Since French-bashing is more fashionable than Dutch-bashing, the Dutch “neen” has not come in for such furious denunciation as the French “non”. Both votes express mixed motives, and the mixture of motives may well be somewhat different from one country to the next. It seems that the left revolt against free market dogma played a proportionately greater role in France, and the objection to immigration and the prospect of Turkish membership a more prominent role in the Netherlands. But both votes said “stop!” to a process of “European construction” that has been going on for too long over people’s heads. The common denominator was a last-gasp effort to save democracy from Eurocracy.
Except for its author, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, hardly anybody in the “yes” camp really seemed to like the Constitution all that much. What horrifies the Eurocrats the most is the upsurge of what they tend to call, not democracy, but “populism” — a pejorative term for roughly the same thing. Democracy is when voters approve what their leaders propose, “populism” comes when voters have ideas of their own. So it is “populism” that has unexpectedly halted what was supposed to be a smooth, uninterrupted construction of a mammoth European economic and political powerhouse — free of inner conflict, free of national identity and free of popular revolt. The European Union was designed to be a gigantic lid over the melting pot. But the pot is still boiling, and the lid is wobbling.
Yes, the “no” vote augurs a time of political turmoil for Europe. The artificial consensus is broken, and there is no new consensus behind the “no”. This is dangerous, as life is more dangerous than stagnation.
The “Cupidity” of the French working class
In a petulant article distributed by AlterNet, Ian Williams accused the French of “cupidity” for voting “non” to the European Constitution, and described American left solidarity for this choice as “blinkered”. The rejected Constitution, says Williams, “guarantees rights undreamt of by any liberal in the United States”. This may be true, but such rights, and even more, are already guaranteed by French and other constitutions and charters which remain intact.
Williams asks rhetorically of the American left, “How can so-called liberals in a country that has 45 million uninsured citizens dismiss a document that ensures the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment?”
This is a truncated citation. The full sentence from Article II-95 reads: “Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices .” [My emphasis.] All this really says is that “right of access” (a vague term) will continue to be governed by national laws, which at present provide largely reimbursed health care to French patients but not to those in Portugal. Article III-278 (7) reaffirms “the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care”. Rejecting this provision does not deprive anyone of health coverage.
In France, salaried workers, farmers, the jobless, those with the lowest incomes voted heavily “non” while the higher the income, the greater the percentage of “oui”. The “cupidity” of the French, deplored by Ian Williams must have been the “cupidity” of the French working class (80% no). This indeed contrasts with the generosity of the United States working class, which in large numbers votes against its own interests in favor of politicians who cut social services and provide huge tax cuts for the super-rich. Does Williams consider that in France, the wealthy classes are less guilty of “cupidity” since they overwhelmingly voted “yes”? Apparently so, and the workers who fear for their jobs, the unemployed on the edge of despair, the middle classes who see their costs rising and benefits shrinking, show a lack of civic responsibility by thinking of their own selfish interests, instead of trying to please all those beaming corporation executives, decision-making politicians and movie stars who had their hearts set on the Constitution Treaty.
The very worst of all reasons for condemning the “non” vote is the “guilt by association” charge. Ian Williams considers that the fact that leftists “voted ‘no’ alongside Le Pen’s racists and fascists” is a “sight that should at least give U.S. progressives some pause for thought”.
In short, Le Pen should set the agenda for leftists: if he says “yes” they should say “no”, and vice versa. This is absurd. Every winning vote is the product of misunderstandings and contradictory motives. To point to an obvious historic example, FDR’s New Deal, which was supported by the U.S. Communist Party, won elections only thanks to the votes of Southern Democratic Party racists. Should the left have rejected social security for that reason? Only autocratic choices can be based on a single motive. Democratic choices are always the product of mixed motives.
In any case, the constant fuss about Le Pen is symptomatic of political impotence. The individual, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is an old-fashioned nationalist who specializes in provocative oratory, a sort of political clown who is currently fading. His only real political function for the past 20 years has been to enforce the politically correct consensus against him. In terms of organization and program, he is not even a “fascist”, but simply a reactionary with a snowball’s chance in hell of ever coming to power. There are many more truly dangerous politicians in the respectable mainstream.
The Myth of the EU Challenge to the U.S. Superpower
Williams blamed “French communists and leftists for their success in frustrating a multinational challenger to U.S. global dominance”.
The notion that the Constitution would amount to a bold challenge to the United States was indeed a favorite selling point of the “yes” camp. The constitution was supposed to be the necessary (and perhaps even sufficient) condition enabling the European Union to assert itself as a “counterweight” vis-à-vis the United States.
Asked which is the most powerful argument in favor of voting “yes” for the treaty establishing a European Constitution, the French centrist party leader François Bayrou replied: “The world is dominated by American power, rivaled by Chinese power. Do we want to accept the domination of those empires, of their social model? Or do we also want to count in defending our values?”
Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn put it more bluntly : “We need the European constitutional treaty to counter American hegemonism”.
This argument was no doubt sincere. But the plain truth is that the dream of a political Europe on the U.S. model, able to act as a united, rival superpower, was already a thing of the past. The advocates of a strong United States of Europe were long since outfoxed by the British “Trojan horse”, which pushed successfully for an enlarged EU that could only be a big open market. U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rude reference to “new” and “old” Europe pointed to a real split between nations whose governments identified with Europe and those more closely tied to Washington. The botched Constitution was supposed to make up for an overly hasty enlargement by tightening the bonds. But it was already too late.
The death knell of politically unified Europe, the old dream of the original geographic core group (France, Germany, the Benelux States), was sounded just one year ago when Britain vetoed their choice for E.U. Commissioner and imposed Juan Manuel Barroso, a conservative Portuguese former Maoist who had studied in the United States. Barroso’s youthful Maoism was of the variety aimed mainly at combating the Communists and leftists who made Portugal’s 1974 anti-fascist revolution and their friends in the African liberation movements. In his choice of Commissioners to run the EU “government”, Barros heavily favored the small countries of “new Europe” and neoliberal free marketeers.
If the “counterweight” claim was not valid, the French leftists were quite right to ignore it. The claim was contradicted by the text of the Constitution itself. The European Constitution ties the European Union to NATO, the main instrument of U.S. domination of Europe, and even to its current crusade: the “war against terrorism”. What more could Washington want? That Europe and its member States are deprived of any possibility of defining and pursuing a clair and effective independent foreign policy? Well, the proposed constitution would do precisely that, by obliging all member States to go along with a foreign policy decided unanimously. A perfect recipe for paralysis.
War and Peace
Far from fearing the European “rival superpower”, the United States has consistently supported European construction in the way it has developed, that is, as a big market economically open and politically harmless. The influence of the business community has progressively shoved aside the influence of the European federalists, whether they realized it or not. Economic strength and political weakness go hand in hand, as business lobbies rather than electorates dictate policies.
The original rationale of European unification was to bind together essential German and French industries so tightly that war between them would be impossible. As a further guarantee, the trans-Atlantic guardian angel would link the military forces of the former belligerants in a single alliance under its leadership. Many European Atlanticists have shared the belief that this double bond — economic and political unification of Europe, plus U.S. management of security — is the only way to ensure peace and prosperity for their countries.
Regarding peace, this would be more convincing had the United States drawn the same lesson from two world wars as the majority of Germans, French and Italians who, having suffered from destruction, foreign occupation and defeat, genuinely wanted to renounce war. The same applies to the Russians who, while finally victorious, had suffered the greatest human and material losses.
The problem is that for the United States, the lesson was not at all the same. In the American (and even British) mythology, the Second World War was the “good war” by which Good crushed Evil, thanks to U.S. military power, with the blessing of an interconfessional God. And they are ready to start over again.
A dangerous contradiction lies in the fact that this Europe, pacified by its own warlike excesses, feels secure entrusting the leadership of its military affairs, via NATO, to that superpower of European origin which for its part has not at all given up making war. The paradox is that this Europe which has given up making war against itself now risks being drawn by its U.S. protector into endless war against the rest of the world.
Ironically, the hasty eastward enlargements of the European Union owe a lot to a growing, unspoken rivalry with the United States. The pro-Europeans have long insisted on the need to “deepen” the Union before enlarging it. That is a simple matter of good sense: one can spoil everything by going too fast. Instead, they agreed to the rash incorporation of the Baltic States, with Rumania and Bulgaria coming up next. Certain of those countries (notably the Baltic States) seem to feel permanently threatened by Russia, despite Russia’s voluntary peaceful withdrawal. But Western leaders know perfectly well that Russia is not a threat. In reality, the E.U. enlargement to the East has much more to do with rivalry with the United States, whose influence is already predominant in those countries and which is strengthened by the enlargement of NATO. Of course, eastward EU enlargement must strengthen the influence there of Western European countries, but at the price of the European Union’s weakened independence from the United States.
The End of History Postponed Once More
A constitutionalized European Union has been the latest “end of history” Utopia. This super-corporation Europe, run by bureaucrats carrying out the recommendations of lobbyists (the real collective power in Brussels), is meant to cleanse Europe of politics. Because politics, and especially “populism”, are condemned as the source of fascism, of communism, and thus of the Gulag and Auschwitz. The people must be locked in an economic straitjacket where they can no longer do any harm. They must be neutralized, so the elites can run things undisturbed.
It takes a heavy dose of Utopian illusion to believe that a meaningful single foreign policy capable of challenging the United States could be agreed upon by consensus among 25 (and more to come) European countries. Such a Europe is incapable of challenging U.S. dominance. In the sixty years since the end of World War II, the only European leaders to have openly defied U.S. international policy were Olof Palme in Sweden and French President Charles de Gaulle at the time of the Vietnam war, and Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and the Belgian leaders at the time of the invasion of Iraq. They had their people solidly behind them, and could therefore be uppity. It is inconceivable that a European foreign minister, who must follow the instructions of 25 governments from Portugal to Estonia, could ever be so bold.
As for the economy, if, as Margaret Thatcher claimed, “there is no alternative” to her type of policies, everyone will end up there anyway, so why insist? On the other hand, if alternatives are possible, people must be free to develop them. The plain truth is that “Europeans” do not all agree by consensus on every possible issue, economic or political. Forcing them into a false unity can only kill their enthusiasm and initiative. The European “Superpower” is the dream of a small layer of business and political leaders.
It is excellent that European states have renounced war between themselves and moved to cooperate closely in many areas. This process can continue without a “constitution”. Europe’s richness is in its diversity, which should not be strangled by a fear of “nationalism” and “populism”. It is clear that, as things stand today, the majority of French people value social services above an unrestrained free market capitalism. Perhaps the British (but this is not certain) prefer to put free market capitalism above social services. Well, why not? Why not keep the European ties loose enough to allow social and economic experimentation? Let Europe’s peoples cooperate with each other, and with non-European peoples, when and as they want, in search of more just and viable economic and social solutions.
DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions published by Monthly Review Press. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org