Monday, May 30, 2005

France votes NO to Europe

I title this "No to Europe" because the referendum result of tonight means NO to Europe, not NO to the European constitution which was meant as a common agreement to replace all the diverse and complex treaties already existing. Let's not fool ourselves, the French people by a 55 % vote have clearly demonstrated that they have abandoned the European concept which has brought them untold prosperity and peace. For what? Nobody knew, but they still took the jump.

This blog will make an exception to its rule of Venezuela only as curiously there is a message for Venezuela in this rather distasteful referendum campaign which will set back France by at least ten years. But first, let's explore the news.

I would like to start by translating a paragraph of the great and insightful article of Vargas Llosa published today in El Nacional. An article by the way so rich that I will come back to it soon, as its pertinence to Venezuela can be sensed in just this paragraph.

The reasons why such a reactionary and anti modern tendency takes root in a society are very varied _ideological, religious, cultural – and, fortunately, changing, which means that in different periods of its history the same country can figure at the forefront of progress or as the caboose of the modernity train. The text book cases of this phenomenon are, in Europe, France and in Latin America, Argentina. Probably few nations have made advance social, economic and cultural progress in the world as France, without whose thinkers, artists, statesman and without the will of transformation and modernization of large segments of its population in the XVIII and XIX centuries, the world would be infinitely poorer and less free than what it is today. Why has the spirit of French society extinguished and been replaced by this terrible lethargy and resistance to modernization which is, step by step, sinking France every day in a decadence that seems irreversible? The France of the Encyclopedia and of the philosophers who invented universality, proclaimed the Rights of Men, inaugurated the secularization of culture, is today a society profoundly conservative and reactionary, trying desperately and absurdly to oppose the grand revolution of our time that globalization is and facing up to it with an anachronistic and aggressive nationalism, from which, although with different arguments, feed all political forces from the fascist Le Pen to the extreme and Trotskyite left, passing through the Gaullists, republicans, social democrats and socialists. The liberal and modern sector is, politically speaking, insignificant and without real possibility in the near future to reverse this slow advance of French society towards the abyss.

Indeed, France has become a society where slowly social mobility has been restrained, where integration of recent migrants is difficult, where a new aristocratic class has been created as only graduates from a very few prestigious universities have access to all political and economical power functions and seem on their way to create an exclusive club where you can enter only by birth. In front of this two extremes the rest of the French population is simply scared to lose its acquired social privileges and entitlements, be it the cradle to grave social benefits or its 35 hours work week. Not realizing of course that autarky is the surest way to lose all of these privileges, that only democratic and open societies are those that make durable progress as they accept change and its necessary adaptation while making the painful transitions bearable. Now, France will have to pay a heavy price for its self absorption, for using Europe to play internal politics and settle private squabbling. Who wins and who loses?


Germany who will be now the motor of Europe, the one and only big shot. Around Germany Central Europe will organize it own economical zone if necessary. Italy and Spain will become second fiddle partners. Germany will become to Europe what Brazil is becoming to Latin America. One could stretch and say that Germany just won a war without firing a single shot.

The US and Russia and Eastern Asia rising powers, of course, as they now have a chance to meddle in Europe and toy with the possibility to have one challenger less.

The small countries of Europe who say YES to Europe as their status will become much more important as if France would have remained a strong pro European power. This will even be reinforced as now it is certain that England will balk out.


France of course, who has lost irreversibly its role, status of Europe main power with Germany even if its relative weight was much lesser than Germany. Even if France finds a way in the next couple of years to join Europe, its partners will never trust it fully. Even if France comes in, it will not be as a founding father anymore, its stature diminished for ever.

Peace in Europe? No, Europeans have come too far now, we should not even consider it. But what will be lost is a sense of security that strong unity could bring. A weakened Europe will be more likely to be blackmailed by all sorts of opportunists that seem to flourish these recent years.

Chirac, the only culprit of this unnecessary referendum, based on his pride more than any particular reason. His last two years will be a pathetic lameduck presidency as France will drop several steps in international forums. Not to mention hell at home as people will hate him even more while his supporters will be more worried about the 2007 elections than his fate.

And of course the 55% who voted NO. They will lose even before the 45% who voted YES. By definition those who voted YES have a better aptitude to adapt to what is coming.

Why this disaster?

This question is far from been answered. But there is one little thing we can say: there are "resentidos sociales" (social resentment) everywhere, even in France. And when suddenly they find a way to impose their ideas, their fears, a country falls back in time. The reader will be able to do the appropriate comparison to other events in other countries.

Finally, what to do?

Chirac should call for a government of national unity, including the socialist party who would hold the foreign ministry. Together they should quickly reassure Europe while they try to do something about France. This government of short duration, of course, should leave the scene after new elections, not called before sometime late fall, to allow French people take a measure of their folly.

What will probably happen will be a new terrible mistake by Chirac, one of the worst politicians of France in the last 30 years. He probably will name unpopular and aristocratic De Villepin prime minister and sink further in opinion polls until he cannot postpone elections anymore and see a tidal wave of resentment overcome his party and the moderate socialists. From the extreme right or extreme left? It is actually irrelevant. For the third time, with this referendum, Chirac has destroyed all what he built.

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