France has voted "non" on the European constitution, and the Dutch look set to follow. I was in Paris last week, and the mood among the Europhiles was gloomy. But the vote may not be such a setback as it first looks. The consitution was not a great document,and it was sunk by a populist revolt of the left and right agains the middle. While some on the left complained that the consitution was too "liberal" (read free market oriented in American terminology), French friends told me that much of the vote was a protest against Jacques Chirac, as well as the arrogance of the political class. In Britain, where I now reside as a visiting professor at Oxford, there is a collective sigh of relief. It is not clear that Tony Blair would have been able to pass the referendum he promised, and the French have let him off the hook.(See my International Herald Tribune article on this)
Does the U.S. have a dog in this fight? Arguably yes. There is no part of the world with whom we share more crucial values (like democracy and human rights), and no area better able to help us with the threat we face from transnational terrorism. We have more to fear from a Europe that is too weak than a Europe that is too strong. Chirac's vision of a Europe that would balance American power was never in the cards. European societies would never spend 3-4 percent of GDP on their military to make that happen. Sunday's vote merely makes that clear. Now we have to hope that common sense will prevail and Europe will return to the incremental path towards progress that has given it unprecedented soft power in the past.