Europe seems to have undergone a seismic shift, with two of its most influential leaders — France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, frequent partners in thwarting the United States — in deep trouble with the voters.
In a stunning personal disavowal of Chirac, his government and the country's political leadership generally, French voters solidly rejected the proposed European Union constitution.
There were calls from the left and right for Chirac to dissolve parliament and resign. That seems unlikely, but it does mean that he's unlikely to run for re-election in 2007. Meanwhile, he has begun a wholesale shakeup of his government to stop the political bleeding from what was, after all, a self-inflicted wound.
Chirac could have had parliament rubber-stamp the constitution, but in a stunning miscalculation he decided to submit the dense document to a referendum. With a 70 percent turnout, 55 percent voted their fears that the constitution would mean more unemployment, untrammeled immigration by low-wage workers and loss of French social and cultural institutions.
In Germany, the leaders of the opposition Christian Democrats united unanimously behind Angela Merkel in a bid to regain the chancellorship they lost in 1998. She will face Schroeder in elections this fall that the chancellor moved up a year because of a bad loss in state elections and his own slipping popularity.
Schroeder's tepid attempts at reform have failed to dent Germany's 12 percent unemployment rate and only a campaign marked by strident U.S. bashing saved him at the polls last time. Fortunately for U.S.-German relations, which Merkel calls "fundamental," that tactic is unlikely to work again. Merkel promises freer markets and more flexibility in Germany's employment laws, which have sent jobs flowing to more hospitable EU members in the East.
Germany has already ratified the constitution, but its flop in France is a grievous blow to Chirac and Schroeder's dreams of a united Europe as a global rival and counterweight to the United States.
EU President Jose Manuel Barroso insists, “We cannot say that the treaty is dead.” But you could say it is moribund — rather like the careers of Chirac and Schroeder.