Saturday, April 30, 2005

French referendum on EU constitution, May 29

Hearts are aflutter across Europe in the run-up to the French national referendum on the draft EU constitution, with opinion poll suggesting that the French populace may reject it. My own gut feeling is that the French government will promise enough goodies in other areas to cause it to squeak by, but not by much. Here, however, is a good, short primer on the EU constitution and the French referendum, from the National Journal, thanks to RCP.

As I speak with my Western European law students -- LLM students from France, Germany, Spain, Holland -- it becomes clear that the issue is fundamentally Turkey. However much folks on both sides of the Atlantic write high-toned articles about the incomprehensibility of the draft constitution, French concerns about loss of influence in the EU under the draft constitution, the lack of democratic accountability and legitimacy in the EU - all of which is perfectly true, and then some - my students don't think those issues would cause a winning "no" vote in France or any other leading Continental power, whether France, Germany, or Spain (Britain is another matter). These are cultures in which the population is generally content to make democracy a very limited requirement, compared to American sentiment, and only a modest check on what are actually bureaucratic states. What tips things over, although it is especially impolitic to make too much of it on the French left, is Turkey.

If I were a Western European voter, I would share the concern. Culture matters, and Western Europe can't manage to integrate and assimilate the immigrants from dissimilar cultures that it has now. It told itself for a long time that this didn't matter, in a fit of politically correct multiculturalism, but of course it was quite wrong, as it now sees, too little, too late. Europe as currently constituted does not have the ability in any foreseeable future to absorb Turkey economically - it has its hands very full with Eastern Europe and former East Germany. It needs immigrants, to support economically its aging indigenous population, but it doesn't like or want the immigrants culturally, and they feel much the same way - and will eventually feel still more unhappy over the levels of taxation necessary to support the aging indigenous Western European population in the style to which it has become accustomed.

I can't see where taking in Turkey does anything other than exacerbate all those problems. Since I likewise don't see any moral obligation to open the EU's doors to everyone, including those who are profoundly different in culture, religion, wealth, and so on, I don't see why Europeans should be enthusiastic about an expansion of the EU to Turkey and, of course, they aren't. Immigration is a good thing, for Europe and the United States, but it has to be done in such a way that it absorbs immigrants into a common culture, one defined by citizenship and commitment to the fundamental values of the society into which they are entering. That sounds faintly un-PC in today's Western conversation - borders are merely arbitrary lines, the dominant culture must surrender itself to everything that wants to enter, because it has no legitimate moral case to keep anything or anyone out, the notion of a political community that constitutes itself by values that immigrants are expected to absorb is merely cover for nativisim or worse --

Well, sorry, not so long ago even American liberals thought that a commitment to US constitutional values was a necessary condition of citizenship and joining. The one liberal who genuinely had it right - but seems to find it impossible to act on his own analysis, in the sense of actually endorsing things like citizenship education - is Michael Walzer, in Spheres of Justice, from the early 1980s - a much ignored book, because it dared assert that with relatively narrow exceptions, claims of justice are local and particular in nature, claims upon a particular society.

That does not fit well with the prevailing human rights universalism, which proclaims that claims of justice are written in the sky by some transcendency (not, of course, God) and given earthly form by international organizations, in aspiration if not in fact. Merely functioning sovereign state democracies are merely parochial imitations of the real, planetary thing - nice as an outmoded model, but in fact an artefact standing in the way of true universalism. Particular political communities have no claim to universal values - and, bringing it back to immigration and assimilation - have no grounds to keep people out, or to keep people out unless they share in some values of that community, because only the universal political community, the dream of the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, has legitimacy and it, by its nature, knows no borders. Which is a pretty good description of liberal internationalism today - not for it the "really existing democratic sovereigns."

(Update, Sunday, May 22, 2005: Read Chris Caldwell's report on the upcoming vote in the Weekly Standard, here.)

(Update, Monday, May 23, 2005: Read Mark Steyn on the European constitution, here:

"At the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp in Poland, Sweden's European Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, declared: "There are those who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads."

Golly. So the choice for voters on the Euro-ballot is apparently: yes to the European Constitution, or yes to a new Holocaust. If there's a neither-of-the-above box, the EU's rulers are keeping quiet about it. The notion that the Continent's peoples are basically a bunch of genocidal whackoes champing at the bit for a new bloodbath is one I'm not unsympathetic to. But it's a curious rationale to pitch to one's electorate: vote for us; we're the straitjacket on your own worst instincts. Or as the cute but gloomy Omar Naber, the Slovenian Eurovision entrant, put it in his Naberly way: "Come on; tie my hands so I can drown In lies, I bleed to death in your lap."

And, insofar as the past 60 years in Europe have been comparatively non-bloody, that's surely due to Nato and the American military presence, both of which your average EU apparatchik would scrap in an instant without worrying about Theresienstadts looming round the corner. The nearest to a latterday Theresienstadt was Yugoslavia and that didn't exactly reflect well on the EU. Jacques Poos, foreign minister of Luxembourg and as the holder of the rotating Euro-Presidency the Union's chief negotiator with the disintegrating Yugoslavia, told the Americans to butt out and declared: "The hour of Europe has come!" The hour of Europe came and went, and a couple hundred thousand corpses later the EU was only too grateful for the Americans to butt back in again.

Why does so much of the continental governing class carry on like the sinister Mitteleuropean shrink from a 1940s melodrama, insisting that you're far too unstable to be allowed to leave the sanatorium? Well, either they're the loopy ones or they're desperate, and they'd rather talk about a new Holocaust than any of the more pressing questions - Turkey, the unsustainable euro, unemployment, over-regulation, deathbed demographics. Or maybe they talk about the Second World War because that's the only genuine pan-European topic.

Whatever the answer, the concentration-camps-around-the-corner argument is at least a useful glimpse into how the Eurocrats regard the citizenry. However the French and Dutch votes go, it seems unlikely that the EU's rulers will allow anything as footling as the will of the people to derail the project at this late stage. In Euro-referendums, there's only one correct answer; it's just that sometimes you have to have two votes before the people figure out which one it is. My sense is that the French will vote narrowly for the constitution and the Dutch will narrowly reject it, but either way the EU will figure out a way to inflict it on the Continent. A stitch-up in time saves, nein?

At least Saggy Hussein has his Y-fronts: "Look upon my briefs, ye Mighty, and despair!" as Shelley wrote. By contrast, the EU Emperors have no clothes other than their magic invisible Holocaust-repelling cloaks. They may win the vote, but the way they've conducted the campaign suggests that they know they've lost the argument.")

(Update, Thursday, May 26, 2005: RCP has an International Herald Tribune essay by Dominique Moisi urging a yes vote on the constitution. I rarely agree with Moisi, but I think he is perhaps the smartest French commentator regularly appearing in the English language press - I always read him very closely. I regard this as about as good an argument for "yes" as has appeared in short form in English - read it here. My own guess, btw, is that French voters are merely teasing their political elites with the possibility of a "no" vote and that it will squeak by.)

(Update, Sunday, May 29, 2005: Well, I was wrong about it squeaking by - it didn't squeak by, it got positively squashed like a bug. See the AFP report here. Seems like Tony Blair's life just got a lot easier. And although I think French voters rejected the constitution for all the wrong reasons, as a believer in freedom and democracy and democratic accountability, I can't say on principle to see it die.)

(Update, Tuesday, May 31, 2005: The UK Daily Telegraph reports on the arguments over whether to go forward with the ratification process or declare the constitution dead, here. Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Minister, seems to think, contrary to what the law says, that no single country has a veto, even though it requires every country's ratification to bring the treaty into force. Treaty proponents seem to want to press forward no matter what - I don't quite understand this and wonder if this is not a reflection of their utter out-of-touchness - the treaty will get rejected in the Netherlands and, if a referendum is held in the UK, there too. And by sizable majorities. Do that very much and it is much worse for the EU as an institution than giving up on a mere constitutional draft. Being in favor of democracy, I hope the constitution is presented and rejected in decisive terms across the EU, even if the French seem to have voted against it in defiance of the most basic law of economics - there is no free lunch. I know that numbers of French economic conservatives hoped for a yes victory in order to rationalize French economic policy, and that the 'non' campaign was a victory for economic shortsightedness. But if you have to choose between the democratic franchise exercised stupidly and no democracy at all even though economically efficient, I'm afraid that I'm with democracy. Eventually the Muslim immigrants to France who make up the next generation will get tired of paying the taxes necessary to support the 'non' generation and that will have many repercussions, for France domestically and for the United States. But freedom to be stupid is part of democracy, too. And it's not as if the Euro elites have done so well with their economic policies.)

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