Thursday, May 26, 2005

If EU constitution fails, U.S. won't be gloating

/ friends / helping / friends /
This IHT article about positive American attitudes towards the European Constitution might help to ground to reality those that somehow suggest that the European Constitution is the beginning of a more independent Europe. Like Chirac.

Please note this rather funny (and telling) concluding point:

...So the American yes on the EU referendums is not only coherent good sense, but also an investment. An official, sitting in his office here, couldn't have been clearer on the European constitution: "If they think it would get them a few yes points, we've told the French we're ready to condemn the thing in minutes."

Also worth pointing out is the suggestion that the outcomes are not symmetric, the "No" vote being reversible:

France and the Netherlands should re-run referendums to obtain the "right answer" if voters reject Europe's constitutional treaty, Jean-Claude Juncker, current holder of the EU presidency, said yesterday.

Which surely says something about the way democracy is perceived up there...


Michael M. said...

That's pretty much what happened to the Treaty of Nice: rejected by Ireland in a referendum in 2001, then held again a year later and approved. Or Norway for that matter, which rejected EU membership in 1972 and then again in 1994, but will have another vote soon. (Until they get it right. Lousy vikings.)

It all reminds me of children repeating their question until they get what they want: "Can we go to Disneyworld?" "No" "Can we go to Disneyworld?" "No" "Can we...", etc..

I would never have guessed that it would also be effective in international politics.

talos said...

Yes, this does make a mockery of the referendum, unless it includes stipulations on how soon any repeat referendum can be held and/or the next referendum is about a modified version of the Constitutional treaty.

As it is, the reaction to a probable No vote will be interesting...

kkk said...

Well, they're not gloating for the moment, anyway...

I look forward to hearing the mumbled reactions, rationalisations and recriminations in the morning post!

DoDo said...

Aye, however, I know this John Vinocur chap, I wouldn't trust his judgement in your place. He is an America-booster who got on the nerves of fellow journalists when he was editor, and he has a history of slagging off France and Germany whenever he could.

I would only go as far as to say that the Bush admin can envision multiple ways to keep the EU weak, and the Consitution is not a watershed.

michael m., to be fair, when Ireland first rejected the Treaty of Nice, it was with an abysmally low participation. On the other hand, Juncker & Bliar et al can go to hell. (Juncker also showed his sense of democracy when the Luxemburg Presidency pushed through the software patent directive.)

talos said...

DoDo: point taken, yet he doesn't really have a reason to point out (quoting various American officials) that the US is not worried by a Yes vote... or does he?

DoDo said...

I was trawling around for a link on why I included Bliar along with Juncker; I found this, an article by Guardian correspondent Patrick Wintour. A nice quote on what got me upset again:

[Bliar says] "What emerges so strongly from the French referendum campaign... is this deep, profound, underlying anxiety that people in Europe have about how the economy of Europe... faces up to the challenges of the modern world," he said.

"How do we give our citizens proper protection, proper welfare and public services and at the same time remaining strong and competitive and prosperous in this modern world? Now that, in my view, is the question that we need to debate in Europe, alongside whatever decisions are made about Europe."

The difficulty is that in parts of France, the British economic reform agenda - the centrepiece of the British EU presidency - is the very reason the treaty was rejected in France.

Mr Blair's response is a bit like offering a child a vindaloo curry after they have just said they don't eat spicy food.

BTW, did I notice this only late, or is the Guardian slipping towards neoliberalism ever so fast? In its first 'analytical' post on the French vote, without exception all 'experts' asked were economists.

DoDo said...

talos, I don't know.

My first suspicion would be that whatever he quotes from anonymous officials is spin tailor-made for IHT readers and dutifully reproduced by Vinocur.

In particular, I personally doubt there are any serious US plans regarding the Turkish and Ukrainian accession, given the time scale and the hurdles not in their control. I think if they bring that up, it is merely rhetoric, where they can pay lip service to their stated but unreal goals of supporting Europe, democracy and moderate Islam all in one, without actual risk.

Then again, given their knowledge of what they can already do ("New Europe"), and their likely awareness of the coming power shift in their favour with the election of the German pseudo-neocons this fall, they probably think they don't have much to fear. (We in the Left have much more to fear regarding what the combined forces of unrepetant neoliberalism will push down our throats, even if Italy and France will go centre-left; but I only dare to mumble about this silently.)

DoDo said...

Side note, but I mentioned Germany. I was rather sceptical about the prospects of WASG, the left-of-SPD West German formation, given polls that show an idiotic majority preference for a grand coalition (SPD + christian parties) and most disillusioned SPD voters going straight to non-voters. The mere 2.2% for WASG in Northern Rhine-Westphalia seemed evidence.

However, I got my positive surprise: just a week after 'Red Oskar' Lafontaine left the SPD too, earning general laughter for saying he'll run again only if WASG and PDS (the East German socialist party) join forces, WASG and PDS held top-level discussions on just that, with what can be termed initial success. If they can build on the french vote...

talos said...

I think (actually I hope) that Lafontaine's entry might just provide the impetus needed for this project to a. start and b. stand on its feet. I find it hard to believe that there aren't any on the left of the SPD, that find Oscar an attractive candidate...

As for the EuroConstitution I'm not sure the US is either of one mind on it or cares that much. They would definitely like to see Merkel as chancellor though...

BTW, I since you're here, what you think about this MondeDiplo piece on Eastern Europe and the EU. (Google cached to avoid the subscription!)

DoDo said...

The issues of Red Oscar, Us doncarethatmuch and Merkel, we can close off in agreement :-) Now to the article you suggested.

The stuff on structural funds and the German exception were enlightening, and much of the first part needs no comment, but towards the end there were points I have to disagree with. In no particular order:

First off, I think people related to joining the EU rather differently in various countries. In the Czech Republic there exists British-style euroscepticism, in Poland rampant nationalism and real existential fears by peasants. The Baltic states still have that fear of Russia.

But I dare to make the general claim that for most, the "Yes" vote was more a political choice than an economic one. Often "yes" despite economic fears (in my country, people into small business or agriculture expressed such opinions). Samary stresses low turnout, but it wasn't due to resentment on social issues. In many places like Hungary, that was because the public overwhelmingly agreed: "so why bother?"

Second, Samary stresses economic liberalisation that the EU brought. I could argue that the EU also brought higher standards in consumer protection, legal protection and environmental protection (what was low standard for Sweden is high for us), but there is a stronger point: unfortunately, our political elites (both 'left' and 'right') did and do much more in this direction on their own. I'll elaborate on this.

This started even before the fall of [so-called] Communism: when our regimes started to borrow money from the West, and sent young cadres to study in the West to become technocrats. Then it continued with the mess of the nineties (mentioned by Samary but not in the right conext), when, tough dragging their feet on various issues (Polish agrarian subsidies, Slovenian domestic-only privatisation), governments followed the IMF's advice, with religious faith.

How serious that was, let's take the example of Hungary. First, prices were freed up. Result: inflation. Then, using the handbook explanation that inflation is caused by excessive demand, the IMF advised to curb demand. So up with interest rates, a move that starved domestic enterprises of capital, hence production fell, hence many firms went bankrupt, thus exports fell and imports rose, hence inflation accelerated, all the while joblessness grew; and there was loopback. I.e., neoliberalism triumphed by being the cause of just what it was recommended as medicine for.

Moving to after our governments joined the EU, our elites excel in going beyond EU demands on liberalisation. Our 'socialist' government wanted to privatise hospitals until meeting too wide a resistance. The conservatives next door in Slovakia introduced flat tax, and almost killed off branch lines of the national railway (well they did, but some were saved by local authorities).

Finally, if only Samary's contention would be true that PMs had to leave because of economic ressentiments. Which, don't get me wrong, very much exist, and there increasingly are people who talk of them, but hot-air political squabbles and scandals cloud the real issues here for the majority. At least the Czech and Hungarian PM had to leave due to internal power struggles in governments with razorthin majorities and vicious right-wing oppositions.

talos said...

Thanks DoDo that was very informative!