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May 29, 2005
Will 'Non' Mean 'Oui'?

French voters turned out in heavy numbers to send a message to Jacques Chirac and the European establishment, trouncing the proposed new EU constitution by a 14-point margin. The loss not only deals a severe blow to Chirac's aspirations of Continental control -- it may portend the end of his career in France, as politicians there have called for new elections:

Unhappy French voters on Sunday derailed plans to further political and economic integration in Europe, decisively rejecting the proposed European constitution and thumbing their noses at the country's governing elite, which had pleaded for approval of the measure.

The turnout was heavy and the margin of defeat was wide, with about 57 percent rejecting the constitution and about 43 percent voting for it. Opposition leaders harnessed widespread disenchantment over a variety of issues, including the unpopularity of President Jacques Chirac, the weak French economy and fears that the country would lose its clout to a strengthened European central government. ...

In a brief televised address shortly after the polls closed, Chirac said he accepted the will of the voters, even though he had lobbied heavily for approval of the constitution. "I'll defend in Brussels the message from the French people," he said.

He did not comment on his own political future, or announce any changes to his government, which has sagged badly in opinion polls. Critics amplified their calls for him to resign before his term ends in 2007.

While Americans might take some well-earned schadenfreude at Chirac's plight, given his efforts to turn France into our diplomatic enemy, in fact this shows that France as a whole still deeply believes in its socialist model. That attitude does not spring from its ruling class but from its electorate, which has gladly accepted a stagnant economy and double-digit unemployment because its nanny state still buffers the effects of those conditions from the individual workers.

In fact, the 'Non' may be irrelevant in the end. The society that the French defended in their vote today will disappear soon enough, as the rest of Europe will not long support the French in their self-indulgence. While Germany and France controlled the union, they could get away with breaking the debt ceilings and budgetary expectations set by the existing EU compact. Now that they have thumbed their noses at the new constitution, that control and influence will rapidly dissipate -- and they will find themselves forced to reform or face expulsion and devastating trade disputes with an otherwise united Europe.

The far left and far right in France are celebrating tonight on the streets of Paris, delighted in their rejection of the sensible market-based reforms that the rest of Europe wants. They may have won the battle, but that victory will only be temporary, and will consign them to second-tier status in Europe from this point forward.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 29, 2005 7:22 PM

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