Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why the French said non

French rubbished the referendum, calling for an European constitution, here is a reason why:

- They detest their current government and are reluctant to vote for anything that it proposes

- They are fed up with their entire political class, on both right and left, which they feel is arrogant, self-serving, removed from real life and has refused to listen to their concerns for too long

- They believe the treaty is a blueprint for an ultra-liberal, Anglo-Saxon Europe that will promote unfettered capitalism

- They believe it will degrade French public services and cost French jobs

- They feel that when the president, the government and the mainstream opposition combine to trumpet the merits of something and to implicitly denounce its opponents as half-wits who have understood nothing, it is their moral duty to revolt

- They feel ditto, but even more strongly, when virtually every newspaper, TV and radio commentator more or less explicitly backs the constitution and expresses amazement at the very possibility of a no vote

- They are worried about the expanded (and expanding) union and about its impact on their lives, particularly the arrival in France en masse of the key bogeyman of this debate, the Polish plumber (don't even mention the Turkish taxi-driver)

- They believe the French social model is preferable to any other, is at threat, and is worth defending

- They have finally been asked to give their opinion on a Europe that they feel has been constructed more or less behind their backs, and they're damned well going to give it

- They remember that every time over the past decade that a French politician has had to make a difficult announcement, he has blamed Brussels

- They do not feel that saying no will weaken France's position in Europe, because they think it will trigger a tidal wave of comprehension and support in a great many other countries leading to a "salutary crisis" that will eventually create a better, more social Europe

- They believe the text of the treaty can be renegotiated to take account of France's concerns and objections

- They reject the argument of European institutional chaos, saying the treaty of Nice will continue to apply for as long as necessary until the mess is sorted out

- They feel they are not anti-European, just anti the Europe they perceive as enshrined in this constitution, so voting no is actually a pro-European act

- They recognise that the yes camp ran a rubbish campaign led by a president and a prime minister with zero credibility and a Socialist party that could not make its mind up, and whose sole argument for far too long was to say no to the no

- They realise that from the start, the yes was on the defensive rather than the offensive; it admitted the text was "not perfect" and (on both left and right) was never comfortable handling the fundamental issue (very sensitive in France) of economic liberalism

- They are reacting belatedly to the fact that no French politician has ever dared tell them that France will, in one way or another, have to adapt at some stage to the phenomenon of globalisation, and that it will probably involve some degree of pain

- Their very French instinct (and, up to a point, it's one to be proud of) is: Resist

- They subscribe to the notion that 'le compromis n'est pas français'

- Being French, and not living in a colourless Anglo-Saxon world, they were itching for the mother of all ideological debates, the one that would finally pit the true socialism against wicked liberalism, and the treaty gave them the perfect opportunity because its clauses are open to interpretation (that's the point of them, of course - they are not supposed to be doctrine)

Sameer Bhat

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