Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Cheese Eaters Say 'Non'

I find it ironic that rejection of the European Union constitution comes so resoundingly from ‘French’ voters. After all the idea of a single Europe united through trade at peace with itself, was first imagined by the French writer Victor Hugo in the mid-19th century. And it was in Paris in 1950s that the foundations for the modern EU were laid. Moreover for almost half a century the French have bandied about the idea of the EU as something uniquely French.

Having said that, I am not very surprised that the French derailed the EU. They have been moaning for some time now how the evolving EU is not quite ‘European’ in spirit and more Anglo-Saxon… The last time I looked both the Angles and the Saxons were from Europe, but isn’t it typically French to claim they are all for a ‘European’ Union and then grudge anything that does not look, sound or taste suitably French. One thing is certain -- the derailing of the one-Europe project will trigger a serious crisis in the EU. And I can’t wait to see on what grounds France will try to assert itself in Brussels.

The French ‘no’ coalition was manned by a motley bunch of domestic malcontents. At the top of the list were people moaning France's economic malaise; its 10% unemployment is often simplistically blamed on EU market reforms. Then there was the fear of the future admission of Muslim Turkey into the EU, and what that would mean for French jobs and rise of Islam in Europe’s heartland. Less tangible, but equally important, was the question of national identity and the popular belief in France's rightful place at the head of the European table. Never mind they have done little to deserve it. The admission of 10 nations to the EU last year not only brought in low-wage, market-oriented economies, but diluted French influence over the Brussels agenda and that is really what hurts collective French pride.

The media was full of a heart-broken French President, Jacques Chirac in the wake of the ‘no’ vote. But, I say spare no tears for Mr. Chirac. If anything, he is a victim of his own miscalculation. He has frequently used the EU as a tarbaby to deflect pressure from his government's tardy economic performance. No matter how passionately he then appealed to voters to say "yes", he couldn't turn this Brussels ennui around.

Many French voters saw the referendum as a chance to punish Mr Chirac. Having said that both Mr Chirac's political future and the direction of European integration face an uncertain future. Mr. Chirac, the wily politician that he is might have already deflected the blame – his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin resigned in the wake of the ‘no’ vote to be replaced by the colorful foreign minister Dominique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin.

The decision to seek the public’s opinion in a referendum was Mr Chirac's idea – apparently parliaments can ratify the EU constitution without one. Mr. Chirac sought public approval stating that "the honor and lifeblood” of democracy was at stake. The rejection amounts to a personal rebuff.

So where does the EU go from here? Well, that depends on whether the constitution is abandoned in its current form or a creative solution is found around the requirement that it must be adopted by all 25 member nations. The constitution is meant to streamline the EU's cumbersome workings and establish a president, foreign minister and a common foreign policy. As the Union has grown from its original six member nations, the need for transparent and efficient governmental mechanisms has become increasingly urgent.

The French and Dutch ‘no’ votes will push EU officials back into Brussels, possibly for a long hiatus. But the Union that has evolved over 50 years is unlikely to disappear overnight – French hubris notwithstanding. For now the EU will continue to operate under the treaty regulations of 2000. As for France, it will not withdraw, but last week’s ‘no’ vote has clearly dealt a cruel blow to any delusions it might have had about leading the EU.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Long Haitus...

It is nearly half a year to date since my last post, and despite promises to the contrary, I have not written one thing. Let me re-phrase that, I started out on half a dozen pieces but have failed to draw them to a satisfactory conclusion. No excuses. I just couldn't do a thing.

We have lots of big news on the home front. A big hurrah for the missus -- now officially a doctoral candidate. We are also expecting out own little bundle of joy this fall. And that promises to bring in lots of change into our lives. More on that in future posts. Stay tuned...