27 June 2006

François Bayrou urges the EU to go federal

Le Monde reports that leader of the French centrist UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française) party François Bayrou said at a conference at the weekend that if the French were asked to vote again on the EU Constitution, which 55% of them rejected in the referendum last year, they would vote no "by more than 60%." So why have not the French attitudes towards the Constitution warmed?

The main reason why the French put a brake on the Constitution was that the extremist parties were ready enough to deploy "politics of fear." The voters were not asked to consider the merits of the Constitution per se, but rather to deliver a judgment on national government's record and the EU in general.

Thus the extreme left could capitalise on scaring the voters; the Constitution would apparently be the end of the European social model. Paradoxically, the Constitution's Charter of Fundamental Rights would actually entrench the workers rights. The major bogeyman was the proposed EU law on services, the so called Bolkestein directive. Now, when the directive has already been enacted, needless to say in a very limited form, the anti-neoliberal French should no longer worry about the Polish plumbers.

Contrariwise, the extreme right attacked the Constitution on the grounds that it would further reduce French national sovereignty. However, this argument did not resonate among the electorate as much as the claim, not completely unsubstantiated, that the Constitution would pave the way for the further, uncontrolled EU enlargement. The French, generally uneasy about the prospects of the Turkish membership, flocked to the "No" camp. The concerns that Turkey could enter without the explicit public consent have now been appeased by a constitutional amendment which requires calling a referendum on every new EU entry after Croatia.

It is good news that the worries of the French have been addressed - the services directive was designed to take in account French uncertainties; the use of referenda for further enlargement was guaranteed. Unfortunately, in spite of all that the opposition to the Constitution rose if we are to believe Bayrou's words. So where lies the mistake?

Clearly, the French government is still unpopular, and the anxieties of the French seem to persist. The country suffers from low self-confidence and frequent political scandals. The citizens are afraid of globalisation, afraid of the Constitution, afraid of change.

Nonetheless, it is too late to resurrect the Constitution. Despite all the talk, it seems unlikely that the Constitution would ever be revived in its current form.

Bayrou went on to to call for a "reconstruction of the federal dimension" in order to protect differences in Europe, and, in the words of Le Monde, help the EU "escape its transformation into a techno-legal superstructure which makes people flee." These are fine words. Let us only hope that the remedy will come soon; otherwise the people will keep fleeing.