Less than two months before the referendum vote on the European Constitution in France, the political debate has begun, muddling principles, presentation and plenty of other issues that have little relevance to the question being asked. The French voter has good reason to be concerned about many topics, such as a stagnant economy, rising unemployment (in France as in Germany), relocation of manufacturing abroad. It has not helped matters that every time there has been a change of government, the main political parties (in particular the Centre-Right Union pour la majorité présidentielle and the socialist party) have not hesitated to blame "Europe" or globalization for all the problems that they have not been able to deal with themselves.
Now that the European Union has been enlarged to 25 members for almost a year and after a decade of institutional problems, the ratification of the Constitution agreed by the member states is a big step. The main French political parties are well aware of this and are urging a "yes" vote, but this "yes" is blighted by internal quarrels and disagreements that help to confuse the issues.
Robert Toulemon is President of the Association française d'études pour l'Union européenne and an acknowledged expert on the subject. Here he tries to bring the debate back to the basic issue: the Constitution itself, and not the political and socio-economic context in which it is being presented to French voters. He offers a detailed and balanced analysis of the text: its source, the areas where it makes (or might make) advances, but also the lacunae and weaknesses that exist and that a more federalist approach might well have avoided. His position, which is amazingly balanced, coming from a committed European, should not deceive us: how France votes in the referendum will have a decisive impact on the future of the European Union and the role that it will play in global affairs. There is no doubt that a setback now would be fatal.