First the foundation, then the PR

What next for European unity, following the rejection of the idea of a European constitution by voters in France and The Netherlands?

Stuart Mudie wonders if Europe needs better PR:

[…] As far as I can tell, many people feel simply that they didn’t understand what they were being asked to vote on and decided that the most prudent choice was to say "no", rather than agree to something they didn’t fully comprehend. Perhaps that’s a wise decision. Perhaps, more than a better constitution, what Europe needs is simply some better PR.

I think a sound foundation has to be there first, and that means a lot more than just a proposed constitution.

Jame Burke pointed me to a thoughtful article in Open Democracy, an online global magazine of politics and culture, by Dutch essayist Theo Veenkamp, in which he says:

[…] Despite the referendum outcome, a large majority of people in the Netherlands still favours European integration. But their lack of confidence in both Dutch and European political institutions makes many uncertain how to vote. In addition, many feel that European developments are just going too fast. These factors combine with people‚Äôs uncertainty about the future of the next generations to increase their sense of losing control.

In the end the European Union can only be as strong as are the democracies of its member-states. France and the Netherlands can be seen to show that referenda are a powerful impulse to unruly democratic engagement. But the feelings and perceptions articulated through their campaigns reveal a profound gap between voters and political elites that is worrying for the future political stability of these countries and therefore of their democracies.

What Veenkamp’s assessment says, in effect, is that there is no sound foundation upon which the citizens of the European Union are willing to base such critical decisions on. Add to this the situation where some politicians are saying that ratification of the proposed constitution should still go ahead anyway, and it’s no wonder that words like ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ as far as politicians are concerned is pretty much non existent.

So what is next? That’s what Margot Wallstrom, the EC Commissioner of Communications, is asking in a post on her blog last week. As I write, that post has 167 comments.

Asking the audience for their opinions – way to go! I do hope the EU then listens.

Related NevOn post: