LONDON -- The recent rejection of the European Union constitutional treaty by the voters of France and the Netherlands has led to the opposite of the "ever closer union" that has been the goal of the fathers of the EU since it was established in 1957. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been looking forward to shaping the EU under its new constitution in Britain's six-month presidency of the union, which starts next month. And he had been looking forward to persuading British voters to approve the EU constitutional treaty in the referendum slated for next year.
Now all those plans are off. After the French and Dutch votes, Blair called for a "pause for reflection," and last week the French foreign minister said the issue would not be submitted to voters again. Since the EU constitution requires approval by all 25 member nations, it is obviously dead.
Instead, the leading nations are squabbling. French President Jacques Chirac called for a scaling back or elimination of the rebate Britain negotiated from the EU in 1984. In response, Blair attacked the huge subsidies French farmers have been receiving from the EU. Blair has a point. Britain contributes far more to the EU and gets far less out of it than France. The farm subsidies enrich citizens of a rich country and tend to bar imports from Third World countries that desperately need markets for their agricultural products.
The EU seems headed not to a closer union but to one that is flying apart.
On the face of it, this goes against the stated policies of the United States. Since World War II, American governments have favored European unification. Postwar American statesmen admired Jean Monnet, the intellectual father of the EU, and found him a refreshing contrast with the shortsighted European officials of the pre-World War II period.
Americans, like many Europeans, hoped that a common market would prevent European powers -- especially France and Germany -- from going to war, as they had done so disastrously in 1914 and 1939.
Americans may also have had a sentimental attachment to the idea that Europe was following our example, uniting a continent into a single market and a single continent-size nation. And to the extent that the EU has actually provided a common economic market -- leave aside its agricultural protectionism -- a united Europe was thought to be in the economic interest of the United States.