Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Don't be afraid" (of the big, bad constitution)

Last Thursday evening there was a debate on TF1 about the EU Constitution. It was President Jacques Chirac going up against a hundred or so young people. I was at my singing rehearsal, so unfortunately I didn’t see it, but the next morning on every radio station I tuned in to – one at home, one in the car, and one in my office – they were talking about it. From what I heard, the hundred weren’t convinced. So the likelihood is the millions watching weren’t either. Meanwhile, the survey machine has churned out more indications that the “no” vote is solidifying. It’s now at about 56% of voting intentions, and the referendum is only a month and a half away.

Both on an off the TF1 show, people opposed to the constitution seem to be opposed to it because they don’t like the direction Europe is taking. They don’t like what they view as the EU’s leanings towards a deregulated, unfettered, free market (libéralisme). Chirac maintains that the constitution, by virtue of the values written into it, is a bulwark against the unfettered “Anglo-Saxon” style free market. They’re against current trends such as globalization and delocalisation. A young lawyer brought up an interesting example, saying that her law degree and qualifications are not recognized in other European countries yet many other services are freely available here in France. So Europe remains a barrier for her. The president was apparently caught unawares on this and other issues raised.

I’m afraid my reading of the constitution hasn’t progressed much since my previous post on the subject, so I can’t really give you an informed opinion on that one. But the debate does seem to confirm what a French politician (sorry, can’t remember who it was!) recently said on France Info, that people who vote “no” on the constitution because they don’t like the direction the EU is taking will get the EU in its current state, with all its faults.

One thing I do know, from reading the daily series of articles appearing in Les Echos on the subject (subscription required), is that the constitution has a declaration of values including for example, “equality between men and women”. Rather than facilitating the entry of countries having trouble accepting such arcane principles, clauses such as these would seem to raise the bar on them (I’m thinking of a hypothetical example of a country straddling Europe and Asia that is demographically and culturally very different from the current European Union members).

President Chirac chalked it all up to pessimism. His message was “Don’t be afraid” (“N’ayez pas peur”). He even said that in the US young people are fundamentally optimistic whereas in France they are fundamentally pessimistic. Any comments on that one?

Anyway, nice message, but a wee bit late. He should have started putting it out, say a year ago. If the Bush administration’s tactics are anything to go by, if you drumbeat a message for long enough, people will believe it.

The French government would be having an easier time of it if there were less infighting. The strutting Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the right-wing UMP party currently in power (Chirac’s) is already jockeying for position in the 2007 presidential election. He didn’t watch Thursday’s debate because he was at some party meeting denouncing the current direction of French society. But he says he taped it and promises to watch it. Maybe I should give him a call so we can watch it together.



At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Tiz said...

The constitution, as you say, Steve, is indeed a big bad wolf. I thought I didn't want to know, and didn't really care, but I've just read a really enlightening article on it by a lawyer who has actually been into what this monster (850 pages) is trying to foist on us, and it's scary. For a start, no amendments would be possible, because it demands unanimity to vote any changes. (Unanmimity between 25 countries?) For another thing, it is not politically neutral, as a constitution should be. And there is no real democratic power. We would be putting out heads in a noose. If anyone's interested, I'd be delighted to send them this doc. And I shall certainly be voting no.

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for your comment, Tizzy. The article indeed gives insight into the "other" point of view. (Even though I can't vote on it, I'm sure you figured out how I would if I could.) Anyway, it gets a lot less scary once you read the footnotes. Basically I think his arguments fall apart like a house of cards.
The separation of powers argument is interesting. In my provincial American way, I've always thought that the US constitution guarantees separation of powers better than any European parliamentary system currently in existence. In most European systems, the parliament is both the legislative and the executive branch. So firstly, his argument seems a bit of "the pot calling the kettle black". Secondly, from my reading of the footnotes, the constitution gives the European parliament more power than it currently has.
The amendment argument is also interesting. Unanimity has been the rule all along, from Rome to Nice ... on certain topics. The Constitution is no different. Besides, if the constitution did not require unanimity, the same opponents would be bellyaching that an amendment can be rammed down our throats whether we like it or not.
If you haven't yet seen the article, you can access it here.
I also found this very interesting follow-up post from the author, Etienne Chouard.

At 8:36 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

The thing was doomed from the start. There is a reason the writers of the US constitution are called "framers": because that's what they did, create a frame. Then it was up to us, the artists, to fill it it. The recent EU constitution is rightfully going down in flames because the writers tried to be the artists themselves, not framers. Most scary was Giscard's comment about this thing lasting for 50 years. If so, then what's the point of living the next 50 years, if every detail of our lives has already been traced out? Thank God the French politicians made the fatal mistake of encouraging the eastward expansion. For in that eastward expansion (and in the UK's membership) lie the seeds of salvation for France herself.


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