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June 14, 2005
Apres Collapse, France Lashes Out For Relevance

France's failure to support the EU constitution that its leadership had largely pushed and helped write has caused its government to push its failure onto others even as it concedes defeat. The Telegraph reports that France has finally given up on forcing other nations to continue the ratification process, effectively killing the proposed constitution:

France performed a historic about-turn yesterday and abandoned the European Union constitution to its fate, dropping demands that other nations ratify the treaty.

The unexpected move appeared to seal the constitution's doom, even if its most passionate supporters still refuse to accept its demise for several months more. Days before a crisis EU summit, Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, simply waived Paris's insistence that the treaty still be put to the vote, country by country. ...

Senior French officials quietly agreed with British predictions that an EU summit this week would leave individual member states to decide how, or whether, to vote on the constitution, with no deadline or timetable. Without these "the whole thing is being kicked into some very long grass indeed," said one EU official. "You could say it is effectively dead."

In one development, France and Germany have tried to shift blame onto Britain and its insistence on maintaining its lucrative tax rebate in the new constitution, an arcane and technical detail buried deep within the pact. Douste-Blazy blasted Britain for failing to pay the costs of EU expansion at the same time he conceded defeat on the EU pact. Tony Blair has fought back, offering to consider eliminating the rebate only if France considers ending its protectionist subsidies for French agriculture:

Tony Blair is set to meet Jacques Chirac, French president, in Paris for a showdown over the EU rebate.

He arrives with a warning ringing in his ears from Gerhard Schrder, Germany's chancellor, not to stymie the union's budget.

Mr Schrder said during talks with the Prime Minister last night that there was "no place for national egotism" in the debate over Britain's EU rebate and the future financing of Europe. ...

Mr Blair has signalled he is ready to compromise on Britain's multi-billion-euro annual EU rebate provided France also gives ground on the substantial farms subsidies it receives. Mr Chirac has refused, saying the agriculture budget was settled in 2002.

French subsidies are a keystone to their socialist economic model, and Blair well knows that Chirac can hardly afford to give them up. French farmers would revolt if price supports disappeared, possibly even strike, which would put Chirac's government in dire straits. On the other hand, even the French know that Blair won't cough up the rebates without getting some substantial market reform in return. For Chirac, getting Blair to bend is a secondary consideration at best anyway. What Chirac wants is someone else to take center stage in the Failure Sweepstakes, and for French domestic politics, nothing works better for that role than a British leader.

Running a close second, however, are the Turks, and Chirac has included them in his shotgun approach. As the Guardian notes, Chirac and France now publicly oppose Turkey's entry into the EU without a constitution to regulate the entry process:

Turkey was being set up as the main casualty of French and Dutch rejection of the EU constitution last night when France seemed to put the brakes on Ankara's 40-year dream of joining the union.

As European leaders prepared to kick the constitution into the long grass at their summit this week, the French foreign minister said it would be difficult to admit Turkey if the measure falls.

Philippe Douste-Blazy told the French daily Le Figaro: "Without the treaty, it seems to me difficult to add more countries when the rules of communal living between us are not clearly defined. It is one of the elements of the absorption capacity of the European Union. After the French referendum, we must reflect on this type of thing."

This is, in fact, another swipe at Britain and Tony Blair, who have championed Turkey's entry to the EU. Again, rather than a principled position, this looks more like a ploy on behalf of Chirac to play tit-for-tat with the British. The French distrusted the constitution in part because of the modest market reforms it would have imposed on France, and those reforms came at the insistence of Britain. Chirac and his government now play the politics of petulance to restore their domestic standing, but if they continue to pout in this manner, they will only convince the rest of Europe that hitching their collective wagons to a country this immature and self-centered will be in no one's long-term interest.

Frankly, it's a lesson I'm surprised they haven't already learned.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 14, 2005 7:31 AM

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» Things Are Heating Up In Europe from Weapons of Mass Destruction
The Times has a fascinating story on the continued fallout from the defeat of the EU Constitution. Instead of settling down, things appear to be heating up.As their dispute over Britain’s EU budget rebate and the constitution took relations to [Read More]

Tracked on June 14, 2005 8:24 AM

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