Brian & Ann's European Experience

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Day The Music... Died

It may very well be that years from now people will look back at this week and say “that was the turning point for the European Union”.

On Wednesday the French, whose former President DRAFTED much of the constitution, voted against it in a referendum. The talking heads on the TV are saying that the French vote was mainly an expression of frustration against the government for the poor economic situation in France, and a knee-jerk reaction to the fear of outsiders coming in and stealing their jobs (all those “New” Europeans) or fear of free market capitalism coming in and wiping out their precious welfare state.

Chirac campaigned heavily for the constitution, and in a way that just made it all the more obvious that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He wanted so much for France to be relevant again, and for Europe to play the counterbalance to the US, that he really went out there and pressed the flesh trying to get it passed. But if he had just allowed the decision to be made by the legislature, instead of by a national referendum, the French would have passed the EU constitution and the pressure would have been on the Dutch to follow suit.

Even though the Dutch were also pissed off at the EU constitution (for completely different reasons – they thought it wasn’t strong enough), after living here I can tell you that they would have succumbed to the pressure. The Dutch are all about consensus.

By the way, I have heard from more than one Dutch person that they were going to vote no because the deal that was on the table wasn’t good enough. While I certainly agree that there is a time to stick to your guns, what the Dutch don’t realize is that if they didn’t take the deal that was on the table, there would cease to BE a table. Sometimes you have to take a deal you don’t want just to keep a relationship going so that you can get to the point you want to be.

Now, with two ‘no’ votes, the idea of an EU constitution is pretty much dead, and any attempt in a few years to revive the idea will be met in people’s minds with the history of the last experience.

One country’s people thought it was a threat, one thought it wasn’t enough of a threat, in the end, nothing happens and the potential of a united Europe is again unfulfilled.

In my opinion, it will ALWAYS be unfulfilled.

With some minor differences in standard of living, ethnicity, and religion, the EU is just like Afghanistan: a group of tribes who each want to cling to their own power and will never give up their small amount of power in order to gain a greater amount of power as a united country because they just don’t trust each other enough to take that leap of faith. Just like in Afghanistan, there’s some weak central government trying to push the country in the direction of unity, but they have little real power and there’s not much they can do because they have to keep up friendly relations. There is little carrot and absolutely no stick.

Europeans are different.

Maybe in some fundamental ways they are alike (mainly Christian, mainly white, social welfare tendencies, love taxes and universal health care), but their differences are not superficial. Language. History. Business approach. Politics. Size. Economic wealth. There is just too much that is different that there will always be a significant block of countries that disagree with each other.

Remember how easy it was for America to divide Europe with the Iraq war? You have one group of European countries saying “it’s illegal and immoral and we will do everything to stop it” and you have a bunch of others sending troops.

The rejection of the European constitution, as watered down and vague as it is, illustrates how difficult it will be for Europe to ever play a dominant role in international affairs. They have little to offer (“hey, we’ll sell you our stuff”) and no ability to enforce any kind of policy beyond their own borders.

The really sad thing is that this rejection of the concept of the EU will push those who want a “multi-polar” world even closer to despotic countries like Russia and China, simply so that there can be someone on the world stage who can challenge the US and show those American bastards they can’t just make everyone eat McDonalds and drink Coke and get rich.

Yikes. Way past my bedtime.

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