It’s an epic defeat for the European establishment but that doesn’t make it a victory for the isolationists and sceptics. Once the dust settles, once Giscard’s Napoleonic (and paralysingly boring) constitution has been abandoned, this moment might just look like a real opportunity for the radical European middle. For people, like me, who believe in a Europe of social solidarity, peace and economic cooperation, built on the consent of its citizens, but who don’t want a monolithic, State-like entity at the centre and don’t want it to have a constitution at all. Constitutions are for States (and Bowls clubs). The EU wants to be a State. It’s probably inevitable that any big, trans-national institution will aspire to Statehood but it’s the job of the National component parts to counter this accretion of power and ambition at the centre.
These edge-and-centre disputes are as old as the nation state and the cyclical shift of power from imperial centre to ragged edge and back again is the historic norm. Since the French and Dutch ‘no’ votes, we’ve already heard Euro legislators and national leaders saying things like ‘one way or another, this treaty must be enacted’. That’s not only undemocratic, it’s a short-sighted refusal of the opportunity to re-engineer the EU as a 21st Century alliance of States, regions and communities, organised like a network and governed, from its edges, by its people.