Friday, May 27, 2005

Living a country deep in Bolshevik regression

In France, the heart of the current debate is in some respects an appeal to the imaginary
explains John Vinocur in his contrast of the French and Dutch electorates, as they prepare to vote the EU constitution up or down.
Both the no and yes camps present the vote on the constitution in a missionary context. Its adoption either accelerates or prevents American control over Europe and the world; for the establishment that wants a yes, adoption keeps the Yanks off; for the diffuse web of no-voters, left and right, accepting the constitution rivets the United States to a place inside Europe.

Then there's the economic aspect, presented just as apocalyptically. For yes-people like Jacques Chirac, the constitution stops Europe from becoming a social wasteland under the thumb of Anglo-Saxon corporate raiders and capitalist locusts. But the French no-folks say the constitution enshrines exactly that world of horror. Block the constitution, and you block the pestilence.

This Franco-French prism placed in front of Europe — ludicrous for many Dutch and Europeans — is distorting to a point that a French Socialist politician, academic and yes-supporter, Olivier Duhamel, said last week that he felt was living a country deep in "Bolshevik regression" where Chirac sounded like Arlette Laguiller (a locally beloved Marxist hysteric), and where "liberal has become a pornographic word."

There is no raving, anticapitalist case to be made in a Netherlands of remarkably consensual relations between unions and management, where the Liberals (open-marketers) sit on the government benches and join the opposition Labor Party in calling for a yes.

Neither is there a save-us-from-America appeal, not so much because the Dutch like George W. Bush or the American-led war in Iraq, but because there's no emotional charge or rational goal for them in conjuring up a Europe with an identity defined in opposition to the United States. …

The head of the yes-campaign is Atzo Nicolai, secretary of state in the Foreign Ministry. His frankness startled just a little on a visit last week, but the Dutch have an edge on much of the world in the realization that their slightly abrupt candor creates more confidence than any amount of cleverness.

He said: "I'm afraid there's a negative idea out there among people that everything about Europe is decided above our heads by an elite. And indeed I agree. Over the past 20 years, we didn't have enough discussion about European integration. But there's a difference between complaints and voting about something serious."

The no side is equally nonshrill. The Dutch are big net contributors to the EU (putting in much more cash than they take out) and that is thought unjust. Alongside, there is a widespread idea, more so than in France, that the coming of the euro raised prices sneakily and unreasonably.

Check out the CA cartoon

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