Hey, it’s good to know that the French elites are not the only ones to be out of touch. This week’s Economist shows in its full splendor the real reaction of official Britain (from the “Charlemagne” column, which is the unofficial mouth of the British elite on Europe):
IT IS perhaps tactless to point it out, but France’s rejection of the European Union constitution is, in lots of ways, a triumph for Britain. For at least 50 years, the British have had two main goals in Europe. The first was to blunt the drive towards European political union; the second, to prevent Franco-German domination of European politics. With the death of the constitution both goals have been achieved at once.
Let me tell you why this is really silly.
from the same Charlemagne column
That is why the purest statement of Britain’s European strategy is to be found not in any official document, but in an old television show, “Yes Minister”, which was a favourite of the then Mrs Thatcher’s. In an episode from 1980, Sir Humphrey, the feline civil servant, explains to his bewildered minister: “Britain has had the same foreign-policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe.” Enlargement of the European club, he adds, is the key: “The more members it has, the more argument it can stir up, and the more futile and impotent it becomes.” Any resemblance between a 25-year-old comedy show and real life is, of course, entirely coincidental.
So Chirac with a black eye, the Brussels elite brought down, and a disunited Europe in full headless rooster mode, with France and Germany at odds. Is that really in the UK’s interests? Seriously?
Yeah, what a great victory for provincialism and arrogance.
Just like the French “non” partisans, who think that the French can decide on their own what Europe should look like, the Brits are still stuck in a happy history when the only thing that matters are diplomatic and political games between the European powers, and where the British overriding goal is still to divide and rule. This would be pathetic if it weren’t so tragic.
Europe is no longer the center of the world, and making other European countries, and the European project itself, weaker is not going to make the UK stronger or more relevant. It’s just wishful thinking, worse, it’s shooting oneself in the foot.
Here’s what their main editorial says:
Rather than indulging in more backroom bargaining, Europe’s leaders should draw two broader lessons from the French and Dutch noes. The first is that rejection of the constitution signals that the dream of deeper political integration and, in the 1957 Treaty of Rome’s famous phrase, “ever closer union”, is over. Instead the EU should move in the direction of being a looser, less federalist and more decentralised club. The French and Dutch votes also surely rule out the creation of a more integrated core of a few countries, including these two, that moves faster than the rest towards a political union.
The second lesson is that the club must pass more powers back to its members, to make the EU’s supposed “subsidiarity” principle (decision-making at the lowest sensible level of government) a reality. It is true that opponents of the constitution have displayed contradictory views–some wanting more economic liberalism and freer markets, others a social Europe with more fettered markets. But the only way to accommodate such diversity of views is to give countries a choice.
This is not to say that there can be a free-for-all without a referee. Even opponents of the constitution mostly accept the EU’s single market, which embodies the Rome treaty’s principles of a free flow of goods, services, labour and capital. Such a market requires policing, for instance of state aid to companies, curbs on migration or the application of competition rules.
This is delusional in the extreme.
The majority of the French “non” was precisely a vote against that purely economic (“libéral”) vision of Europe, and pretty much all of both the “non” and the “nee” votes were against the “free flow of goods, services, labour and capital”. The vote was resoundingly a rejection of the enlargement, which has been the “single, consistent goal” of the UK, and of the accompanying economic and social pressure on “old Europe” and the increasing appearance of powerlessness of the original countries.
How the Economist can find satisfaction that their ideas have been resoundingly rejected, and this rejection somehow means that these ideas will prevail, is beyond me.
Even as the British pursued the single, consistent goal of enlargement, the French suffered from a lack of strategic vision. As one senior French commentator puts it, “we always go into European summits determined to fight to the death for something. Unfortunately it is always a different thing.” At Nice in December 2000, Mr Chirac’s goal was to keep the same number of EU votes as Germany, despite the much bigger German population. He succeeded; but only a few years later, France abandoned the point and conceded more voting power to Germany. Instead, Mr Chirac adopted new goals: an EU defence initiative, getting a Frenchman appointed to head the constitutional convention, protecting the status of the French language.
Such jumpy inconsistency reflected an underlying fear that the EU, France’s baby, was growing out of its control. In 2001 Le Monde asked on its front page: “Who will dare say no to enlargement?” The answer was certainly not France. Moral scruples may have played a part. But France also realised that blocking enlargement would cause an unthinkable rupture with Germany, which badly wanted its eastern neighbours in the club. French leaders were trapped; some of their fears may have been transmitted to the people who this week voted no.
So kudos to the UK for having a single goal (but of course, it is always easier to try to break things than to build anything), and for having less tactically mediocre leaders than France’s , which were not able to bring any new project to the fore. The above description about France fighting to death each time for a different thing is spot on, and probably the best description of Chirac’s oppostunistic and hollow politics, which are also one of the core causes of the French “non”. Yes, to all of you kossacks that hate Blair with a passion, you have to realise that Chirac, despite his (needlessly provocative) grandstanding against the US in 2003, is a lot worse and has brought nothing but stagnation to France in the past 10 years, along with the illusion of being important on the world stage.
And as the argument will certainly be brought up in comments – I am certainly not denying that France has always been fighting relentlessly for its own selfish interests in Europe, quite the contrary (and I hate agricultural subsidies with a passion and cannot stand the fact that France wastes so much political capital and energy on defending this mostly absurd system). What I am saying is that France HAS also made more compromises and concessions than anyone else to get Europe going.
As I have written elsewhere, Europe moved forward when France and Germany, with opposed views on most everything, forced themselves to compromise. Whenever national interests prevailed, Europe went nowhere. That was the lesson of the Nice Treaty in 1999, when each country defended its national interest so narrowly that the result what a Treaty universally considered a catastrophe. The lesson Chirac and Schroeder, both tepid Europeans, learnt from that was that, however little they enjoyed each other, they HAD to talk and compromise, and that was the impetus for the Constitutional Treaty, which, whatever its faults (many imagined) had two great qualities:
- it really improved the existing treaties, with which we are no stuck (including of course all the “free-market” stuff)
- it embodied the spirit of cooperation and compromise between all European countries, which is, in itself, a worthwhile goal.
From their main article on the French vote, the Economist’s “reality based” journalists (as opposed to its ideologically minded editorialists) acknowledge some of the consequences of the “non”/”nee”:
The French will kick up a fuss on other issues too. Mr Chirac will press harder than ever to scrap the rebate that Britain enjoys on its contribution to the EU budget, which will worsen his already bad relations with Britain’s Tony Blair, who will take over the EU presidency from Mr Juncker in July. France will also oppose further economic liberalisation, in direct opposition to the European Commission. Watching from Berlin, one senior German official predicts gloomily that “if France pushes its national interests even harder, others will do the same. We may be entering a new era of national egoism.”
How that’s good for the UK is something I need explained.
Because one thing is certain – the easiest way to make all of Europe agree on one thing is to excite their national interests against the UK’s, everybody’s favorite enemy.
Do the Brits really expect everybody to turn on the French or even the Dutch after last week’s votes? Do they expect the rest of Europe to come and tell the French to stop their silly whining, shut the fuck up, or else?
The visionary French, inspirers and builders of the Europe as it exists, have legitimacy to be pains in the ass, a privilege they certainly use and abuse. The whiny Brits are pains in the ass, full stop. Europe has ALWAYS been a political project from the start, and if you still believe that it’s a purely economic union, well get rid of the past 30 years of politicians that have lied to you about that.
Remember how everybody was hoping to use a rejection of the Constitution by the UK as an excuse to kick them out?
And that’s how it still will be:
European Union leaders on Friday piled pressure on Tony Blair to surrender part of the UK’s controversial EU budget refund or risk plunging Europe into deeper political turmoil.
The prime minister risks finding himself isolated in his rejection of a surprise deal on the new seven-year EU budget at an EU summit on June 16-17.
The comprehensive rejection of the EU constitutional treaty by France and the Netherlands in the past week has lent new urgency to European leaders’ attempts to strike a budget deal, and solidified the opposition to Britain’s position.
Did they seriously expect anything else?
I’ve written about this several times, so please don’t accuse me of the similar sin of loving to hate the Brits (despite my occasional rants!): either we start talking and forcing ourselves to compromise and find solutions, or we’ll ALL end up being irrelevant.
The Iraq war has demonstrated that the USA don’t listen to the UK any more than they listen to France. Following the USA blindly is as ineffective as opposing them systematically. But finding a compromise first and speaking with the backing of both sides works, as shown by the fact that the Big 3 European countries’ negotiations with Iran have credibility with both the iranians and the Americans and are not dismissed out of hand by either (that does not guarantee success, of course, but at least it provides a seat at the table.
France and the UK, as two of the largest European countries, the oldest nation states, with military and diplomatic presence around the world, need to talk and forge compromises together. anything that is acceptable to both is likely to be acceptable to most Europeans, as the two countries represent two opposed poles on pretty much everything, and anything agreed by both will be hard for anyone else to fight against (just as was the case between France and Germany in earlier days).
But the UK needs to show that they are willing to join the game. France did it with Germany, so the ball is not in our court as much. Both countries need to acknowledge their deep seated mistrust and basically say: okay, this is distateful, but we NEED to find an agreement with these $%ù*, or we’ll both become irrelevant.
(And I’ll get back to the relative economic performances of France and UK in recent years in a future diary. One word: oil)
I understand the neo-cons gloating. I don’t understand the Brits. Nationalism in Europe is a game they’ve survived, but shouldn’t we have more ambitious objectives than surviving these days? The UK in or out of a weak Europe is essentially irrelevant, and it will be only a minor consolation that France is just as irrelevant.