Friday, April 29, 2005

The French government's mistake (one of them)

I’ve just come up for air after a week or two of non-stop translation of a company’s sustainable development report, in which the company explains what a good corporate citizen it has been. Even if this is true, to reassure myself that all was not yet quite right with the world, I asked S. what she thought of the EU Constitution.

As usual, her answer was enlightening and went right to the core of the issue. She knows instinctively how to access and give voice to unconscious thoughts. She said that people who want to vote against the constitution feel that they’ve watched Europe grow by leaps and bounds. They’ve watched European “laws” and “directives” govern more and more of life in France without anyone asking them about it. They understand very little of how “Europe” functions, how the powers of the Commission compare or interact with those of the European parliament or the Council of Ministers. I would add that they’re vaguely aware there’s a rotating six-month presidency, but they haven’t a clue as to what the EU president actually does. So now, for once, someone’s asking their opinion, and they’re not going to miss the opportunity to say a resounding “no”.

I would also add that it’s especially because the government in power is asking them to vote yes. The French government has been in the doghouse lately. It can’t seem to get anything right. Voting yes would be very uncool.

Curiously, when the people’s vote is requested, such as at European parliament elections, participation is the lowest of any type of election. Maybe it’s because people believe the EU parliament has no power, but I suspect it’s because no one really knows what the EU parliament does. Also the candidates seem to be a sort of second-tier group of politicians whose real ambition is to land a prestigious post on their domestic political scene.

Many people view the constitution as written by and for Eurocrats, and what Eurocrats want, according to this view, is for Europe to continue down its current path, only faster. They view the Constitution as facilitating the entry of Turkey, for example. Yet it seems to me the Constitution’s declaration of values, including for example, equality between men and women, would set a tougher standard than exists today, tending more to forestall the entry of a country like Turkey until certain standards were met.

The French government’s error in this campaign has been to think it can reverse 30 or more years of pent-up frustration in a two-month campaign.



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