The rejection of the European constitution by the referendum in France is a setback but not a disaster. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether the ratification process will continue in other member states; the decision on that will be taken by people above my pay grade.
However, what is clear is that the need for a constitution for Europe is as strong as ever. There are good reasons why the different member states of the European Union have sought to be build shared democratic institutions in order to deal with shared problems. Those reasons cannot be made to disappear by a 55 per cent majority vote of the French people.
Building those shared democratic institutions has been a difficult and sometimes controversial task. It seems that the leaders of the national governments underestimated the difficulty and the controversy. It is important that they learn from this because the issue of Europe is not going to go away.
The first reason for this is that the issues that require a shared response from Europeans have not gone away. The impulse towards a common foreign and defence policy comes from the need to respond effectively to crises on our borders. The stagnating European economy needs new initiatives at the European level as well as a concerted effort to complete the single market in areas where it is still not finished. The popular demand for the Brussels institutions to be more accountable and democratic – ironically, one of the strongest features of the proposed constitution – will need to be met.
There is a second reason why anyone who thinks that Europe is now off the agenda is mistaken. This lies in the reaction to the French referendum result of the opponents of European integration. It seems that the opposition to the idea of Europe did not lie behind most of the French No voters, but that will not deter nationalist forces in Europe now.
With the biggest blow yet having been struck against Europe’s post-war integration, anti-Europeans can be expected to feel confident and on the ascendant. It falls to those of us who value Europe to fight on. If anybody ever thought that the case for the EU was self-evident, they will have realised their mistake by now. There is no room for complacency: we must resort to energy and clarity to win the case and defend the idea of Europe.
Richard Laming is a member of the committee of Federal Union, and may be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.