[JURIST] Political leaders and observers across Europe were staggered late Sunday by the apparently-massive French rejection [JURIST report] of the proposed European Constitution [official website]. The document, drafted by a European constitutional commission headed by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and strongly endorsed by current President Jacques Chirac and most of the French political and media establishment, went down to defeat at the hands of what pollsters described as an unusual collection of less educated, rural, younger and more leftist voters who for various reasons felt disaffected by a document and a process that was largely presented to them as a "fait accompli" with no alternative. The defeat of the constitution in France - a founding member of the EU and one of the two great powers with Germany at the heart of continental Europe - is an undeniable body-blow to the ratification process and throws into grave doubt the current constitutional document which must be ratified by all 25 EU member states before it can take effect.
Late on Sunday, however, senior French politicians refused to bury the initiative, with French President Chirac calling for the EU ratification process to continue [TV address transcript] in a strategy that might even involve France itself revisiting the pact, just as Ireland conducted a 2003 revote on the Nice Treaty [backgrounder] on the institutional arrangements for European enlargement after initially rejecting it in a 2002 poll. Meanwhile it appears that Europe, the EU and the general issue of European integration will all enter an extended period of uncertainty. The next bellweather development is likely to take place in the Netherlands, which is conducting a "non-binding" ratification referendum Wednesday. Polls have placed the "no" campaign ahead there as well. In a statement Sunday after the announcement of the French exit polls, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was disappointed but said it was now more important than ever for the Dutch to vote "yes". AFX has more on Balkenende's statement; BBC News has more on what a French "no" means.