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Friday, June 24, 2005

Our Opinion

The People Who Refused to be Dissolved

The Solution
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
—Bertolt Brecht

Brecht’s famously caustic poetic advice to the rulers following the workers’ uprisings in the German “democratic” republic in 1953 has once again proven not only his legendary mordancy but his equally rare understanding of political and social power. Given the endless scolding, uncontrollable finger-wagging, and ridiculously overblown harrumphing of the intellectual (invariably leftish) and political (invariably self-interested) European elites following the results of the French and Dutch referendums on the European “constitution,” it is also (once again) timely. We’ve said before in these pages that you can never predict where democracy will lead when it’s taken seriously. As those who read our editorial in our last edition know (see, “A Salutary Crisis,” May 28), we pointed to these results for reasons that we thought were self-evident: the people of Europe are sick and tired, not of Europe, but of its leaders. They are particularly fed up with all those modishly cosmopolitan, self-appointed, and unaccountable elites, with their ceaselessly arrogant assumptions of a divine right to determine the future of an entire continent without even a fare-thee-well to their fellow citizens, who just happen to inhabit the aforesaid continent and have to bear the consequences of all the decisions made in (oh, yes) their name. Well, goodbye to all that. On May 29, the French once again proved that if there’s one thing they know how to do better than anybody else, it’s revolution.

And make no mistake about it. On May 29, the Bastille of EU institutional tyranny was stormed and breached. The king is not only dead; there’s no other king to take his place. As this French political journée was quickly followed, and validated, by a Dutch one only confirmed that there is in fact a popular, pan-European response to a united European future. It’s just that the response of the people—or, more accurately, of the electorates—of Europe is radically different from that of the European elites, which don’t know, or care, about electorates since they are, of course, unelected. The mighty are quickly fallen, however. Now everybody knows, and cares, about these electorates, which have proven that they truly constitute the base of that much-ballyhooed European “architecture” that, as it turns out, cannot be built without foundational support at the bottom.

A great deal has been written and said since May 29, most of it silly and some of it painfully stupid (the notion that the euro is “doomed,” for example, is downright cretinous). A great deal more will be written in the months and years to come as events play out, and as Europeans grapple with the issues that have now all come to the fore. Under the circumstances, the only sensible thing to do at this point for anyone who believes unreservedly in the European project, as we do, is to set down some markers for the discussion, and arguments, that will inevitably ensue.

  • First, let’s be clear about what happened. Fifty-five percent of the French, with a turnout of 70 percent, and 61 percent of the Dutch, with a turnout of 63 percent (in the very first referendum ever held in the modern history of the Netherlands), voted against the EU constitutional treaty. By comparison, last year, in what were presumably the most important elections held in the United States in a generation, and with the country at war, George Bush was elected with less than 51 percent of the vote on a turnout of just over 60 percent. In the 2002 congressional elections in the US, turnout did not quite reach forty percent. So, yes, the French especially, but also the Dutch, voted en masse, ensuring that no one could argue (as happened recently in Spain, where the embarrassingly low turnout cast suspicion on the huge “yes” vote) that the vote did not represent the “true will” of the people. It did, and it does.

  • Now, let’s be clear on what did not happen. Europe was not rejected. We’ll repeat that: Europe was not rejected. One last time. Europe. Was. Not. Rejected. And, just in case some think we’re using a kind of Blairite code, let us also say that European integration was not rejected, at least not by French and Dutch voters.

    Recently—indeed, less than a week after the referendums—one of the editors of this Website took a flight from Athens to Paris. After getting on the plane in Athens, and following several security checks at Venizelos Airport, he put away his passport, as it would not be needed again when he got off at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Virtually all of the EU’s nations have signed the Schengen agreement (which has essentially created an integrated police and security space), and their citizens are very glad they did and do not want the old border controls reinstated. (The only two member-states of the EU that have refused to join Schengen are, bizarrely, Ireland and, predictably, the UK.) Ironically enough, four days after the Dutch referendum, a referendum was held in Switzerland. Voters were asked to approve Swiss entry into Schengen. Unsurprisingly, they did, although the notoriously Euroskeptic Swiss still refuse to join the EU as a whole, because Schengen not only makes life easier in getting around for the average European (or American, like the editor). It has also developed a reputation among law-enforcement officers and anti-terrorist specialists as an extraordinarily safe area. (We’re not sure if George Bush has ever heard of Schengen. He’s undoubtedly too busy “protecting” his fellow citizens by building anti-missile systems that don’t work, and seemingly can hardly fly, and planning to erect a fence across the Mexican border in emulation of Arik Sharon’s brilliant strategic vision.)

    The greater point, of course, is that there are now countless ways, large and infinitesimal, in which Europe’s citizens have already been united into an integrated, continental space. There is absolutely no desire on the part of these citizens to disarticulate this integration. Europeans have specific problems with specific results of integration, almost always the consequence of its bureaucratic application, but not with integration itself, and anybody who has spent more than 24 hours in Europe can attest to that fact.

  • So, what did the French and Dutch vote for, or against, exactly? Good question(s). Unfortunately, nobody knows, and anybody who says he does is either a liar or a fool, or, in Tony Blair’s case, both. What is certain is that, pace the British prime minister, the French did not vote against modernity and the Dutch did not vote against Islam. It is obvious, however, as the exit polling in both countries confirmed—although the Anglo-American mediacracy has pointedly refused to even broach this ideologically toxic subject—that both peoples voted in favor of their respective social legislation and the cultural mores from which they spring. The French do not want a labor regime imposed on them that is alien to their very notion of social solidarity (a word that’s been expurgated from Anglo-American usage, presumably because of its French origin and Mediterranean roots). The Dutch, for their part, do not want to a see a societal consensus created over decades—on everything from decriminalizing drugs, to full social and civic rights for gays, to the right of the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity and self-purpose—imperiled by misconceived, mischievous, and thoroughly mechanistic (and bureaucratized) notions of multicultural “toleration.” If we wanted to work like the Chinese or the Americans, the French say, we’d live in China or the US; if we wanted a theocracy, the Dutch say, we’d live in Saudi Arabia or, once again, the US.

  • Meanwhile, Tony Blair (and his ventriloquist, George Bush), blather on (albeit with strategic, disinformative purpose) about the “challenges” of the twenty-first century, the global economy (especially its Chinese and generally Asian components), and, above all, the “sacrifices” Europeans need to make to achieve the “efficiencies” that will allow them to compete with Mr. Blair’s Britain, Mr. Bush’s US, and, naturally, the Chinese and other Asians. Productivity, unemployment, growth rates: Mr. Blair shoots these terms out like arrows from a medieval Briton’s crossbow. Too bad he’s such a poor marksman. We will not engage in an exchange of mutually pointless statistics and related lies. Suffice it to say here that, while it is true that France’s unemployment rate has been mired at 10 percent for the last few years, New York City’s was 8.5 percent just two years ago. France, however, is not Europe. More to the point—and this is yet another toxic subject (there are so many) for the Anglo-American mediacracy—France is far from being the exemplary representative of the European social model. Why doesn’t Mr. Blair or the Anglo-American media look at, say, Sweden? That country’s unemployment rate last year was 5.6 percent; it was 5.5 percent in the US. But if one had to suffer unemployment, where would any sane human being in the world choose to have that misery befall him or her? In the US, where greed is not only good, but the official religion—and the social “safety net” is lying, undone and moth-eaten, on the ground after a generation of united and concerted bipartisan attack on working men and women? Or in Sweden, with its universal healthcare, daycare, free education from pre-K to university, and vocational and professional retraining and retracking, just to mention some of the more salient differences between “European socialism” and Anglo-American antediluvianism?

In our last editorial, we said that a French “no” to the proposed EU charter would provoke a crisis. It has. We also said that it would be a salutary one. It is. Now comes the hard part. (We do not mean, by the way, to downplay the Dutch referendum. However, the fact is that the Netherlands is not France. If the French had approved the EU treaty, even if only by a whisker, the Dutch rejection would have not provoked the comparable crisis in the EU that the French vote has. That is simply the reality of the situation. The Netherlands is important to the EU, especially as it is a charter signatory of the treaty of Rome; the French, however, are fundamental to European unity and identity.)

The EU has been coasting on its self-satisfaction for far too long, mostly because of the extraordinary condescension and conceit of its elites. It was about time that it, and they, was finally brought down to earth, and that the people who did it were…the people of Europe themselves. And what will happen now? We haven’t a clue, but we do know what will not happen, and that is that Europe will neither collapse nor disappear. Quite the opposite. It is only now that we can finally start speaking of Europeans genuinely, and consciously, building a self-determined structure of European federal integration. But that’s what crises are all about, after all: provoking resolutions of profound, and often seemingly intractable, problems. In the event, only one thing is certain: the people of Europe will not be dissolved.

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