European Leaders Look Ahead

Many of Europe's leaders sought to reassure the continent in the wake of France's resounding "No" to the European Union's proposed constitution on Sunday, saying the charter is still alive.

Politicians who oppose the charter, meanwhile, said the French decision was a triumph against red tape and centralized power in Brussels (search).

France's repudiation, said Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli (search), "closes a phase — that of a Europe born from desks and stamped paper."

But EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (search) said leaders will meet the challenge.

"When faced with difficulties, it is where we expect our politicians to show determination and vision to rally together for Europe," he said.

In Britain, perhaps the continent's most Euroskeptic nation, the Gallic "no" was greeted by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) with a cautious call for a "period of reflection" ahead of a scheduled two-day summit of European Union leaders in Brussels starting June 16.

"The result raises profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe," Straw said.

To go into effect as planned by Nov. 1, 2006, the proposed constitution needs ratification in all member nations, either by referendum or parliamentary vote. The setback in a French referendum followed the adoption of the document in nine countries already, including Germany, Italy and Spain.

There are fears the rejection could throw the European Union in one of the deepest crisis of its checkered 48-year history.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has openly supported the charter but he may privately be relieved that the French "no" will likely spare him a tough political battle in favor of the wounded charter.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, the battle lines were more clear-cut.

Europhile German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose political future was thrown into doubt this month by a defeat in local elections, said he "regretted" the defeat of the treaty, but that the result must be honored.

Like France, Germany has been engaged in an intense debate about whether the constitution would help preserve the two countries' social economic model or lead to more cutthroat American-style business practices.

But Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the constitution can still become a reality.

"I am not a doctor, but the treaty is not dead," said Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. "This ratification process will continue."

The next challenge is Wednesday when the Dutch will vote in a referendum that polls show is heading toward defeat.

In Paris, with more than 98 percent of votes counted, the "no" camp had 55 percent against 45 percent for "yes," the Interior Ministry said.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul remained optimistic that the French rejection would not affect the possible October start of Turkish-EU membership talks.

"It's up to the French people, and whatever the outcome, it is of no concern for Turkey," the Anatolia news agency quoted Gul as saying.

One optimistic assumption is that the continuation of ratification could show France to be in such a minority that it would have to reassess its opinion and go to a second vote.

EU leaders have insisted since signing the constitution in October that it would streamline EU operations and decision-making and improve democratic accountability. It would also enshrine the position of an EU president and foreign minister, raising Europe's profile on the global stage.