Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Vinocur Uses the John Kerry Postulate to Explain the Yes Camp's Dilemma on France's EU Constitution Referendum

In France, detractors dig in on EU charter
writes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune as he proceeds to explain the John Kerry Postulate for informed guessing on voting behavior.
As far as the constitution is concerned, the president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, has described the real problem as a deep "malaise" in the French relationship with Europe. Most of all, it goes to a sense of lost French influence in an expanded EU, and to the absence of the idea that this new Europe ever could do anything again for France.

Minus any enthusiasm, the very particular weakness of the "yes" campaign lies in the fact that both its Gaullist and Socialist proponents have explicitly said nothing like a catastrophe is at hand as a result of a "no" vote.

Products of French politics' endless incantation on the country's capacity to exist autonomously, voters here just wouldn't believe it — or politicians trying to win them over pre-demonize them as irresponsible and unpatriotic.

So the "yes" camp is stuck with the path of reassurance, saying disasters don't loom whatever the result. That leaves black paint and trepidation mostly to the "noes" and their pitch that the constitution will kill the protection and support systems of the European Social Model.

The only safe play involving cataclysmic warnings by the "yes" people seems to be anti-Americanism. They admonish: don't dump the constitution and leave the world to the domination of the United States. But the "no" campaign's grab bag of dissident voices from the left and right have staked out that zone too, saying a "yes" vote officializes Europe as a vassal to NATO.

The second part of the John Kerry Postulate slides into place here.

In order to beat Bush, Kerry calculated he needed votes from the center. To get them, he promised that America would win in Iraq and do nothing that would look like a dishonorable pullout.

In spite all of the contrary rhetoric, this left Kerry largely not dissociable from Bush on the war.

In France, while the "no" camp warns that ratifying the constitution would put in place a cruel, hyper-capitalist Europe, stripped of its social safeguards, the "yes" proponents reassure voters that nothing irreparable will happen if they say no. The Postulate Part II argues that when you're talking about something grand or ominous, and you validate your opponent's position by saying (or tacitly accepting) it is not fatal, you lose again. (See Kerry on Iraq.)

Identifying the exact meaning of a French rejection of the constitution — its "no" vote would seem to derail the European ratification process — is perilous because so much of the French political establishment has put itself in the position of saying it ain't no big deal.

On balance, though, rejection would almost certainly diminish French influence.

A less reliable France could hardly enchant Germany or continue to serve Europe as quite the same central counterbalance across the Rhine.

At its least reassuring, a "no" vote would come within the context of the view of a group of German political scientists who have warned since the Iraq war that Gerhard Schröder is trying to steer Germany's economic and foreign policy in the direction of strictly national interests.

In their increasingly nervous search for effective rhetoric, some of the pro-constitution folk — unable to talk about a disaster for Europe, or dare say a word about losing a handhold on the Germans — have turned to invoking Charles de Gaulle.

He would have voted "yes" in the referendum, they claim.

The fact is, as he threatened and on schedule, de Gaulle resigned from office in 1969 the day after his project for French regional restructuring was voted down in a national referendum.

In terms of France and its politics' eternal call to grandeur and vision, or of Chirac, who has not laid his job on the line to save Europe's constitution, that seems long, long ago.

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