Monday, June 06, 2005

Keeping Perspective

The past week was eventful, both in Europe and in France.

After the French voted down the proposed European Constitution on Sunday, the Dutch followed suit three days later, by an even stronger majority. It would appear that the Eurocrats' Constitution is dying and the inhabitants of Europe are now going to be able to see just how long and how far this headless chicken can run.

Keeping perspective is crucial. In the cascade of media coverage, two simple but significant facts seem to have been neatly shoved into the background by reporters, politicians and commentators:

First, of the six founding members of the European Economic Community (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), two have rejected the Constitution. Second, of the six largest net financial contributors into the proposed 2007-2013 European Union budget (Austria, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden), the citizens of two have voted "no" on the Constitution. That's 33% of each overlapping group. In a nutshell, the people of two original mover-and-shaker countries either a) don't like the direction the EU has taken, b) don't like the planned changes in the EU, or c) both.

It's clear to Amerloque that the French feel that last choice ("both") is at the top of the heap. All last week -- from left to right and across the rapidly shrinking center -- people looked askance - if not with outright puzzlement tinged with dawning horror - at the concrete manifestation of the "new impetus" promised by President Jacques Chirac a few days before the election. After the result came in, Chirac sacked unpopular Prime Minister Raffarin and replaced him with one of his most faithful liegemen, the poet-diplomat-historian Dominique de Villepin.

Studying the makeup of the "new" government, Amerloque was reminded of one of ex-President and father-of-the-rejected-Constitution Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's vague 1970s doctrines: le changement dans la continuité ("change within continuity".). Application of that fuzziness didn't bring about any wholesale changes in direction. For the moment, the new French administration looks, alas, to be a business-as-usual, musical-chairs response to profound social malaise. Furthermore, just what can -- or should -- one deduce from the fact that the new, improved government's spokesman, Jean-François Copé, is the very same fellow as the previous government's ? Amazing.

As expected, the world's press has not been nice to France, trumpeting the habitual refrains, accusing its people of the usual outright self-centeredness, extreme selfishness, terminal left-wingism and – this time around - the apparently greatest insult of all - "fear". Foremost among the French-haters were three opinions-for-hire penpushers over at the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune (John Vinocur, Roger Cohen and Richard Bernstein) who pulled out all the stops and vilified the French people for all they were worth. Not to be outdone, the ever-sophomoric Thomas Friedman managed to prove that he was as ignorant of France as he is of the rest of the world by cutting and thrusting at the 35-hour workweek (a hint from Amerloque: it's all about productivity, Thom, not about hours !). Only Boston Camerata leader and musicologist Joel Cohen, invited to contribute a personal commentary, saved the IHT from op-ed page ridicule.

Amerloque's view is that the French people did not vote primarily from "fear", whatever the international and politically correct French media assert. While the iconic "Polish plumber" makes a nice soundbyte referential for everyone to poke fun at, it should be remembered the French simply want the same rules for everyone living and working in France, whether a Polish plumber, a Lithuanian lorry-driver, an Estonian engineer or a Hungarian horticulturist. Is that too complex to understand ?

Remember Abraham Lincoln and the quotation attributed to him ? "You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time" . The French are quite lucid and have taken Honest Abe's words as their own. Misconstruing the reasons for the French vote can only prolong European agony. In simple words: many French people feel that the destruction of essential public services such as the national railroad and the postoffice is directly attributable to "Europe". Looking at it from the average French citizen's point of view: one fine day-- sometimes in the 1980s, it was – the French people were informed, without so much as a by-your-leave: "Your public services are no longer public services, folks: they're now in competition". This much heralded competition, meant to improve the quality of those services, has had exactly the opposite effect. Subsequently these same French citizens were told in the 1990s: "Vote 'yes' for Maastricht and things will be better." They voted "yes" – and the situation didn't progress: quite the contrary. The introduction of the euro and the ensuing hike in prices was the icing on the cake.

When asked by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1972 what he thought of the impact on the world of the French Revolution in 1789, the Chinese Premier and Foreign Minister, Chou En-lai, reportedly answered, "We Chinese feel that it is too soon to tell." Ever mindful of history, some French men and women realized before the vote that many of their fellow citizens were unhappy with the proposed Constitution and launched a call to engage a process of A Constituent Assembly for a Different Europe.

Amerloque's experience in France has taught him that it would be impolitic to underestimate or misunderstand the French people: they do not practice reform when the situation becomes catastrophic. Rather, they sweep away the existing structure and set up a new one. Future historians may very well look back at May 29th, 2005, as a landmark date during the tumultuous advent of the Sixth Republic.


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque


Blogger Pat said...

Hey L'Amerloque - I did not know that you had a blog now!! I just happened here from a link on another site. I was so happy to find you. I love you writing, especially regarding living here in France. You can bet I will be here reading all your posts!! :-)

4:40 AM  
Blogger PutYourFlareOn said...

Ah, my god. You said it all. It's too early to tell what this "non" vote will do for europe. But honestly, I admire the French for sticking to their convictions. I love what you wrote about the French not voting because of fear but rather for the rights of ALL their people.

Very nicely written. so glad you have a blog!

7:41 AM  
Blogger Lorin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:58 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

The above comment was off topic and removed by Amerloque.

Amerloque does not like it when commercial sites connect to blogs under the guise of "comment" and make a "recommendation", one which is simply designed to advertise a site or a service.

En plus, Amerloque most definitely does not agree with the business practices of the organization/people which made this particular "comment".


1:06 PM  
Blogger Frania W. said...

Impossible to give an argument when you are in complete agreement, which happens to be my position vis-à-vis l'Amerloque's analysis. However, I find that this analysis would not be understood on the other side of the Atlantic, as what's happening in the EU seems to leave the silent majority here more silent than ever & bathing in total misunderstanding, if not ignorance, of the changes taking place in Europe.

Frania W.

12:32 AM  

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