Tuesday, June 28, 2005

French books on the EU Constitution vote

The Times Literary Supplement ran in its June 3, 2005 issue, No. 5331, Page 24, an enlightening review by Robert Jackson, a former British MP, of three French books on France, Europe, and the referendum in France on the EU constitution:

Non, merci:
The battle of the European Constitution (it's about halfway down the page currently)
Robert Jackson

Jacques Généreux
165pp. Paris: Seuil. 12euros. 2 02 080332 1

Elizabeth Guigou
320pp. Paris: Seuil. 18euros. 2 02 060044 7

Dominique de Villepin and Jorge Sempru
239pp. Paris: Plon. 18euros. 2 259 20269 1

Jackson's graceful account of the three books is a very useful exercise for American readers, trying to get a sense of the debate within France itself - the authors are all senior, credentialed members of the French elite - a socialist economics professor calling for "non," a socialist former minister calling for "oui," and the now famous Vicomte de Villepin, a neo-gaullist calling for "oui."

Jackson stresses that whatever the differences in their political conclusions, all the authors all share three fundamental assumptions: "[A]ll are agreed that Europe’s problem is essentially an institutional one – that the European project is the indispensable political project of the twenty-first century – and that France must have the dominant voice in the working-out of this project."

By "institutional," Jackson and the authors mean the "ever closer union" within unified, federal political structures, resulting in what Genereux describes (and all would agree to) as the "reinforcement of political cooperation and social harmonization from above." Genereux and de Villepin agree that the way forward is through closer union of the "hard core" original six states, pushing political and economic integration around the French-style social model, to cut off the possibility of further encroachment of the dreaded Anglo-Saxon market model. As Jackson puts it:

"[E]ven the sympathetic reader from outside France will ask, impatiently, what sort of economic policy all this new process should aspire to deliver. Généreux is clear – he wants an end to the European market economy. De Villepin, a typical foreign minister, diplomatically passes over the question. Guigou wants “a new growth pact” – a Keynesian reflation backed up by sectoral industrial policies. There must also be staunch resistance to “the winds of liberalism and diminution of the social”.

But [Guigou] notes apprehensively that these winds “are blowing ever more strongly in Europe and the world”, and she also remarksthat one of the reasons for the failure of economic co-ordination in the 1990s was that “the economic and financial ministers were . . . suspicious of positions which were too ‘political’ in relation to economic and financial orthodoxy”. In other words, despite the authors’ agreement about the importance of European institution-building must be put the fact that there is no similar agreement about what the European institutions should actually be doing. This uncertainty did not go unnoticed by the French electorate, and must have contributed to the No vote. What, after all, is the point of paying for a new car if you do not know where to drive it?"

The other crucial meeting of minds between these authors is the indispensability of the European project to the world as a whole, and France's indispensable role in leading it. The implications for European foreign policy are nothing short of - well, fantastical:

"The other big point on which all the authors agree is that “Europe” is an indispensable project, and that France is indispensable for Europe. Indeed, the two points are interrelated: the point of Europe is precisely that it is a French project, embodying, we are assured by the Vicomte de Villepin, “the values of 1789”. This became the chief selling point in the Oui campaign. But an important reason for the victory of the Non was that the French feel, quite realistically, that the terms of trade have now turned against them: that Europe has become less a vehicle for the export of France than for the import of the rest of the world into France.

This is certainly Généreux’s view. In “consecrating the market society”, the proposed Constitution enforces “the reign of international free exchange” and thus “organizes the economic and strategic impotence of Europe and its submission to the pax americana”. Although he expressly disavows any form of nationalism, there is no mistaking the Gallic flavour of his alternative Europe – anti-American, monocentric, protectionist, ripe for harmonisation par le haut.De Villepin is more explicit – even indiscreet – in his final chapter, where his rhetoric takes wing. “France’s place is at the head of Europe.” “More perhaps than any other country, France poses the question of the European model, social, international, cultural. We do not want a liberal Europe – which would signify the victory of the British vision of Europe as a mere market, as opposed to the political version which has always guided the Franco-German couple”. Europe must move rapidly to become a “power”, “because the great international poles are now being constituted around the American continent and the Asiatic world, [and] the European continent can play the pivotal role if it gives itself the means – especially an ambitious partnership with Russia”.

What heady vistas this conjures up, of a great renversement des alliances – of Europe calling in the Old World to redress the balance of the New. Does this include, one wonders, allying with Putin against the Ukrainians as well as the Chechens, and with the Chinese against Taiwan? Would it impose sanctions on Israel? De Villepin is not a details man, so he does not tell us. Only the negative is clear – he wants to mobilize Europe against America – perhaps even against the whole world of les anglo-saxons.

Compared with this bravura performance, Elizabeth Guigou is a model of sobriety. She asks, “que faire avec les États-Unis?”. The Americans inherit a gene of “messianism” from their “puritan English and Irish” ancestors. They are also prone to unilateralism (unlike the French). Europe must therefore “cease to align its policy with that of the United States”. It must develop a military and political presence independent of America so that the Americans will respect it as “a credible strategic actor” and be constrained to multilateralism. Meanwhile, together, “France and Germany have the capacity to draw the United Kingdom into their train”."

And Jackson's conclusion, regarding Germany, is worth noting:

"Meanwhile, the German side of the “Franco-German couple” looks set for a new government which will want to repair its relations with America and Britain, to look again at costly agricultural policy subsidies to France, and to follow the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians in their successful, job-creating adoption of the more flexible and indeed “liberal” social policies. Jacques Généreux has prevailed in his campaign for a Non. Perhaps his fears will also be vindicated – that Europe is finally caught in “the liberal trap”, and that it is indeed too late for France to insist, “stop the world, I want to get off”."

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