The mythical 'European'

Posted: Jun 04, 2005 12:00 AM

It just happened again.

On June 1, by a 60-40 margin, voters made The Netherlands the second country to oppose the European constitution. That followed a French rejection of the document just days earlier.

In the real world, this constitution would be dead. After all, it supposedly requires ratification by all 25 European member states before it can come into force.

Luckily, Europe isn?t in the real world. ?We want the other member states to have the opportunity to tackle the same debate,? Luxembourg?s Prime Minister Claude Juncker announced after the Dutch vote. So some form of the ratification process will apparently go forward.

Juncker is also the acting president of the European Union, so it makes sense he?d want to ignore the constitution?s resounding defeats. After all, if he accepts that the constitution is dead, he?ll go back to being merely the leader of a small nation, rather than an entire continent.

Juncker should be worried. Nine countries have approved the EU constitution, but it?s just one-for-three in countries where voters have been consulted.

And while a .333 batting average will earn a hitter a multi-million-dollar contract, it?s simply not good enough for a founding document. So maybe the French and the Dutch will get a chance to do it over, or maybe their governments will ignore the will of the people and simply endorse the constitution for them.

But that seems unlikely, since Europeans seem to finally have noticed that their ?leaders? are taking them somewhere they don?t want to follow. ?In the last 10 years, the people in Brussels have tried to minimize the input of regular people in democratic decisions,? Peer van der Wonde told reporters in The Hague after he voted against the constitution.

Europe?s problem is easy to identify but will prove difficult -- if not impossible -- to fix: There?s no such thing as a ?European? citizen.

For centuries, people have been coming to the United States, and we?ve been welcoming them. We?re a nation of immigrants -- legal immigrants. All we ask is that, when they arrive, they assimilate and become Americans. And almost everyone who comes here welcomes the chance to be an American and help us build a better country.

Meanwhile, very few people think of themselves as ?European.? They?re Spanish or Italian or Polish, and they want to remain that way. Many French oppose the constitution partly because they?re afraid it would make their workweek longer, and many British oppose it partly because they?re afraid it would make their workweek shorter. In the end, it amounts to the same thing: Neither side really wants to surrender national power to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

The big winners in all this are the British, who tend to be Europhobic. For example, years ago the U.K. decided not to join the EU?s common currency, because the British people wanted to keep the pound.

And while Prime Minister Tony Blair is a supporter of the EU constitution -- last year, Blair worked with other European leaders to hammer out a final agreement -- he was smart enough to avoid discussing the constitution during his recent bid for re-election. Blair had promised he?d let the people vote next year on whether or not to accept the constitution, but he made sure he had a new term in hand first. Now there?s probably no reason for a referendum, since the French have done the British a favor and killed off the constitution for them.

That?s ironic, because when it comes to hating the French, we Americans can?t hold a candle to the Brits. A few years ago there was a minor furor here over renaming foods that included the word French. Thus, in some circles, French Toast became ?Freedom Toast.? But we?re light years behind the British.

In England, you?ll look in vain for an ?Exit.? That may be because the word sounds too French (even though in French an exit is a ?sortie?), so exits are labeled ?Way Out.? And don?t try to order a filet (fill-eh) of beef. It?s pronounced ?fill-it,? love.

 There?s little doubt that, had the EU constitution prevailed and come into force, the fine folks in Brussels would have standardized the word for ?exit,? so Europeans in any nation would always have been able to find the way out. As the bureaucrats are finding out, though, the voters already knew the way.