Friday, June 17, 2005

The Meaning of "Nein"

(With Update)

In “The Europe of 2½”, I noted that in the last desperate days prior to the French referendum on the EU “Constitutional Treaty”, French partisans of a “yes” vote knew of no better argument to counter the rising tide of the “no” than to suggest that in the event of a rejection of the text “our German friends” would be disappointed…, even angry perhaps. I’m not sure just which “German friends” they had in mind. Maybe Gerhard Schröder or the would-be “father” of the EU “Constitution” Joschka Fischer. Or perhaps the euro-maniacal Social Democratic court philosopher Jürgen Habermas and his literati/culturati friends like Günter Grass (whose hysterical and vaguely menacing appeal for a French “yes” vote is reproduced in English here - and for pertinent comments from Ulrich Speck see here [scroll down to footnote 2]).

But evidently they did not have in mind the German people. A new poll conducted by the Infratest-Dimap Institute for the television news magazine "Kontraste"(ARD) [link in German] shows only 42% of the German public giving support to the EU “Constitution”. 44% of respondents said they were against it.

Ulrich Speck has an interesting post (in English!) here on the significance of the poll and the current state of play of the ratification process in Germany (no, contrary to what one may have been led to believe, Germany has not yet ratified the text). Highly recommended!


A detail from Infratest-Dimap's monthly "Deutschland Trend" survey [link in German] reinforces the findings of the poll conducted for "Kontraste". Asked whether they wanted to see the "development towards a united Europe" pursued further, stopped at its present state or "in certain respects reversed", only 43% of respondents opted for the further pursuit of the unification process. An absolute majority, 53%, wanted the process either stopped (27%) or reversed (26%).

Nonetheless, there is one element in Ulrich's excellent analysis about which I am not so sure. Ulrich writes:
The constitution is dead, burned, everybody knows it. But instead of talking openly about it, the European leaders prefer to give the impression that the process will continue. That's exactly the kind of theater that European citizens are fed up with - political elites who regard citizens as too stupid to understand the wise and enlightened decisions the elites have made, in the name of the people.
I wish it were theater. It is undoubtedly true that for the moment they are improvising. But I am afraid that these people will not take "no" for an answer - unless they are forced to do so. Was it not Luxembourg's Prime Minister and current President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker [link in French] who before the French referendum famously remarked: "If it is 'yes', we'll say: we're going ahead; if it's 'no', we'll say: we continue"? I share Richard North's suspicion that reports of the death of the "Constitution" may be "greatly exaggerated".

I said that these people will not take "no" for an answer - unless forced to do so. In a democratic society, the way to do this ordinarily is to sanction at the ballot box any national leader or party that ignores the will of the people. But in today's Europe this is not so obvious, since in many European countries the establishment parties are all equally and unconditionally committed to the "European project". This is most blatantly the case in France, where despite their mutual sniping and contempt, the alternation between the successive Gaullist formations and the Socialist Party (PS) has absolutely no consequences on the European level. It is this disheartening spectacle - and not the vile racism and xenophobia of the French masses, as delicate spirits in editorial offices in Paris and New York would have it - that explains the recent electoral successes of the National Front (FN). As a French specialist in European "far right" movements put it to me, the FN vote is a "ventilator vote": via it a substantial part of the French electorate vent their frustrations at the political establishment - and another substantial part keeps their frustrations to themselves and does not vote at all.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the "pause" in the process of ratification put on offer at the European Council meeting in Brussels represents a victory for those who want to save the "constitution-treaty". If the process of ratification goes ahead now according to the original schedule, this would likely entail an avalanche of "no" votes in countries such as Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, and, of course, the UK where the electorate would be given the opportunity to express itself by referendum. The Europeists cannot afford this, and to postpone referendums just because they know under current circumstances they will lose them is yet further expression of their contempt for public opinion and, more fundamentally, democracy itself.

The one referendum that presumably cannot at this point be postponed is that scheduled for July 10 in Luxembourg. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has promised that he will resign in the event of a "no" vote. Some weeks ago such an outcome seemed virtually impossible. But since the French and Dutch referendums, even in the exorbitantly wealthy Grand Duchy the "no" vote has been gaining ground.

Will the sanctioning process begin?