by Alexander Cockburn
Itinerant pundits touching down briefly in Paris lost no time in stigmatizing the French for their resounding Non! in Sunday's referendum on the proposed Constitution for Europe. The French were charged with selfishness, self-absorption, nostalgia for a lost empire, unwholesome obsession with Descartes and Jacobinism, plus other crimes too frightful for individual citation.
Actually, the French did something both logical and heroic. The logic, supposedly a French trait, is simple enough: European Union has always been sold as integration in which living standards would be leveled up, not down; in which Europe would act as counterweight to America.
But since the European Union (EU) has produced a leveling down, particularly since the recruitment to the EU of poorer nations (and lower wages) in Eastern Europe, and since the new constitution seemed to ratify closer alliance with the world's No. 1 imperial power, logic dictated a Non, and 55 percent of French voters, in a 70 percent turnout, accepted the dictate.
The heroism comes in the form of the firmness of those French voters in rejecting a hysterical chorus from the European elites to the effect that their Non would spell catastrophe, that Europe would disintegrate and all the work of 40 years go for naught, that the forces behind Non were those of the right-wing nationalist Le Pen.
The French rejected the scaremongering, sensibly enough. The EU will not disintegrate, since the Treaty of Nice is still in effect. Le Pen was quiet, and the sinews of the Non vote were on the Left. The nationalism was not evil but an assertion of decent priorities.
All that's happened is the rejection of a proposed constitution with clauses on human and social rights markedly inferior to various national codes, including France's, with familiar stipulations on "free trade" (ratcheting down of wage scales, job loss, evisceration of social protections). Holland will probably now reject the constitution. As things stand, France's Non is enough to doom the Constitution, since the votes by 25 countries had to be unanimous.
The French are not "anti-Europe." As one young French trade unionist told a reporter, "our generation has grown up with Europe. There is no question of saying yes or no to Europe. The question is: What sort of Europe?"
The entity envisaged by the German bankers who drafted the Maastrict treaty proposed a Europe where iron economic stipulations denied any member country the most modest Keynesian antidotes to recession. Deficit spending was rigidly circumscribed, reflationary tools forbidden. As usual, bankers' stipulations had a chilling effect on European economies, which have mostly been feeble.
The British have fought tirelessly to prevent harmonization upward of social services. The French, which have some of the best public services in the world -- in health, education and transport, for example -- have duly noted Britain's disastrous privatization of its railways, its poor health services and its languishing schools. That kind of Europe does not appeal to them.
The European elites will try to shrug off Sunday's result as Gallic exceptionalism, best ignored. Back in 2002, Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Nice, and were rewarded for doing their democratic duty by Eurocrats insisting they vote again. After months of bullying, the Irish grudgingly reversed their opinion. It will be harder to do this to the French, particularly as the margin and the turnout were both hefty.
French and maybe European politics will take a step to the left. The French Socialists will probably kick out their leader, who bet all on Oui. The French Communist Party led a coalition of the left for Non, and its credibility is now much improved. Germany's left will be heartened at this smack in the eye for Chancellor Schroeder, whose social democratic/green coalition called for France to vote Yes.
After more the 30 years worldwide of the rigid "free market" economics launched in the early 1970s, the popular verdicts -- where such are permitted -- are slowly coming in. Across Latin America, "liberalization" (codeword for slash and burn capitalism) is a dirty word. All eyes are on Hugo Chavez and Venezuela. In India, hundreds of millions of voters registered their discontent last year. In America, discontent simmers, though as yet there is no vehicle for protest at the polls since both major parties are in agreement.
France spoke on Sunday for the millions in Europe who have seen their social protections and their wage packets dwindle.
That Non! could be the intimation of a new era, when the policies of the bankers and the financiers who have ruled for 35 years could at last be facing serious challenge.
June 2, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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