Monday, May 30, 2005

Time to guillotine the euro constitution?

Well the French have finally given their verdict on the European constitution and the answer is a resounding "Non". Not just by a slim margin, but by an overwhelming majority. Even by their own predictions, the "No" campaigners did far better than they expected. Almost 55% of people voted "No", with 45% in favour. Turnout was high, at about 70%.

The fact that France has been the driving force behind the European project for over 40 years makes the result even more startling. Tony Blair has now called for "time for reflection". But will anything really change?

If the bureaucrats who run the European Union can learn anything from this, it's that you can no longer govern a people who haven't elected you. Whilst American democracy has thrived on being a "servant of the people", the European Union has moved in the opposite direction. With the ghosts of fascism still haunting them, Europe's political elite have frowned upon anything deemed to be "populist" and have developed a political concensus where most political issues are decided by unelected bureaucrats and fewer and fewer items are up for debate.

The situation up till now has suited France as it has (together with Germany) moulded a European Union in its own image. But as the European Union has grown, France's influence has diminished and like Frankenstein's monster, France feels it is losing control of the beast it helped create.

But there's a major difference between the French and British eurosceptics and it's got nothing to do with "social" Europe and "liberal" Europe. It's a lot simpler than that. The French want a federal Europe (but are unhappy as it's no longer on their terms i.e. 35 hour week, protectionism, endless holidays etc..). In contrast, the Brits are against a federal Europe. In other words, "if the French want to work four days a week, take two months holiday and wreck their economy in the process, good luck to them. Just don't impose their economic system on us!"

The European Union is at a crossroads, not in a battle of "Thatcherism" versus "Socialism" but in a battle of bureacratic federalism versus nation state democracy. Will the European Union try and accommodate the French concerns and give them another referendum until they give the right answer? It's something they have tried in the past with other "renegade" electorates. Or will they give up trying to create a "one size fits all" superstate and try instead to promote a free-trading, competitive ,outward-looking Europe?

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, Europe will continue to fall further and further behind America. After all, it's easy to stop polish plumbers from working in France, but a lot harder to stop European jobs from moving to China.