"No" vote on EU treaty could bring chaos-Mandelson
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"No" vote on EU treaty could bring chaos-Mandelson

Reuters | April 22, 2005

AMSTERDAM - A rejection of the EU constitution could bring economic chaos, undermine Europe's negotiating power in global free trade talks and usher in a long period of protectionism, the bloc's trade chief said on Friday.

"I'm not saying that Europe would fall apart. At best Europe would stagnate. At worse we would face some sort of chaos," Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in the Netherlands, which is due to hold a referendum on the treaty on June 1.

"A 'No' vote means Europe turning in on itself, examining its navel again," he said. "It would mean people in the rest of the world taking Europe less seriously and ... from a trade point of view that is the very last thing that Europe needs."

A series of opinion polls have shown that Dutch and French voters, who go to the polls three days earlier, are likely to reject the treaty, intended to make decision-making in the European Union easier following its enlargement to 25 members.

"The financial markets, business community don't like instability, don't like uncertainty and if the markets were to read a 'No' vote in that way it could have damaging economic consequences," Mandelson told a news conference.

In the Netherlands to address a meeting with supporters of the constitution at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, Mandelson urged business leaders to rally behind the treaty, saying they could not afford "to put their heads in the sand."

Incoming European Central Bank executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said this week that the prospect of a French "No" was upsetting financial markets and could make the ECB's job of controlling inflation harder.

EUROPE FALLING APART?

Mandelson did not spell out what steps might have to be taken in the event of a rejection, but warned: "We would have to take measures to stabilise the economic situation that in the short term could have a detrimental effect."

The EU trade chief said in a speech later that a "No" vote could undermine his hand in negotiations for a global free trade agreement, due to reach their climax in December.

"It will puncture my position in the Doha development round if Europe is seen by the rest of the world to be falling apart," he said according to prepared remarks made available in advance.

"We will see a long period of resistance to change, defensiveness about the need for social reform and protectionist, national interests being put first."

Lousewies van der Laan, a member of parliament from the centrist D66 which is a junior partner in government and backs the treaty, said the "Yes" campaign had not gone well so far.

"The government is afraid it might be a referendum about them and that is a justified fear," she told Reuters. "A lot of people are planning to vote against. There is an incredible amount of work to be done and we only have six weeks."

In his speech to the Dutch group, Mandelson accused the Dutch political elite of taking a "Yes" vote for granted.

"As founder members of the European project, you were in from the start. But then too many politicians have run away or closed their ears to growing public dissatisfaction. Such complacency will no longer do," he said.

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