Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The French vote is a victory of democracy against an opaque and elite process that few people really understood

The European Union's constitutional treaty began life three-and-a-half years ago as an attempt to bring the EU "closer to its citizens"
writes the Wall Street Journal.
After Sunday's resounding defeat in France, of all places, the treaty may be said to have achieved a kind of ironic vindication.

The French vote is a victory of democracy against an opaque and elite process that few people really understood. It is also a defeat for those leaders, notably French President Jacques Chirac, who have been unable to deliver on what they promised from a united Europe. The defeat shouldn't be seen as a renunciation of "Europe" writ large, so much as for a particular narrow vision of the Continent.

The document itself is a monstrosity running to 485 pages. As a flavor of its character, consider that one of the treaty's "annexes and protocols" concerns the right of the Sami people to husband reindeer.

… the French may well have done the right thing for the wrong reason. The opposition included much of the political left, which derided the constitution as an ultra-liberal (in the classical sense of liberal), Anglo-Saxon thing, destined to strip Europe of its social-welfare model. At the same time, Mr. Chirac asserted that the constitution was France's only bulwark against the encroachment of Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chirac's main political opponent in his own ruling party, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued for the constitution on the same grounds that the no camp argued against it--that it would help France by forcing it to reform its bloated welfare state, create more jobs and increase economic growth. We think Mr. Chirac's view of the actual document is the closest to the truth--that it would have enhanced the leverage of French socialism on the Continent--which is why it's just as well that it was defeated.

Probably the underlying sentiment among "no" voters was their rejection of the paternalism with which this constitution, along with so many other EU initiatives, was sold to the public. Europeans are increasingly tired of being told to take their medicine and not ask too many questions. An AP story got to the heart of the matter in quoting one Emmanuel Zelez, a film editor, who said, "I voted 'no' because the text is very difficult to understand. Also, I'm afraid for democracy. The way the EU functions is very opaque. Many people there are not directly elected."

… Once this document dies the death it deserves, the europhiles may conclude that the next time they draft a constitution they'll have to listen more closely to the people it purports to represent.

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