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After French and Dutch Reject E.U. Constitution, What Now?

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Leaders of the European Union are trying to rescue the proposed E.U. constitution. Voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it earlier this week. However, the parliament of Latvia approved it. Ten countries now have accepted the constitution.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says all twenty-five should have a chance to say "yes" or "no." Mister Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac set up a meeting Saturday in Berlin to discuss the situation.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw is expected to discuss the issue Monday in Parliament. The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has not said if it will hold a national vote.

All member nations must approve the constitution. But leaders could decide to re-negotiate the document. They will consider what to do when they meet June sixteenth and seventeenth in Brussels.

The constitution took two years to negotiate. It would replace several treaties. Versions in different languages are several hundred pages. The goal is to increase the influence of the European Union with its more than four hundred fifty million people.

But fifty-five percent of French voters, and sixty-two percent of Dutch voters, said "no." France and the Netherlands hold important places in European Union history. In nineteen fifty-one they were among six nations that established the European Steel and Coal Community. That led to the European Economic Community and, in nineteen ninety-three, the European Union.

Last year the union admitted ten more countries to reach twenty-five. Bulgaria and Romania hope to join next year. Turkey is to begin membership talks in October.

French opponents of the constitution argued that France would lose power and influence if a central E.U. government gained strength. Economic problems for the French, and popularity problems for Jacques Chirac, may have also influenced voters. Mister Chirac says the rejection means France will have trouble defending its interests in Europe.

The president had campaigned for the constitution. So had the prime minister. This week, Mister Chirac dismissed Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The new prime minister is Dominique de Villepin.

The Dutch government also campaigned for the constitution. But some voters said the E.U. administration in Brussels was getting too big and powerful. Observers say concerns about the Dutch economy and E.U. immigration policies only added to the opposition.

The constitutional crisis has affected the euro. Twelve E.U. nations created a single money system in nineteen ninety-nine. In recent days the euro fell to eight-month lows against the dollar.

Besides Latvia, the nations that have ratified the constitution include Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Greece. The others are Austria, Slovakia, Spain and Germany. Of the ten, only Spain held a national vote; the others approved it in their parliaments.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Steve Ember.