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On May 29, France will hold a referendum on the constitution for the European Union. In face of strong support for the "No" position, German intellectuals, artists and academics urge their French neighbours that rejecting the constitution would bring with it catastrophic consequences.


Europe demands courage

Dear Friends,

We are unsettled to see the populist "No" to the European constitution getting stronger in France. Do the majority of French people really want to be holed up in one bunker with right-wing and left-wing nationalists?

This would be a capitulation of reason which the French should be the last to condone. Therefore this request: please fight with all your passion to ensure that France – the home of the enlightenment – does not betray progress.

The consequences of a rejection would be catastrophic:
- for the unification process, which we thank for this peaceful epoch of more than half a century, a fortune that our continent had never previously experienced,
- for your German neighbours, who have learned that Europe can only be created with France and never without it,
- for Poland and the other new members of the Union, which France must not abandon between united Germany and the Russian empire,
- for the relationship to the United States, which will only be balanced if Europe is strengthened,
- for France itself, which would isolate itself fatally if it were to vote "No".

The constitution does not fulfil all our ideals and it does not spirit away the sources of all our concerns. It is an honest compromise. An astute balance between two opposing elements: a confederation ordered along the lines of a nation-state and the growing self-confidence of the regions. It will strengthen the parliament and its control functions. It will limit the veto right in essential decisions. It will provide the basis for common foreign and defence policy, without which Europe will have no say among the world powers. It will guarantee market productivity and at the same time protect our social rights. As such it is the only viable and competitive alternative to the nightmare of unbridled "ultra-liberal" capitalism. It will protect our cultural wealth and national particularities. And it will anchor the human and civil rights that were created in the French and American revolutions.

Tell your compatriots it would be folly to make the European constitution pay for their grudge against the government. On the contrary: Europe can compel your government, your parties, your entrepreneurs and your unions (like ours) to productive thought and action.

Tell your compatriots (and the Germans as well), that fear offers no security, but is rather a signal of weakness, if not an invitation to suicide. When Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece joined the Union, the wage level of these countries lay 50 percent below that of the French. Now, an almost equal level has been reached: the productivity of the newer member states has opened up markets to France (and all of us), which did not cost jobs but created them. In the long run, the dynamic of the partners in Eastern Europe will not damage us but help us to win back jobs.

Europe is the answer to your and our fears. Europe demands courage. Without courage there is no survival. Not for France. Not for Germany. Not for Poland. For none of the old and new members of the European Union, for whom the constitution fulfils a dream of centuries. We owe this to the millions upon millions of victims of our lunatic wars and criminal dictatorships.


Wolf Biermann, poet and singer
Hans Christoph Buch, writer
Günter Grass, writer and Nobel Prize winner
Jürgen Habermas, philosopher
Klaus Harpprecht, writer and former advisor to Willy Brandt
Alexander Kluge, filmmaker
Michael Naumann, writer and former Minister of State for Culture and Media Affairs
Peter Schneider, writer
Gesine Schwan, President of Viadrian European University
Armin Zweite, art historian
Werner Spiess, art historian and former Director of the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris


This open letter was originally published in French in Le Monde on May 2, 2005 and in German in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on May 3, 2005.

Translation: nb. - let's talk european