Saturday, May 21, 2005

One big happy European family 

That's precisely why the Euro-establishment hates New Europe:
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Thursday he hoped France would vote against the European constitution later this month.

"I am not sure what the outcome of the French referendum will be but I sincerely hope France votes against the constitution," Klaus, a eurosceptic and vocal critic of the constitution, told AFP.

Asked why he believed all the countries that had voted on the constitution so far had ratified it, Klaus said he attributed it to a lack of public debate.

"To my great regret they have not been listening to the arguments against it. The constitution has been ratified by European bureaucrats and intellectuals who are exactly the group who will benefit from it," he said on the sidelines of a seminar on the European constitution in Prague.
Meanwhile, political storm already rages across the continent; while the elites are desperately trying to shore up the support, the blame game ("who lost the EU?") has already begun, as have speculations about the likely fall-out.

With just one week to go before the 29 May referendum, the opinion polls in France suggest that the EU constitution will go down 53 to 47 per cent. The support for the constitution's two main cheerleaders, Chirac and Prime Minister Raffarin, is also going south, plunging to 39 and 21 per cent respectively. When faced with a political crisis of this magnitude, many in France do what the French normally do in those circumstances - blame Great Britain:
The yes-no debate has boiled down to a central theme: the role of free-market capitalism, or what the French call liberalism. Does the constitution protect France from this "Anglo-Saxon" system, or does it condemn France to servitude in an EU that is merely a British-led trading zone?
Whichever way the referendum goes, Britain is the winner - a proposition arguably not shared by the British themselves, who hardly feel thriumphalist. A leaked memo from a former UK Minister in charge of European affairs blames Chirac's lackluster leadership on the troubles in France:
The French political class campaigning for a "yes" vote on May 29 suffers from a "lack of leadership in explaining, defending, promoting the EU... not as an extension of France and French interests," Denis MacShane wrote.
Prophetic words, considering they were written a month and a half ago. A dirty little secret in Great Britain is that the French "non" might throw big enough a spanner into European works to absolve Tony Blair from having to hold Britain's own referendum any time soon. Blair wants the UK to join in the new and improved Union, but it is arguable whether a majority of his countrymen and women share his enthusiasm for the EU. After the difficult last few months, Blair is unlikely to want to further tarnish his legacy by unsuccessfully trying to ram through a Europe vote. This poison chalice might have to wait for Blair's successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown, a mean farewell gift from Tony, as he rides into the sunset sometime over the next year or so.

On June 1, it's Holland's turn to go to the polls, and it looks like the referendum will go down by an even bigger margin than in France - the latest polling has the "no" vote leading by 54 to 27 per cent. The Dutch referendum is non-binding (the parliament will make the ultimate decision), but the main political parties are promising to take the result strongly into consideration if the turnout exceeds 30 per cent. Ironically, just as in France, the "no" campaign is being run mainly by the left, which is hoping to get an added morale boost from the French "no".

No wonder, with the stakes so high, the pro-integration forces are in overdrive. Germany's Schroeder and Poland's Kwasniewski both arrived at a summit with Chirac at Nancy, warning of dire consequences should the EU's founding state turn and devour its own child. "Europe needs France... France is facing a great responsibility, the responsibility of not letting down other Europeans," said Schroeder, with a hint of desperation. "A negative French response could be difficult to explain to the Poles," argued Kwasniewski. I'm not sure how much appeal the German and the Polish leaders have within the French electorate, but their entreaties are not nearly as bizarre as the new German invasion sweeping the country:
Those French citizens who thought they would spend a quiet day at the Louvre this week have found themselves assaulted by German youths, dozens of them, intent on plying them with blue-and-yellow flags, heaps of literature and long, impassioned arguments.

"I'm asking you, as fellow Europeans, to think about whether you want my people to retreat back into our old history," Hans-Stefan Stemmer, a 20-year-old Berlin university student, told a bewildered elderly couple in fluent French the other day in the museum's elegant courtyard. They declined his offer of European Union flags, but said they'd think about his entreaties.

Mr. Stemmer and hundreds of his comrades are part of a desperate last-ditch effort this week by leaders across Europe to persuade the French to vote in favour of adopting the European Union constitution in a May 29 referendum.
First they came with guns, now they come with little flags. As they say, first time a tragedy, the second time a farce. But considering Europe's bloody history, I'll take the farce any day.


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