Referendums in both France and The Netherlands solidly rejected the proposed new constitution for the European Union (EU). My friends in The Netherlands refused to talk about it by politely changing the subject, so passions seem to be running high. My take on the history and future of the EU is a bit different that all of the rest of the pundits in the world, and given that, my take is probably wrong. However, that's never stopped me before, and it won't this time either, so here goes.
The grand project of the integration of Europe accelerated with the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989. It's my opinion, that the elite of Europe smelled an opportunity, not to make Europe a better place, but rather to concentrate their power significantly further.
With the Soviet Union in operation balanced by the United States prior to 1989, the bipolar world limited the opportunities for the power hungry in old Europe. Their best bet was to play the Soviet Union and the United States off of each other, but there was little chance for Europe to have any real power.
But with the fall of the Soviet Union, coupled with playing the anti-American card, the elite was able to whip the European public up into a state of fear regarding having a unipolar world with the crazy Americans leading it. By promising that Europe could be a counter balance to the horrible Americans if only there was adequate political integration of the nations of Europe, the elite hoped that they could do a raw power grab by bypassing the national level democracies and concentrating power in Brussels, capitalizing on the state of fear they created in their electorates.
Indeed, I think George Bush was a godsend to the ruling elite of Europe. It was hard to keep the fires of fear adequately stoked under Clinton because he was too likeable and too European. But George Bush is everything Europeans are taught to fear about the United States. A right wing, religious cowboy, both corrupt and stupid. Add in some crazy military adventures and you have a perfect storm to help push through the consolidation of power for the European ruling elite.
Unfortunately, the elite overplayed their hand. While Iraq (and Afghanistan) have had numerous problems, the vast majority of the constantly predicted catastrophes never materialized. Add in the liberation of Lebanon (for free), the de-nuclearization of Libya, the beginnings of reform in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others, and the elections in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the result is that the European publics' anti-Americanism, while still quite strong, was weakened enough over the last year so that giving up control to beauracrats in Brussels forever suddenly didn't seem like such a good idea after all.
That's what I think has happened. I have no idea what Europe's future, near or long term, holds, but clearly these strong public rejections of the current path chosen by the ruling elite can't be encouraging to those that favor a strong union.