent votes respectively, have delivered a heavy blow to the EU. These twin nays have triggered emergency talks among Europe’s top leaders and analyses of their implications, hopes, hurdles and the way ahead for the EU’s future. If the motives behind these ‘No’ votes are not simple, their message, however, is not unclear. The two electorates are disenchanted with the EU. Maybe they feel the proposed statute does not reflect their real concerns. Or French and Dutch politicians may not have clearly explained to their voters why the project is a good thing for the latter. A number of over-prescriptive regulations may also have given the Euro-sceptics the ammunition for attacking the idea of a united Europe with success.

The Euro-sceptics must have felt encouraged in countries like Britain. The decisive No vote among the younger generation is particularly distressing, because they take for granted the freedoms Europe offers, including the freedom to travel, study, work and settle in different countries. Ratification of the treaty needs the support of all 25 EU members. The only way to revive the project is by second referendums, which, for now, look unlikely. But Europe’s member states should now look for institutional reforms to make the EU more attractive to their electorates with the hope of getting majority support in the future. Indeed, it is for the people of individual European countries to decide what is best for them. But we Nepalis should take notice of how the popular will is respected in democratic countries, even though the double rejections may ditch the common constitution project around which something of a consensus has been built across Europe with great care and effort. In Nepal the political forces, especially those in power, have tended to do what they like, though they also tirelessly express their ‘commitment’ to democracy and the people’s sovereignty, but without ever referring the most important constitutional or political issues to the people themselves. This attitude perhaps explains why the present multi-front conflict remains unresolved.