So the French voted 'non' yesterday to the proposed European Union constitution. That shouldn't be a surprise, really, given the broad lack of general understanding in Europe about what the constitution means and what all its effects would be.
You can't say there's not plenty of information about the constitution - take a look at A Constitution for Europe, for instance, the EU website that has an enormous amount of information. That link is to the English-language site: the same info is there in 19 other languages.
Yet if you do wade through much of that information, it raises lots of questions in one's mind that are pretty hard to find clear answers to. That isn't helped when you listen to all the politicians' jaw-jawing from every different and conceivable point of view, all of them with different axes to grind.
So what's the average EU citizen to do? As with most things, if there's something you don't fully understand, the safe route is to not go with it. That looks like what 55% of French voters did, mixed in to be sure with lots of other French issues which undoubtedly played a role.
This Wednesday, the Dutch go to the polls to vote on the constitution. There's been official communication about it - I've had two booklets delivered during recent weeks - and the Dutch Referendum Commission has detailed information on their website. Most Dutch media are pro-constitution, though, so the reporting has hardly been impartial.
In spite of all that, many observers here expect the Dutch vote to be 'nee' as well.
Here's an interesting statement on the Dutch government's news website last month:
A government survey has found that 74% of voters consider it important that the EU have a constitution. It has also found that voters who receive information about the constitution are more likely to vote in favour of it.
Heh! Do you think they might be on to something?
Getting information is one thing, though. Understanding what it means is another. The BBC News site has a simple but pretty good analysis of the constitution's major points with some explanations on what they mean.
As I mentioned earlier, it still raises lots of questions. I'd say it's time to go back to the drawing board, not so much on the draft constitution itself, but more on looking again at what's needed to help more people gain a fuller understanding on what it all means.
EC Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom really has her work cut out.
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