Sunday, May 29, 2005

Voting 'Non' may be the first useful thing the French will do in years

It's an important weekend in Europe as France (and later in the week, Holland) prepares to vote on the European constitution, and possibly, in a surprise twist, reject it, plunging the EU into political crisis.
The interesting point noted by many commentators is that the reasons the French object to the constitution are diametrically opposed to the reasons the Brits are suspicious of it.
The French are afraid they will lose control of Europe, that their cherished social model and way of life (35-hour work week, endless vacations, etc.) will disappear, and that Brussels will instead impose the more liberal Anglo-American system (free market economy). The Brits, on the other hand, are afraid that the constitution will ultimately result in more French control of Europe, that the Anglo model of free market economy and the unrestricted labor market will be undermined, and that the failing French social model, which resulted last year in 10% unemployment as opposed to Britain's 4% and a much slower rate of growth, will be imposed on them instead.
My take is that, although the French and British objections may seem very different on the surface, they are in fact quite similar. Ultimately, they both object to something being imposed on them by faceless Brussels bureaucrats. And with good reason. To understand the EU's attitude to the people to which the constitution supposedly brings them 'closer,' you only have to listen to Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, a European Commission spokesman, who commented on Friday regarding the referendums,
"It is clear that all 25 governments and all the European institutions... remain united in the desire to see the constitution enter into force eventually."
In other words, they'll find a way to get the constitution through no matter what the people themselves think. For an expansion of this idea and an explanation of why Europeans put up with this, see Mark Steyn (p. 3).
Disturbingly, the Times reports tonight that if the French do vote against, Britain will jump at the excuse to avoid a referendum of its own (only one state has to reject the constitution for it to be invalidated). Although the EU wants each state to vote to keep the constitution alive, and anything suggested by the EU is automatically suspect, I actually support the idea. The reasons for the French rejection, if there is one, must not dominate the debate about how to revamp the constitution, when there are plenty of other more important reasons around. Plus, frankly, I don't need the French speaking for me; I want to the opportunity to reject the constitution, for my own reasons, myself, and you don't stop counting votes in an election just because it's clear who's won. If that's what's going to happen if the French vote against, I'd actually prefer the French to vote 'Oui.'

Related: Excellent article in the Economist on the French identity crisis the vote has induced. Did I say 'failed social model'?

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