Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Europe of 2½

An article in today’s Le Figaro [link in French] suggests that Jacques Chirac’s advisors are unconcerned by the spectacular post-referendum fall in his already low approval ratings and are ready to take vigorous action to change things. At 26% according to a Harris poll and 27% according to a poll conducted by the Ipsos Institute for the weekly Le Point, Chirac’s ratings are the lowest recorded for any President in the history of the Fifth Republic. “We did not expect any better,” the article quotes an unnamed source at the Elysée Palace, “Unfortunately, it’s [a] rather mechanical [reaction]. But we are going to arm ourselves.”

“For the moment,” the article continues,
It’s on the terrain of Europe that Chirac plans to act. In anticipation of the Brussels summit of June 16-17, Chirac has been multiplying his contacts: Saturday, he dined with Gerhard Schröder in Berlin; tomorrow he will lunch with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and acting President of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker; and on Friday he will meet the Chancellor again in Paris.
On my count, this “multiplying” of European contacts on the part of Chirac results in exactly two contacts – unless Gerhard Schröder deserves to be counted twice – and one of them consists of the Prime Minister of an exorbitantly rich micro-state (population roughly equivalent to that of Staten Island) and fiscal paradise that is two-thirds surrounded by France and Germany – i.e. hardly representative of France’s (other) ostensible European partners. Mr. Juncker's term as President of the European Council ends, incidentally, in three weeks.

It is the remarkably restricted view of “Europe” expressed by this itinerary – a view that Donald Rumsfeld quite rightly described as merely comprising “old” Europe – that has earned Chirac the mistrust of so many Europeans outside of France and Germany and notably in precisely the new EU member states from the East. One of the most interesting lessons of the French referendum is that it has not earned him any considerable support among his own electorate either. In the last desperate days before the referendum, one French notable after another could be viewed on French television pleading pathetically for a "yes" vote since otherwise "our German friends" would be disappointed. To judge by the outcome, however, the Franco-German "axis" - the be-all and end-all of French diplomacy for some three years now - is a matter of profound indifference for the vast majority of the French public.