What does France's decisive 'Non' to the European constitution mean to Britain and the future of the EU? Here are two contrasting opinions from the North-East

Joe Keenan, Regional director of Britain in Europe.

SO, the French have voted "Non" to the new European constitutional treaty.

While no one can really predict with any certainty where things will go from here, we should remember that opponents of the treaty in France described it as "La Britannique" , because we in Britain got such a good deal.

With the ten new member states that joined the EU last year supporting Britain's goal of a more economically reformed model that would be less bureaucratic, things are moving in the direction that Britain wants.

Whatever happens now, Britain must not jeopardise our standing as the driving force of Europe at a time when we are winning the arguments.

We must lead Europe and shape it how we want it.

Nobody wants to see a European superstate. Not us, the French, the Czechs, or anybody. It simply isn't going to happen.

The EU is made up of a group of individual countries with separate national identities. We are each proud of our identity and protective of our sovereignty, but in the EU we are working together to benefit people and businesses across Europe.

The treaty as it stands reaffirms that the EU is - and will remain - a union of nation states, not a European superstate.

When people read stories about "Barmy Brussels", many could be forgiven for thinking that a bureaucrat in the European Commission only has to write something down for it to become law in Britain, but this is simply not the case.

Under the treaty, the commission would only have the power - as it does now - to draft legislation, not pass it. Before any EU law becomes applicable in Britain, it has to be scrutinised by the directly-elected European Parliament, which includes British MEPs, people we voted for, and voted on by the Council of Ministers, which always includes a member of the British Government.

Nothing would change under the proposed new treaty.

In fact, those that believe that the EU suffers from a "democratic deficit" should take heart, because it aims to give more power to national parliaments in the decision-making process. That means our local MPs - people we elected - have more say.

And if a third of parliaments reject an EU proposal, it would go back to the drawing board.

Above all, the proposals would create an EU that is more open, democratic and accountable, with more power resting with the individual member states and less with the EU institutions.

The EU would be less about regulations and more about how countries can work together effectively to tackle the major problems facing the world today, such as environmental pollution, third world poverty and Internet crime.

We would keep our veto over core areas of national sovereignty, such as tax, foreign policy and defence, but would co-operate with other member states to face up to more cross-border problems.

No one could argue that the EU is perfect, but it is far from being the monster often described in sections of the Press. We've all read the silly stories about home-made cakes and playground swings being banned, but the EU is actually a force for good both across the world, and in our daily lives.

Pollution does not respect national borders. That is why from Saltburn, in east Cleveland, to Seahouses, in Northumberland, our beautiful North-East beaches are cleaner and safer thanks to EU environment directives.

At one time, people were scared to go back in the water because our coastlines were so dirty. Now 98 per cent of British beaches come up to cleanliness standards and we can enjoy our local coastline.

We know exactly what is in our food thanks to EU labelling laws, and our local goods are protected from being ripped off by fakes under European laws on product origin.

It is unthinkable that Newcastle Brown Ale or Wensleydale cheese could be marketed as such if it wasn't made in those areas.

EU rules make sure producers who have worked hard to build up reputations get the credit, and profits, they deserve from having a recognisable local brand.

This means that the EU protects local British brands.

We can all live, work, retire, go on holiday and even buy property in the EU without the hassle of visas and endless forms.

Flying to Europe is now cheaper thanks to the budget airlines that started up after the EU liberalised this sector. Before the EU stepped in to stop governments subsidising creaking national carriers, British holiday-makers were held to ransom. Now we all benefit from having proper competition that drives down prices.

We are also entitled, under EU rules, to compensation and accommodation if our flights are delayed or if we are denied boarding unnecessarily. The British consumer is protected by the EU.

Local businesses benefit from selling their goods to a single market of 455 million people without having to go through endless paperwork to do so, and we, as consumers are guaranteed standards on quality and safety as a result.

People often say the EU creates red tape, but for British companies trading with our EU partners, the reality is that bureaucracy is slashed because Britain is in the single market.

The single market can create jobs and growth, particularly after EU enlargement. The EU is providing the right environment for more jobs in the North-East.

The French "No" vote means that European governments will now have to re-assess how to take things forward, while making sure the result is an EU where we can all continue to enjoy the benefits of membership.

One thing is for sure - Britain must stay engaged at the very heart of the EU during this period. Disappointing as the French result is, this is no time for Britain to turn its back on Europe.

*joe.keenan@britainin europe.org.uk

Peter Troy Long-term activist, from County Durham, who opposes the UK's membership of the European Union.

Winston Churchill once commented that constitutions should be short and obscure.

The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe with its 300 hundred or so pages of text is far from short and is both complex and contradictory.

It is no wonder that two days after the French people rejected the EU constitution, the consensus of opinion of people I have spoken to in the North-East is that it is business as usual.

Quite simply, nothing has changed and life goes on.

The EU constitution is, in fact, more important than any other European issue to date. It is the blueprint, not of a Supranational Europe, nor even a Federal States of Europe but of a Centralised State of Europe.

The detail of the constitution will, if it were to be ratified, fundamentally change the structure and the nature of what we have been persuaded to call Europe.

The importance of the debate on the EU constitution is that it will impose a centralising control on all aspects our lives; debate on this constitution is vital.

The rejection by the French people does not mean that the constitution is dead. Far from it, the architects of the European Union only have one policy and one objective - political integration.

The fanatically-focused approach of the political and unelected officials in the driving seat of the Union will continue with what they know best, forging ahead regardless of democratic obstacles.

The strategy of our political masters is already clear. Tony Blair has responded with the same words uttered by the Foreign Secretary, saying it was "too early to decide whether or not Britain will hold a referendum on the EU constitution".

Following the expected no vote in the Netherlands tomorrow, the political focus will then move to Brussels and the European Council gathering on June 16 and 17.

There, I predict with certainty the argument will prevail that it would be unfair to allow just a few countries to dictate the future of Europe - every country must have a chance to express its opinion on the constitution.

The history of the EU, however, confirms that it is immune to public opinion. The genius of the founding fathers was to design a system in which supreme power was wielded by unelected officials and in which the peoples were presented with a series of fait accomplis.

In 1992, following the first no vote in Denmark's referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, our masters were so set in their ways they carried on regardless.

We do not need to have EU centralised integration to improve the quality of life in the UK.

In the interests of democracy, the process of ratification must continue in a full reasoned debate with the issues openly discussed.

That means that we need a referendum on the constitution. After all, in the North-East we are rather good at rejecting issues in referendums that politicians tell us we need - business as usual indeed.

* Peter Troy is editor of www.businessessayno.com, which is launched today.