Thursday, June 02, 2005

Europe in Turmoil

The reverberations from this week's two stunning "No" votes against the proposed EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, continue to ripple across Europe. The rejection of the constitution shocked most of the continent's Eurocrat politicians and intellectuals who had considered the constitution a fiat accompli. The twin defeats are a warning sign of just how divorced European elites have become from the opinions of their peoples. European voters, however, are now energized and willing to confront the political machinations of their ossified national leaderships.

Not only do the Netherlands and France now face domestic political turmoil, but the German government is reeling from a recent humiliation in regional elections and Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is in the middle of an acute political crisis.

Europe's leaders now fear a domino effect and opinion polls show the "no" vote growing even in Luxembourg - one of the most pro-European nations of all the 25 member states - which faces the next referendum, on 10 July. Meanwhile, a political storm is breaking out over the euro amid reports - strenuously denied - that Germany is about to blame the single currency for its chronic economic troubles and five million unemployed.

Urged on by Britain yesterday, the Czech Republic, which still has to put the constitution to a referendum, became the first country to call for the deadline for ratification - currently the end of 2006 - to be set back. That position, which would mean putting the constitution on ice, is backed by the UK and probably Poland where popular votes would almost certainly now be lost. This would scupper a plan to press on with ratification if 20 of the 25 member states ratify the constitution. The hope is that the rest would be pressured into changing their minds.

Germany's economy is in shambles; Gerard Schroeder's party suffered a humiliating defeat in recent regional election, a prelude - most observers believe - to his defeat in upcoming national elections. Shroeder's fall will crush any lingering hope in Paris for a strong European superstate run by a Franco-German partnership (but with Paris dictating foreign policy).

Tony Blair, who barely survived the recent UK elections, hopes to restore his popularity by rescuing the EU.

Mr Blair is now ready to turn the British presidency into a personal campaign to lead Europe out of its impasse. He is apparently ready to confront M. Chirac over the need for economic change. M. Chirac said on Tuesday night he would not accept Anglo-Saxon economic reforms. Mr Straw will also make a statement to Parliament on Monday.

The former European commissioner Lord Patten fuelled Tory Eurosceptic fears that changes would be introduced through the back door. He said a number of reforms were still needed and they could happen without a treaty renegotiation.

Lord Patten said: "We've made considerable progress in the last few years - not all those institutional changes require treaty change. But to say that there is nothing that can be done now because of the vote in France is completely preposterous."

Mr. Blair's crusade to revive the EU will founder on two political shoals. First, the French (among other Europeans) do not want to surrender their cushy welfare states, not matter how badly their economies fare because of them. Monday's French "Non" came in large measure due to public fear that the EU constitution would lead to market reforms. Mr. Chirac, whose hold on power remains extremely precarious after Monday's humiliation, can do nothing but fight "Anglo-American" capitalistic reforms. Indeed, it has already occurred to the Machiavellian Mr. Chirac that he might revive his political popularity by vocally opposing any such reforms.

In a TV address last night , M. Chirac rejected the idea of a Thatcher-Blair approach to economic revival.

"National mobilisation" against unemployment must "scrupulously respect our French model," M. Chirac said. "This is not the Anglo-Saxon model but neither is it a synonym for immobility".

The [Dominique] de Villepin government ­ whose composition will be announced today­ can, therefore, be expected to adopt a less reformist, more protectionist and high-spending approach, which could put Paris on a collision course with Brussels.

Of course, this only condemns the French economy to continued stagnation and slow decline. But the French have not heeded the examples provided by the demise of virtually every other socialist economy. Continuing the economic status quo in France may remain popular with the French people, but it mere ensures France's continued decline.

Mr. Blair's campaign to save the EU is doomed for a second reason: the British people are adamantly against UK membership in the EU by even greater margins than the Dutch rejection. Britons do not view themselves as Europeans in the same way residents of the continent do, and likely never will. Britain stands alone and is proud of that heritage. Mr. Blair's popularity has sunk so low in Britain due to his involvement in the Iraq War that his crusade to rescue the EU can only sink his poll numbers to even lower depths, perhaps accelerating Mr. Blair's departure from 10 Downing Street.

What Messrs. Blair, Chirac, Shroeder and all the nameless, faceless Eurocrats in Brussels fail to understand is that Europeans are simply reasserting their individual ethnic and cultural identities. Most Europeans do not want to see those identities submerged into a greater, blander, European superstate. Given their first real chance to have a say on the subject, they have rejected their leaders bloodless vision of a Europe stripped of its colorful panoply of divergent cultures, customs and languages, united under the unelected and souless leadership of technocrats in Brussels. This should not come as any great surprise, Western intellectuals occasionally blinded by universalist rationalism have never properly appreciated the power of ethnic and cultural ties, and are thus constantly surprised when they come roaring back even after decades of political supression (i.e. Yugoslavia, the former USSR, Rwanda).

Moreover, most Europeans cringe at their leaders' plans to admit Turkey, a nation whose culture is so alien to that of Europe that its admission to the EU would pose a mortal threat to what remained of European identity. The Netherlands has watched its decades long experiment in multiculturalism explode in seething religious and ethnic hatred as the Muslims it allowed to migrate into its country turn against native Dutch culture and embrace Islamic extremism. In France, Muslim ghettos boil with similar extremism; in Germany Muslim immigrants cheer the honor killing of "Westernized" Muslim women. In Britain, a rising tide of violent crime committed by immigrants is well known to the British people, but unspoken of by their leaders since the topic is politically incorrect. Voters in France and the Netherlands properly saw the EU constitution as a real threat to their cultures and acted accordingly. Now that the people of Europe have been permitted their say, it is unlikely that Brussels and its advocates can pick up the pieces.


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