Nidra Poller comments on the French EU Referendum in a piece originally published in Hebrew in Makor Rishon on May 27: “To the surprise and dismay of mainstream political leaders on both the right and the left, French voters may well vote NON in the May 29th referendum for ratification of the Treaty to establish a European Constitution. French rejection will put a halt to the forward march of the European Union. Given the current state of European society, would this be good or bad for the forward march of democracy?”
Paris 25 May 2005: As of this writing, four days from the referendum on the TraitÃ© Constitutionel (Treaty to establish a Constitution), it looks like the French are really going to say NON. Unless of course the pollsters are mistaken. Or President Chirac pulls a rabbit out of a hat and convinces voters to say OUI. Unfortunately for the champions of a Great Europe, the president’s fervor seems to douse public enthusiasm. Watching from a safe distance, one is hard put to evaluate the meaning and eventual effect of this French NON. Is it a grouchy, retrograde, chauvinistic, reckless slap in the face to fellow Europeans, and a kick in the shins of the powers that be? Or does this refusal to go along with an opaque, cynical, top-down European Union contain the seeds of a salutary citizen’s revolt?
Is it any wonder if voters are dismayed? The referendum is asking, “Where shall we go from here?” And they have to answer YES or NO. Do they really have a choice? The most forceful arguments in favor of ratification of the Treaty actually reduce the choice to one single acceptable answer: YES. Voters are cajoled, flattered, seduced, and scolded all to the same tune. It’s either YES, we keep going, or NO, everything stops. Which of course is not true. And may rile some voters. Nevertheless, Chirac’s government has made it clear that the choice is between yes and yes. PM Raffarin promises that a refusal to ratify will lead to a long dark night of political and social chaos. And what if the yes prevails?
No chaos on the horizon? No backlash from the disgruntled, in a country where trade unions call a general strike because the government dares to rob them of a holiday””the Monday after Pentecost Sunday””in an admittedly clumsy plan to allocate the value of one day”s labor to help the aged and handicapped and prevent a remake of the 15,000 dead in the 2003 heat wave. An airport ground crew union went on strike after an employee was temporarily suspended while under investigation for pulling the mobile stairs away from a plane without respecting the safety rules, causing a stewardess to fall to her death. A few days ago, armed and enraged oyster farmers rammed into a police boat and tried to capsize it. They were protesting against a decree blocking the sale of their oysters because they are contaminated by toxic algae. And the winegrowers who tear up the town because of a drop in sales? Are the serial strikers going to swallow a vote that they interpret as a vicious triumph of ultraliberalism? Delivered into the hands of the big bad international capitalists to be chopped up and thrown on the garbage heap of history, will they go without a whimper?
Whatever way you look at the debate it reeks with dismay, fear and confusion”¦or floats on clouds of airy fantasy. The proposed constitution is an “auberge espagnole,” a Spanish Inn where every lodger brings what he expects to find there. Socialist Party leader FranÃ§ois Hollande explains in his Sunday-best let’s-be-reasonable voice that a Constitution sets forth a form of government, it does not establish an economic policy. The Treaty, therefore, cannot be described as an ultraliberal plot for surrender to unbridled capitalism, unlimited Chinese imports, and bloodletting delocalizations. But the Socialist Party poster holds out its rose logo and invites voters to say OUI for a “social Europe.” Meaning a social democratic welfare state Europe, an economic paradise where everything is paid for and no one pays. A Europe in which Polish plumbers won’t be able to undercut their French comrades and Czech programmers will be stopped at the nonexistent border.
That’s still not social enough for the far Left parties that are most vocally, most visually, most comically campaigning against the Constitution. Deliberately or not they serve, along with the extreme Right, as the bogeyman to scare away those who would be tempted to vote no for entirely different reasons. Nicholas Sarkozy says if you see JosÃ© BovÃ©, Arlette Laguiller, and Olivier Besancenot going down the road, take the opposite direction, you”ll be sure you”ve made the right choice.
Reasonable people tempted to vote against the Constitution are in fact ashamed to “follow” the gremlins, midgets, and monsters of the extreme Left and Right. As if the 51% to 54% of negative voters (according to the latest polls) could be drawn exclusively from the pool of cryptofascists, antiglobalization whackos, racists, xenophobes, and spoiled brat trade unionists. Those who vote for ratification will also be stuck with strange bedfellows! The reigning president and prime minister are unpopular (39% for the former, 21% for the latter) and swiftly declining. The deceivingly reasonable arguments in favor of the treaty are quite fanciful. For example: Europe has created the best economic system in the world, favorable to growth and development, while offering maximum protection (OCDE predicts 1.2% growth in the euro zone). Europe represents peace and liberty; all over the world, people who yearn to be free turn to Europe”¦as in Afghanistan, xxx”¦ I forget the other grateful liberated peoples that were mentioned. Iraq was not included.
What exactly is this Treaty for the establishment of a Constitution? The document is purported to be long and indigestible. Brave souls have in fact read it, specialists have analyzed it, but no compelling arguments are based on its intrinsic qualities. The choice morsels spoon feed to TV audiences in sober clips that open with the blue flag and its circle of stars ask a question, then answer it with low fat citations from this or that Article. The immediate effect is soothing and reassuring.
This is not the image that emerges from conversations with friends, acquaintances, neighbors, waiters, shopkeepers and their customers over the past ten days. The overall impression is doubt and dismay. Formal aspects of the Constitution fade into the background. People explain that the French have to vote OUI so we won’t look like cons (asses)”¦ So we won’t be isolated”¦ Because there’s no alternative, we have to go forward. They rarely mention a single detail about the type of government that will be established by this Constitution. The same can be said of highly visible political figures, such as the comeback Lionel Jospin, who urged voters to say YES and then get busy improving the Constitution they just ratified, because of course it is not perfect, it is just a stage in the marvelous adventure of Europe. The way to change it is to accept it. Logical, no?
Some undecided voters seem to be haunted by a very real disappointment in Europe as experienced in their daily lives. Not sure whether this Constitution, whatever it is, will make things better or worse, and unsure of where to place the blame–on Europe or on their own government or on the proverbial bad French character–for what they see as a general degradation of their situation, they feel vaguely disenfranchised. On the other side of the question, among the yea sayers, we find self-confident, well-dressed, modern ladies and gentlemen who walk with a sure step in a modern world.
They are not afraid of the future, feel at home in a globalized world, welcome competition”¦and probably will welcome Turkey into the EU with the same breezy confidence. They disparage retrograde voters who think they can opt out of Europe and snuggle cozily into a safe little France. When you ask them how they intend to vote, they reply with electronic swiftness. These are the adults, the no-nonsense voices of reason. They are almost convincing.
If it weren’t for the dark clouds looming over Europe. If, instead of trudging through the Constitution, one reads the 43-page report drafted in 2003 by the High Level Advisory Group appointed by then European Commission President Romano Prodi, an utterly different picture emerges. The Euro-Mediterranean “Dialogue” is a masterpiece of abject surrender. The European Union functions therein as an intermediate stage of an ominous Eurabian project that calls for a meltdown of European culture and its recasting in a monumental paradise of cultural relativism”¦that closely resembles the Muslim oumma. Isn’t this a more accurate vision of what the Union is preparing for its docile citizens? When subversive appeasement hides behind the veil of “Dialogue,” what unspeakable ambitions might be dissembled by the noble word “Constitution”?
What lurks behind the Lolita with pursed cherry-red lips, blond curls, and European-flag blue eyes? The poster girl of the UMP, President Chirac’s party, says, “Europe deserves a OUI. Â»
What happened to Turkey? Just a few months ago this wannabe European nation was being marketed to the French public in slanted news features that showed how modern, jazzy, bare midriffed and high techy is this modern moderate Islamic country that no one should fear. But just in case the shuffle of approaching Turks might scare off a yes vote here or there, Turkey has disappeared from the public eye. Sovereignist Philippe de Villiers pushes it in their face; he displays a photo of a Turk signing the Treaty. The official explanation is that Turkey is simply promising to respect the Constitution in the event of an eventual membership in the EU. Logical, no?
If, as claimed, the Constitutional Treaty is a giant step forward in the creation of a United States of Europe, what exactly is the political system it enshrines? The sleek answer is: something better than what we”ve had this far. More United, more European, looking more like a government, stronger, able to speak with one voice and (explicitly or implicitly) heavy enough to counterbalance the overweening hyperpuissant arch-rival–the USA. Jack Lang, former socialist Minister of Culture, vaunts the Constitution: it will make Europe strong enough to stand up to China, India, the United States. Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far right Front National says, Don’t be afraid to vote NON. We won’t be isolated. France stood up against the Americans, refused to caution the Iraq war. We were not isolated.
Behind the sturdy images of a forthright Europe on the road to a bright future lurks the shadow of a shameful antisemitism that has soaked into the very skin of European society. Economic stagnation and plus 10% unemployment eats away at France’s elegant foundations. Life has become harsh, violence of all sorts is on the rise. The strong euro is no help to French wage earners. Social services are breaking down. Anti-war pro-Palestinian anti-American activism has not even brought hollow victories. Man can not live by bluster alone.
Democracy is leaking out of this tattered Europe. As national sovereignty is handed up to the higher echelons of the European Union, citizens lose their grip on the affairs of state. For all its brand name institutions””parliament, executive, commission, president and now secretary of state””the EU does not have a democratic infrastructure. It is recreating something like an old fashioned European empire where the ruling classes hobnob together in feasts and palaces, and dictate their will to the people. In the absence of grass roots power, commoners, with no constructive means of expression, resort to the sullen refusal to work, freedom to throw a monkey wrench into the system, go on strike on a holiday weekend, burn down an occasional factory. Some serious analysts of the Constitutional Treaty describe it as a blueprint for gridlock. Neither streamlined nor democratic, a far cry from a system of checks and balances, it institutionalizes ingrained European mistrust; every initiative will be vulnerable to blockage regardless of its scope or thrust. Good old fashioned power politics will be played on the ruins of this fictitious harmony. And France still seems to cherish dreams of grandeur.
A severe PM Raffarin warns French voters that if they don’t ratify this Constitution, there is no second option. It sounds like the end of the road, the end of the world. Then we discover that polls in Holland show 63% against the Treaty; the Dutch parliament, which will decide on ratification 3 days after the French referendum, has promised to be guided by the popular will. Theoretically, the treaty has to be ratified by unanimous vote. The French could say yes, and the Dutch no. Is there still no second option?
Well, when all of this is said and done, is it good for the Jews? According to Claude Barouch, president of the UPJF (Jewish entrepreneurs and professionals union”¦that aspires to be a Jewish lobby in France) a stronger, more united Europe will be kinder to Israel, less biased in favor of the Palestinians, more mature and responsible; economically France has everything to gain from a stronger more assertive Europe; new member states will have a positive effect both economically and politically. He advises us to vote OUI.
But a little handmade, unscientific, offbeat public opinion poll in my immediate vicinity contradicts this optimistic vision. Many people say they will vote NON to sanction Europe, with France in the forefront, for fomenting antisemitism, delegitimizing Israel, aligning itself with the enemies of the United States, and pandering to Yassir Arafat all his life, until his death, and beyond. When Eurodeputy FranÃ§ois Zimeray succeeded, against overwhelming opposition, in mobilizing a demand for investigation of the use of EU funds generously donated to the Palestinians, the EU Commission sidetracked the investigation, whitewashed the PA. And Zimeray”s party kicked him down stairs and out of the Parliament. Europe, with no credible military defense, gloats in demonizing the United States and Israel because they stand up to Islamic jihad. And even before the Constitution is ratified, the European Commission has chosen the infamous Javier Solana as European Foreign Minister.
Is there any common measure between the grouch vote of nostalgic crypto-peasants and the “parochial” vote of French Jews and neo-conservatives who want to stop the European machine in its tracks? Many voters will say NON to the Treaty for the establishment of a European Constitution this Sunday because they believe in democracy, cherish Europe’s Jewish and Christian values, and trust national sovereignty more than EU oligarchy. For these NON voters, the Treaty for a Constitution is more like a Munich agreement and nothing like the timeless, elegant, document framed by America’s Founding Fathers.