The French
yesterday voted against a new constitution of the European Union
exactly as predicted – 55% to 45% – on a quite high turnout of about
70%. (Results here – it’s in French, but Crikey’s readers should be able to work out “oui” and “non”.)

For France it’s turmoil, says Bronwen Maddox in The Times:
“A country that was
a founder of the European Union — and had used that claim of superior
commitment to impress its views on other EU members in countless
late-night rows — has discovered in its population a many-sided
antipathy to the project.” And the result prompted immediate
speculation in London that Britain’s planned referendum on the treaty
was now pointless, reports The Guardian.

The new constitution is now in real trouble. Although news
reports keep saying that nine of the 25 members have already ratified
it, only one of those (Spain) did so by referendum. The countries
scheduled to vote later this year – the Netherlands on Wednesday,
Luxembourg on 10 July, Denmark on 27 September, followed by Portugal
and Poland – will all be influenced by the French result. Even before
yesterday’s vote, polls in the Netherlands showed a substantial
majority for the “no” vote, and the vice-president of the European
Commission confessed this morning that he was “not particularly
optimistic” about the prospects there.

European officials are
putting on a brave face; the president of the European parliament said
that “it would be a grave error to suspend the ratification process…
France only decides for France.” And of course there is a precedent to
show that one vote need not be fatal: in 1992 the Treaty of Maastricht
was rejected on its first test, in a referendum in Denmark, but
subsequent revision led to its approval the following year.

however, is not Denmark. It was a matter of no great significance for
Denmark, for example, to stay out of the euro zone (as it still does,
inconveniencing tourists and Swedish commuters). But France is at the
very heart of the European project, and it is hard to see how the
constitution can survive without some major rethinking.

result is also a major defeat for the French government. The last
referendum defeat, in 1969, brought the resignation of the president,
General de Gaulle. Jacques Chirac has promised that he will stay until
his term expires in 2007, but it will almost certainly mean the end for
his unpopular prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin.