Sunday, April 24, 2005

Bolkestein Gets Wolfowitzed

At a moment when France is leaning toward rejection of the EU's new constitution in a referendum in May, the name and the project have served Jacques Chirac with a unifying banner — noble-France-battles-hypercapitalist Bolkestein — meant to save the so-called European social model from the cold breath of reality, and himself from the disgrace of the French turning their backs on their president
writes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune.
And there is Paul Wolfowitz, the United States' deputy secretary of defense, now George Bush's nominee to become the next president of the World Bank, whose name, repeated as an evil incantation throughout America's involvement in Iraq, has taken on a life of its own in European opprobrium. For catalyzing rage against the United States and suggesting the world is in the hand of shadow figures, saying Wolfowitz again and again has sounded just right over the last three years.

Stacked together, the men sat journalistically one on top of the other [recently] on the opinion page of the Paris newspaper Le Monde. An article with the headline "The Bolkestein Stakes" hovered directly over one that said, "Wolfowitz: Bad Makes for Good."

Wolfowitz got described by the newspaper in an editorial as a man "whose personality" was such that his choice to run the World Bank demonstrated new American arrogance. The suggestion was also that America's neo-cons, Wolfowitz at their head, vaulted over Donald Rumseld, Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration, to insert an ideological chip into Bush's brain that resulted in "the crusade of good against evil."

On reflection, and on the European scale, Bolkestein has gotten Wolfowitzed. Over the past months, just as Wolfowitz before him had been marked as the plotter behind a world clash of civilizations, Bolkestein became the sinister personification of a perceived cabal to tear apart Europe's social protections.

In fact, it was the collective and unanimous decision of the European Commission last June, including its two French members, to put in place a measure opening the 70 percent of the EU economy that is the service sector to cross-border competition. For the politicians and activists who wanted it blocked, Bolkestein became their bloody shirt.

The name (Bolkestein was the EU commissioner who drew up the directive) became a brand. It gurgled from radios: "Bolkestein, Bolkestein, Bolkestein." To some media wits, it rhymed with Frankenstein. Market tested against the Bush bogeyman - François Baroin, a Chirac-allied pol, gave, "A no vote to Europe is a vote for Bush" a quick try - Bolkestein proved to have vastly greater shelf life.

A less-loaded sounding reference to "services directive" gets used, according to The Associated Press, in places like Britain, Ireland, Poland, Spain and even Germany. But in France, obsessed by maneuvering on the constitutional referendum, both left and right rushed, straight-faced, to defend la patrie from Bolkestein's horde of invading Czech plumbers about to undercut French prices by half.

Protesters shouted, "Bolkestein, we'll get your ass." Chirac is absolutely not a bigot, but in a country where statistics published last week showed record levels of racist and anti-Semitic acts, it would be Pollyannaish not to think this might be all part of the same zenophobic cloth. …

… while Wolfowitz has the loyalty of Bush and is next to certain to be approved at the World Bank - the nexus is a tradeoff in international posts between the United States and France - Bolkestein feels let down by Europe. In this sense, the contrast between the support Wolfowitz has received from the administration and Bolkestein's sense of abandonment at the expense of European political weakness is remarkable. …

Europe, in Bolkestein's mind, had become terrified about a concept certain to create vast numbers of jobs. He saw the European Commission's lack of fight against the Chirac-led charge to water down the services directive as emblematic of its lack of self-confidence.

"In the broader sense, it's a lack of self-confidence all through Western Europe. They're afraid, they're scared and that's a big story."

As for France, a country that he truly likes but that helped turn his name into "scapegoat," Bolkestein said: "The French feel they are losing control in Europe. They don't like competition, the market, or enlargement. It's the fear of the unknown, and it's exaggerated because it's French."

He paused. "Personally?" he asked of himself. "My name has been misused. There's an element of xenophobia in all of this, not to say more."

To say more: In collecting comments on Wolfowitz's nomination as head of the World Bank, Agence France-Presse, the news service, wrote that an analyst at a left-wing Washington think-tank said that putting Wolfowitz in charge was akin to giving Herod the keys to the nursery. …

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