Friday, May 27, 2005

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Apres "non".... parlez dites "oui," dammit!

The official campaign for the French referendum on the EU constitution has ended. According to the LA Times' Sebastian Rotella, Jacques Chirac ended things on a subtle note:

In an attempt to avert a resounding French rejection of a proposed European constitution, President Jacques Chirac told voters Thursday that they have a "historic responsibility" to approve the proposal.

Chirac's prime-time speech marked the official end of the campaign ahead of Sunday's referendum and reflected the measure's high stakes and darkening prospects. Opinion polls predict that French voters will turn down the bid to speed the continent's political integration by strengthening institutions such as the European Union's presidency....

Chirac urged voters not to hurt both France and Europe by using the referendum to express generalized displeasure.

"The rejection of the treaty will be seen by Europeans as a no to Europe," Chirac warned. "It will open a period of division, of doubt, of uncertainty.... What a responsibility before history if France, a founding country of Europe, caused the risk of breaking the union of our continent."

Hmmm... this line of argument sounds familiar... oh, yes, Romano Prodi tried it a month ago. I'll repeat what I said then:

The European project has managed to generate a common market, a common Court of Justice, the euro, Schengenland, an increasingly assertive European parliament, and even the faint stirrings of a common foreign and defense policy -- all using the current set of legal and political arrangements. None of these will disappear if the French say non.

Also, if Chirac needs to borrow lines of argumentation from Prodi, then it doesn't look good for "the future of Chirac, a 72-year-old political veteran who reportedly intends to run for a third term in 2007."

As for the referendum, six weeks ago I suggested that, "even if the referendum fails, the French can simply schedule another referendum." According to the EUobserver's Elitsa Vucheva, that's pretty much what the current EU president would like to see:

If the French and the Dutch reject the EU Constitution on Sunday and Wednesday, they should re-run the referendums, the current president of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said.

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again", Mr Juncker said in an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.

French speakers can read the Le Soir interview by clicking here. My French is tres rusty, but I'm pretty sure he implies elsewhere in the interview that without the constitution Europe will revisit the horrors of the the Balkan wars of the last decade.

POST-NON UPDATE: Click here for my (brief) post-non thoughts.

posted by Dan on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM

Comments: doesn't look good for "the future of Chirac, a 72-year-old political veteran who reportedly intends to run for a third term in 2007."


Does his current term end before or after the statute of limitations runs out?

posted by: rosignol on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

"Le drame éternel de l'Europe - choisir entre la guerre et la paix - a disparu des mémoires. L'Europe relève plus de l'évidence et nous, politiques, avons du mal à nous expliquer. Il y a dix ans, dans les Balkans, il y a eu une guerre, j'y ai vu des enfants mourir, à une heure et demie de chez moi. . . Je suis choqué que cette réémergence du mal ne nous ait pas plus impressionnés!"

Here's what Juncker is saying:

"The eternal drama of Europe - choosing between war and peace - has disappeared from memory. [The reason behind the idea of] Europe is no longer obvious and we, politicians, have explained ourselves poorly. Ten years ago, in the Balkans, there was a war... I saw children dying, only 90 minutes from my home. I am shocked that this resurgence of evil did not have a deeper effect on us."

Well, I'm not a translator, but that's the gist of it. So basically he's scolding the French for not learning the lessons of the Balkan wars. Which might be even sillier than the simpler argument that killing will break out if we say no.

Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks there's an eerie similarity between how European politicians explain popular skeptical about the EU and how American leaders explain anti-Americanism in the Middle East? Neither can imagine that there could be a problem with the actual policy so it must be a PR issue...

- Adam

posted by: Adam Allouba on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Chirac's problem, bien sur, is that W has not done anything lately to inflame the anti-American passions which now solely undergird the EU project. I'll bet he was praying last weekend for a breakdown somewhere in the Middle East--a "small" invasion of Damascus, sil vous plait mon ami.

As for running elections until the EU masters get the desired result, there is only one thing to do (and given France's stunning talent at shutting things down): an organized boycott. When the people speak you don't ask them to keep repeating themselves until they say something you like. This, a democracy is not, as Yoda would say.

posted by: Kelli on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Kelli is right! Instead you hold the vote open until enough arms you can twist or enough campaign contributions you can promise to obtain the vote you desire, as Tom Delay would say.

Politicians these are - not saints - of the american or european variety.

posted by: TexasToast on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Jacques Chirac certainly gives a new twist to the phrase "message discipline": "You vill obey my message, or you vill suffer....and then, ve vill vote again!"

Incidentally, Dan, you may want to refresh your spam filter for this board.

posted by: Zathras on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

I see that the desperate Yes campaign has been reduced to offering "intimate secrets and fantasies" to the Euroskeptics on Dan's blog. But in response to rosignol's question, I thought that Chirac's situation is that the statute of limitations clock is not running for the duration of his presidency, because he can't be investigated anyway while in that position. So he needs the job to hold off the magistrates. He may be counting on being very much the elder statesman whenever he does leave office.

And as Dan's account reflects -- who on the yes campaign thought it a good idea to have the French people be lectured by mighty Luxembourg on their voting options?

posted by: P O'Neill on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

The French campaign is bad on both sides as I have stated repeatedly at my blog. The "non" show a lack of comprehension about basic maths while the "oui" treat the voters as ignorant proles who should do what they are told.

PS WRT Chirac, until recently a google search for "l'Escroc" or crook in French turned up this page:

posted by: Francis on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

I agree with Dan's point that the EU constition doesn't create much that's good, or, on the other hand, destroy any significant gains. It's really not much of a "constition," as Americans would understand the word, at all.

The bigger question is: Is "Europe" a democracy at all?

I think not. It's a bureaucratic construct that seems to be based on the Soviet idea of "democratic centralism."

So to the extent that it helps ensure European peace and to expand European economies (both international goals), okay. But if the goal is to create a Europe unified politically and socially, the present document doesn't seem to be appropriate.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

A slightly less sanguine view of the consequences of the apparently likely NON vote than most of the people who commented on this topic appears on Grok Your under the title: "Europe on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown ???"

While it's true there's a lot of institutional inertia in the E-U-nification project -- and that EU referenda often serve as lightning rods to express anger at national governments --

precisely the fact that the "democratic" check that one country's failure to ratify the Constitution can raise questions about the whole projet -- especially since Raffarin has said there will NOT be a second vote --

indicates that a NON result -- while by no means implying a second Yugoslavia, a Juncker -- will be more problematic than the Irish rejection of the Nice treaty, for example.

That said, this is a substantive and interesting blog, to which I look forward to continuing to comment.


posted by: Grok Your on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Well, M. Juncker's flowery references to "le drame éternel" aside, I think his comments neatly encapsulate the problems with the EU Constitution "project" - in the very process of trying to defend it. Basically, as I read his remarks, he seems take the attitude that the EU technocratic/"ruling" class have come up with this Constitution (awkward as it is), so it therefore is the Only Good and Right Thing to Do and that therefore, the people are obliged to ratify it - and if they don't they have to be pushed to ratify it again - until the "correct" result is acheived.
That this sort of attitude doesn't quite square with the practice of "democracy" (even by European definitions), and that thus, might tick off some of the populace for whose "benefit" the entire project is supposed to be effected never seems to enter the Eurocrats' heads. Ever. They just never seem to get the idea that the dirigiste mentality is part of the problem, not the solution. Maybe France's "non" vote will open their eyes a little. (I'm not holding my breath)

posted by: Jay C on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Some would say that if both extremes are mad at you, you must have it about right. But in this case I think it means the basic assumption is bogus: that the EU can operate as a unit in any meaningful or useful way.

posted by: Brian H on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Perhaps the Euro's (Mr. Rumsfeld's OLD-EUROPE) would have learned the lesson available to them in the Balkan's if they had actually done something to change the situation there. Since action was beneath them, they left it to the US (and those in NATO who would help) to "learn" those lessons. More and more it becomes appearant that the EU is a waste of good real estate.

posted by: Drew on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Chirac is hoping to hold on long enough to appeal that he's too old to be sent to prison. The EU courts will agree it is inhumane. Voila, another scoundrel escapes punishment.

posted by: Jerry on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

So far the best commentary I've seen indicates (a) Since Chirac was always touting French superiority why should he be surprised that his countrymen would reject a plan to make them the SAME as all other Europeans; and (b) with such a perfectly opaque and incomprehensible document as this why is anyone surprised that that both political extremes saw the need to reject it?

Maybe Europe is waking up to the preposterous bureaucratic overreaching of its elites.And the hubris of its leaders who are unable to do more than fatten up their own perquisites,, increase their own powers and preside over a tanking Europe.

posted by: clarice on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

A useful exercise, to me, would be to envision the "Euro Zone" as a non-uniform socio-cultural entity in (say) 2040, with and without an "EU Constitution".

First off, by then the Zone will be in full throes of its worst demographic cataclysm since the 14th Century. Second, if present trends continue, there will have been an economic meltdown comparable to the pre-WWII Depression Era. Finally, 'midst all this gloom-and-doom, "Europe" will have been seized by an implacable fifth column, the immigrant Muslim underground, fomenting barbarism at its very root.

If adopted, the EU Constitution would aggravate these tendencies. If rejected, absent radical shifts in attitudes, such trends will merely progress on schedule. Let's face it: The ghosts of 1914 - '18 remain unlaid. Haunted for generations, with an Interglacial near its end, odds are that Old Europe --"Constitution" or no-- is doomed for centuries to come, ending an era dating from the Renaissance. Pessimistic, "worst case"?-- alas, no. Any reasonably well-informed observer can spin dramatically worse scenarios. Epidemics, "rogue State" attacks, resurgent communism/fascism under new sets of anti-democratic/racist ideologues... we've seen every bit of it before.

posted by: John Blake on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy [Chirac].

posted by: Cutler on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

The French people decided to look out for their own individual financial interests and also to demonstrate their independence of other countries. How can Chirac be suprised when this is exactly what led him to oppose the U.S. attempt to enforce UN resolutions on Iraq? People criticize Chiraq's leadership on the issue of the referrendum but actually the French are following his lead precisely.

posted by: postacomment on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

If the reasons of various groups in France and elsewhere for voting NO seem contradictory, that is mainly because this so-called Constitution provided them. I have read a good part of it - absorbing the whole thing is almost beyond human endurance - and it's a typical product of the French/European/leftist/bureaucratic mind set that wants to cover all the angles and cast an overly intrusive, government Apparat in concrete, forever. Calling this thing a Constitution is laughable - it reflects a political point of view, and a very statist one, without placing limitations on the Brussels busybodies and without defining the people's right to be left alone.

posted by: Wimbo on 05.27.05 at 01:41 AM [permalink]

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