Monday, May 30, 2005

What Euro grandees do when their voters tell them "non"

(Update, Tuesday, June 21, 2005: Mark Steyn on the divergence between Euro-elites and Euro-voters after the French and Dutch no votes, here.)

(Update, Monday, June 6, 2005: See this superb article by the Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell on the meaning of the French and Dutch no votes, here.)

Well, if you are Peter Mandelson, formerly Blair's close advisor and currently EU minister for trade, you look stern and say ... "One country, even France, does not have a veto, but this vote cannot be ignored." (From the Guardian, via RCP, here.)

But of course, since the treaty requires that each and every EU country pass it, whether by referendum or parliamentary action, one country, indeed every country, does have a veto. As with so many matters in the EU, "democracy" turns out to be a one way ratchet - if you approve what the Euro grandees want, that's great, but if you don't approve, well, we'll just ignore you and continue the long march through the institutions. Hence the reaction of the president of the EU parliament, the president of the EU council, and the president of the EU commission, here, via EU Web Log, here:

"We fully respect this expression of the popular vote, which comes as a result of an intense debate. The result of the French referendum deserves a profound analysis, first and foremost by the French authorities. They need to be allowed sufficient time for this analysis. For their part, the European institutions will also have to consider, in due time, the results of all ratification processes.

Let us recall that nine Member States, representing almost one half (49%) of the EU population, have already ratified the Constitutional Treaty, including in one case through a largely positive popular vote, and that the majority of Member States have not yet had the opportunity to complete the ratification process."

So what do we make of this? On the one hand, the Euro grandees, we are told, respect the popular vote. On the other hand ... nine member states, with 49% of the population, have already ratified - although only one of those was actually a popular vote. The issue for the Eurocrats, it appears, is how to steamroll ahead with the project while not appearing to disrespect the French "non" vote. My guess is that the grand constitutional gesture will be put aside, and all the central aims will be done by some sort of deal-making in the backrooms of Brussels and Paris and Berlin.

It all has the air of Saint-Juste, arguing in the French assembly for the execution of the king. He recognizes that the merely popular will would spare the king but, taking a page from Rousseau, argues that the general will, the abstract will of what the people would do if they were fully rational, demands that the king lose his head.

(In one sense, the idea of the general will over the popular will is extremely, inevitably French, because Rousseau never really caught on with the Anglo-American democrats. On the other hand, there is a pronounced version of it in America today - it is what folks such as Amy Guttman, Dennis Thompson, and Cass Sunstein argue as "deliberative democracy" - the bold philosophical stroke by which merely popular sovereignty is ignored in order to do what the elites wanted done in the first place.)

Could it be that Jeb Rubenfeld's arguments for popular sovereignty, which he treated (consistent with all the evidence) as a fundamental difference between American and Continental political traditions, actually have some resonance even in Western Europe?

(Update, Sunday, June 4, 2005: Simon Jenkins, The Peasants' Revolt, here.

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