It's not easy for Americans to keep on top of all European Union news, but the French voting down the referendum on the European Constitution is an important event and I thought I'd try to put it in some perspective. I know all our European readers will comment and correct me if I slip up, so feel free.
The new Constitution for Europe would have created a much stronger Europe and perhaps taken power away from countries like France and Germany for starters. A "Strong Europe" is a catch-phrase that suggests a Europe which may be able to counterbalance U.S. power. The people in these countries are not at all convinced they need a European Union telling them how to live their lives and they're sending a message with a "yes" or "no" to a stronger Europe proponents.
It was as if we had re-written our Constitution and asked our 50 states to vote a more powerful national government, sucking power away from the states. And then imagine California saying a resounding "No!" because it had a lot to lose.
For instance, what if a new American constitution had a border policy that allowed a lot of immigrants into California who took Californians jobs? This is exactly how a lot of the French felt about their new Constitution (and therefore voted it down) which might have allowed globalization (think Polish and Turkish low-paid workers instead of Mexicans and Canadians) to make a very bad unemployment situation much worse.
This is just one part of why Chirac is not a very popular person in France these days. Many believe Chirac is over as a politician.
The Dutch vote on Wednesday, although many say the Constitution is dead anyway now that the French said "Non!" Still, it's worth reading about the issues of globalization and unemployment the Dutch are suffering from and their feelings on the future of Europe.
Read Andrew Sullivan on the topic if you haven't already. As I write this, his new blogging for the day hasn't gone up yet. Read his thoughts on a potential French "no" from last week. He was, as usual, prescient.