Europe Divided

Despite the fact that the vast majority of countries that have voted on whether to adopt the European Union constitution have voted for adoption, the recent French and Dutch rejections highlight several serious problems for Europe.

In France, the “non” vote came as a result of several factors. First, there were the forces from the xenophobic right, preying on the fear if of too many foreigners in France. But above all, the vote was a victory for the left, with visions of the Paris commune, socialism suffused with idealism, and a rabid defense of the 35-hour workweek dominating. It was these forces that claimed that the “neo-liberal” constitution was a threat to their cradle-to-grave welfare state. Many French also believed that enlargement and further integration would challenge France´s “leadership” role in the bloc.

The hysterical statements from the left about the sufferings of the poor, coupled with the impotence of the government in convincing the people of the true worth of competition and respect for market forces, led to the rapid erosion of the fertile middle ground from which consensus and compromise spring. And so instead of a serious debate in France, industry and competition collided with the so-called “fonctionnaire-rioters” to create a situation that the rest of us could only view as surreal.

As political analyst Jiří Pehe wrote, the French rejection has grave repercussions. Indeed, France was the initiator of the project to integrate Europe. It supports the Maastricht criteria and chairs the European Convent. As such, in rejecting the EU constitution, the French have given a slap in the face to those countries that have thus far ratified it.

The French have proven yet again that their participation in any serious political venture of the last 100 years dooms that initiative to failure. One only needs to recall the Versailles Treaty, which set the stage for World War II, or the Munich Agreement of 1938, ceding Czechoslovakia to Hitler Most of all, France has proven that it remains since the area of Napoleon a nationalistic nation that has not found itself and that it is willing to drag others down with it as it struggles to do so.

For the Dutch, just as for the French, fears of further enlargement, including the further influx of new immigrants clearly contributed to the “no” vote. However, it was also the behavior of the present “leaders” of the EU that pushed the Dutch into rejecting the constitution.

The Dutch, who have engaged in effective fiscal reforms and who contribute 380 euros (USD 467/11,560 Kč) per Dutch citizen to fund the EU, were outraged by France and Germany’s recent about-face regarding their not meeting the Maastrict budgetary criteria.

Further outrage came when Greece and Italy admitted to falsifying their budgetary reports. It is quite easy to see why a country that supports all the others should object when the main protagonists do not respect the rules and bend those rules in their own favor.

In the Czech Republic, the debate about the EU constitution remains characterized by the absence of meaningful facts. Instead, along classical Czech lines, the debate is all about the two chief protagonists. President Václav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, measuring the size of their own hubris.

Klaus, one of Europe´s most vocal critics of not just the EU constitution but the entire EU as an organization, has been claiming all the while that the is presenting his personal opinion. Most view Klaus´posturing as a way to further increase his stature and power at home.

Prime Minister Paroubek has responded by clipping the president´s wings via threatening to curtail Klaus´ visits abroad unless the president adapts his statements to reflect Cabinet policy. In the end, the two met last week to iron out their differences.

Stay tuned. What remains for President Klaus to explain, along with other possible Euroskeptics of smaller countries, is just how we smaller countries should defend ourselves against economic powerhouses such as Germany should such powerhouses choose to leave the fold in a nonunified Europe.

As regards the new EU member states, there is often the perception among them that they are being used as potential scapegoats by the older and larger member states, despite the fact that it is precisely the new members who “can-do” attitudes and who are implementing changes that are consistent with emerging market forces.

In fact, many of the new member states feel that they are not part of the problem but rather part of the solution. As Lasylo Csaba, professor of international relations at Central European University, put it, “This is about the blame game, because the truth is always inconvenient.”

The truth is that Europeans seem to view integration more as a problem than as solution. Instead of optimism and compromise, frustration and a creeping fear of foreigners have emerged as the leading emotions underpinning much of the debate.

In this sense, Europe is far more negative feelings than it ever has been. The debate about the EU constitution is suddenly proving not to be a debate about the constitution at all. Though there is talk of welfare states, pensions and social rights, the debate has actually exposed the true measure of negative forces such as xenophobia and nationalism that still run deep in many parts of Europe.

It has also shown that leaders in politics and business have become completely disconnected from the populace, much of which remains mired in the mindset of a socialist welfare state. As such, Europe is indeed divided.

– The author is a physician and publisher of The New Presence.


The Prague Post8.6.2005

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