April 1, 2005

France To Kill Off The EU?

Oh, the delicious irony ...

Europe's most ambitious dream, a continent-wide constitution, may founder on a most unexpected rock. France, long a driving force behind the European Union (EU), is increasingly hostile to the charter, a key symbol of Europe's march toward integration.

As voters prepare for a May 29 referendum on the subject, five opinion polls in recent days put opponents of the constitution clearly ahead of supporters. But as the government went into high gear this week to try to turn the tide, public debate suggests that French doubts are rooted less in the legal text than in skepticism about the very idea of a united Europe.

The French seemed perfectly pleased with the concept of a united Europe -- as long as an EU meant basically Greater France, complete with its highly socialized nanny state, severe limitations on economic competition, and control from Paris. The French people wanted a new French empire handed to them by a voice vote, or at the least a Continental sphere of influence not seen since the days of Louis XIV. As long as the EU consisted of France, Germany, Spain, the Scandinavian countries, and Ireland, the French got exactly what they wanted.

Now, however, most of Europe has joined in, and the 25 states currently in the EU have very different ideas about the economic structure of the union and the amount of influence they will tolerate from the French. Especially the Eastern Europeans, who famously were told by Jacques Chirac to "shut up" about Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq; their sovereignty and self-determination have been hard-won and they do not see the need to willingly place themselves under the thumb of another foreign government, no matter how benign.

If anyone believes that this is an ovestatement, listen to the French objections in opposing the new EU charter:

At a deeper level, though, many in France see the European Constitution, which enshrines the free market economy as a guiding principle, as the embodiment of a new, economically liberalizing union that they do not like. ... One of the leaders of the "no" campaign in France, Socialist Senator Jean-Luc Mlenchon, voiced such fears forcefully on French radio the other evening. "This is the law of the jungle turned into a constitution," he complained. "I do not want a constitution that imposes a principle - free and unfettered [economic] competition - with which I do not agree."

The anticonstitution forces have enjoyed particular success with their attacks on a proposed EU law that would allow service providers such as architects, computer consultants, or hairdressers from one member country to work freely in any other. ...

The sudden uproar over a piece of legislation that merely extended the fundamental rules of a single market - the EU's raison d'tre - to the services sector is a sign, says French commentator Alain Duhamel, that "Europe is an anxiety generator" in today's France.

"Once, Europe was France writ large in the French imagination, and it was a comfortable idea," he adds. "Now the French don't think Europe looks like France at all."

Europe doesn't look like France at all -- which tells us exactly why the French wanted the EU in the first place. Their economic system is failing and they needed European integration to keep it afloat, but not through liberalization; they wanted it subsidized by the other European nations. What they got instead was a plan to impose badly-needed economic reform on France, a reform which will require the French to compete for jobs and start working on productivity. Jacques Chirac compares this unfavorably to communism:

Fearful that the planned law was fueling the "non" campaign, and unhappy with it himself, French President Jacques Chirac forced the commission last week to take the bill back to the drawing board, thundering at an EU summit that "ultra-liberalism is as great a menace as communism in its day."

When Chirac can point out a liberal democracy that killed tens of millions through deliberate starvations, political purges, and the like, then perhaps the EU will reconsider the French position. I'd say he missed an excellent opportunity to keep his mouth shut.

In the meantime, it appears that the French will scuttle the new constitution, which doesn't mean that the EU will draft a new one. It will likely mean the end of the EU, as French motives have become crystal clear and their neighbors will put no further trust in Parisian sweet talk. If France cannot face reform, then France will collapse on its own, instead of sucking its European partners dry to maintain their 32-hour work weeks and August vacations while their economy decays. Instead of creating a Greater France across Europe, the French will have only confirmed their anachronistic nature, their utter irrelevance in their obstinate reliance on a failed economic model.


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