Friday, April 15, 2005

Chirac's Greatest Political Failing and What He Really Fears Should the French Reject the EU Constitution

Besides mentioning what is "perhaps [Chirac's] greatest political failing" in Chirac’s European Constitution Show, Ashbrook's John Zvesper points out what the president really fears should the French electorate reject the Constitution: a "boomerang" effect of insignificance (however temporary), along with the attendant "black sheep" status, that Chirac would much prefer be reserved for countries such as Britain or Poland.
French electors will vote for or against the ratification of the "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe" on May 29th. Their debates farcically repeat one of the features of the French Revolution. That tragedy was ignited when the ministers of King Louis XVI, when calling for elected representatives to discuss financial and constitutional reforms, simultaneously invited the French people to submit lists of their complaints. As Simon Schama’s history explained, while some of the resulting lists of grievances were compatible with liberal reformers’ vision of a modern France "shaking off restrictions like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis," others clearly and more ominously showed a fearful desire "to return to the cocoon" of "a mythical France, governed by an all-seeing, just and benign monarch."

Chirac did not [answer the question of the signs pointing to the Constitution's insignificance], because to do so would have required that he abandon his long-established practice of playing to fears of "ultraliberalism" (the evils of which he has recently and completely irresponsibly compared to communism). In his television special — which had been postponed because of the Pope’s funeral — he repeated to his worried guests Karol Woltyja’s injunction: "Be not afraid." Yet … Chirac readily agreed with the sympathetic (and planted?) questioners who tried to counter French fears about economic competition from the new eastern European member states by pointing to similar (and in the event unfounded) fears when Spain and Portugal joined the EU in 1986. But he avoided drawing the conclusion that political and economic freedom is the best way to promote prosperity, for that would have made his defense of the Constitution sound like a defense of that detested monster, "Anglo-Saxon liberalism." The "conservative" Chirac’s fanning rather than trying to diminish French fears of this monster is perhaps his greatest political failing.

Chirac himself might even secretly believe that France’s interests would be served by a rejection of the Constitution. However, he gave his Elysée audience and television viewers a dire warning about France’s fate if the Constitution is rejected by the French electorate: "At least for a certain time France will cease to exist politically in the heart of Europe." Clearly this "boomerang" effect is what Chirac has in mind not for France and for himself, but for Tony Blair and the UK. If the Constitution — perhaps for good reasons — is to be rejected, Chirac would much prefer that the United Kingdom (with its referendum in 2006), or failing that then Poland, become the "black sheep" of Europe by voting against it. That would make it more possible for France to work with Germany and a few others on reviving the importance of the "hard core" (oldest) EU members.

In other words, it's all a matter of appearances — as so much of the so-called "debate" in old Europe really turns out to be…

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