Saturday, July 03, 2004

Solitude Française...

Journalist Eric Zemmour, author of the Chirac biography Chirac, L'homme qui ne s'aimait pas, published the following in to-day's Le Figaro:
For several days after the European elections, the French were everywhere. Skilled in the art of mobile warfare, they seemed to master politics like no one else. They gave one the impression that they were the last in Europe to believe in this. Or, at any rate, they faked it very well. The French have always had the rare gift of being able to hide their personal interests behind grand ideas. Chirac fought in the name of the "European power" ; [Socialst leader François] Hollande reestablished the "left-right split" ; [Former Education minister and UDF leader François] Bayrou sought to invent a genuine third way between economic liberalism and socialism.

It was a continuation of the electoral campaign. For a fortnight (only), and meeting with general indifference, [former Socialist Finance minister] Dominique Strauss-Kahn reinvented the Roman Empire, Bayrou found a new definition for the word federal, [Former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent] Fabius reintroduced his speeches on a Social Europe... from 1989. [Disgraced former RPR prime minister] Alain Juppé held hands with Helmut Kohl who had once held hands with François Mitterrand. The French, all French leaders, had behaved as if Europe were simply one big France, a sort of revived Napoleonic empire that our elites could adorn with both our cherished prefectures and our ingenious political ideas.

And now they are returning to Earth. The only claim to fame of the next president of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, is in having organized the great summit at the Azores where Bush, Blair and Aznar gathered on the eve of the war in Iraq. Jacques Chirac thus realized that the expansion of the European Union gave Britain a solid majority of which it certainly intended to make use. Even conjoined with Germany, France has found itself in the minority. "Europe's engine" is clogged. The Union's "bosses" have been toppled. Some are beginning to realize that the Franco-German duo can at best be no more than an alternative to the Europe that is forming, decomposing and reforming. An introverted position opposite a (greater) Europe that is supposedly following its natural tendancies: economic liberaism and Atlanticism, without complexes. A mere shoehorn for globalization. This "Françallemagne" can therefore be no more than a Continental and Lotharingian dyke buffeted by the tumult of the wider world. Land submerged by the sea.

And yet Chirac's Socialist opposition cannot take pleasure even in this. They have succeeded in having others forget that the government of Lionel Jospin ratified the increase in retirement age and the change in EDF's public status. On inviting [Spain's newly elected Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero to Toulouse on June 9, François Hollande pretended not to notice that the Spanish prime minister had refused to sign the Social Europe charter presented to him by his "amigo François." Though it is only anecdotal, the matter of the agreements made between the European People's Party (EPP) and the European Socialist Party (ESP) in the European Parliament is indicative of the isolation of France's Socialists. Even our German allies refuse to follow them, this time. For years, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats kept the gravy flowing among friends with presidencies, commissions, pennants and official vehicles. Little arrangements founded on a genuine ideological proximity between Social Christians and Christan Socialists.

But since the '80s, the EPP has veered to the right, increasingly economically liberal, less and less social; even increasingly euroskeptical, given the arrival of Italian Berlusconians and British Conservatives. The Socialists followed this path the right. And to-day, when [France's education minister] François Fillon explains that "the Raffarin government is further the left" than its European Social Democrat colleagues, he is not contradicted. Lionel Jospin defended himself by quite rightly pointing out that he "was the furthest to the left in Europe."

It is precisely because he has learned the lessons of this evolution in the EPP that François Bayrou is leaving it. During the electoral campaign, Bayrou, who isn't economically liberal in the least, argued in favor of a Federal Europe that would speak with a single voice, opposite the "titans" of the planet. He could hardly join the same group as the British conservatives who reject the euro and the Italian Berlusconians who feel quite at home under the American umbrella. But, in order to form a parliamentary group, Bayrou must ally himself with anybody else, British liberals who favor Turkey's entry into the European Union which the UDF rejects ardently or Italian radicals or someone like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who aren't at all hostile to gay marriage, from which the Christian Bayrou recoils in horror.

Such is the lot of the French in the new Europe, between Brussels and Strasbourg, between naïveté and cunning, between high universal principles and provincial ulterior motives, between idealism and cowardice, between arrogance and contempt for the balance of power. In the reactions of others, one can read surprise, exasperation or amusement with the French. Most of the time, they are not understood. Like dinosaurs? For years, we have been pedantically taught that Europe must be built in order to avoid isolation. We almost succeeded.