The rejection of the EU's constitution by French and Dutch voters forces us to think well beyond that treaty. That much is clear from the current debate on the community budget. The naysayers' victories show that sovereignty-based arguments that oppose any kind of European political union are on the march. Euro-skeptics, it seems, are gaining ground everywhere, and a kind of xenophobia is on the rise.
But xenophobia and sovereignty were not the primary impulses that propelled the "no" votes. Above all, the "no" votes in France and Holland -- and rising discontent in other member states, such as Germany -- are the result of the inability of national governments and the union to respond effectively to the problems that most concern citizens. Not only anti-Europeans rejected the constitution; far from it.
Many Europeans are, in fact, calling on the EU to act to reduce unemployment and to intervene decisively in the international arena. Many interpreted Europe's internal division over the war in Iraq, with ordinary citizens overwhelmingly opposed to military intervention, as a sign of the union's weakness.
But the answer to such doubt and dismay is more Europe, not less. The European Council's summit tomorrow and Friday should give a clear sign that it recognizes this.
Most supporters of the constitution believe that it will not only help build a citizens' Europe, but also create better conditions for European economic development, and for the EU to act globally. They are right. It would be imprudent to assume that the French and Dutch "no" votes were not about discontent with union policies; but that anger was directed against the French and Dutch governments, not Europe itself.
The fact is that citizens in every EU member country are increasingly aware that national policies are determined by decision making at the European level, over which they have little influence. The European constitution has little to do with this, but referendums are never confined to the actual questions put to voters. Instead, they provide opportunities for citizens to express what they feel about the choices their governments make, particularly within the EU framework.
Last year's elections for the European Parliament had already shown that the level of discontent with the union was high. Voters heavily punished almost all national governments. Yet nobody thought that the election had changed the course of Europe.
Above all, the French and Dutch referendums confirmed that politics in the union is now conducted "on the street," and that it is no longer possible to "construct" Europe at a distance and by stealth. This means that EU governments must respond to popular anxieties and make the union more transparent and democratic.
This would be a lot easier with the constitution in place, but there are measures that can and should be adopted now to make that possible. First, the community budget should be structured so that it has a significant impact on growth and employment (a return to the voluntarism of the Delors Packages, now applied to the Lisbon Strategy).
Second, European governments must show a real commitment to act together. A key opportunity presents itself with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration to define a common position to support democratic change in the Mediterranean by ceasing to back the political status quo there.