TCS Daily

Equality or Freedom

By Sylvain Charat - May 25, 2005 12:00 AM

No matter which side prevails in this Sunday's French referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, the result will be the same: a victory for collectivism.

This, of course, means that both sides have the same aim but not the same means. So the most important outcome of the referendum is not that the French will say Yes or No, but that they will reveal themselves yet again as being strongly collectivist.

The fact that the Polish president and the German chancellor came to France to promote a Yes vote confirms the importance of French leadership for some countries. But France's central role in EU policymaking is a clear threat to Europe's market-based economy. This was highlighted by three recent political statements: harming cross-border competition by shutting down the Bolkestein directive on liberalization of services; promoting protectionism by forcing China to reduce its textile exports; weakening property rights when President Jacques Chirac expressed a willingness to expropriate patents on medicine. These are only the most recent examples.

The desire to build a collectivist society is embodied in Chirac's call for a reinforcement of the European social model. This is a counter-model to a free and open society best represented by some Eastern countries -- such as Estonia -- and Anglo-Saxon countries. Thus, two European visions of society are ideologically opposite.

French leadership bases its social vision on equality, the very source of collectivism. This does not mean being equal before the law, it means being socially equal - no one higher, no one lower. This eliminates any notion of competition in the name of social cohesion. That's why civil servants' jobs are so popular; that's why health coverage is a state monopoly and creates a welfare society; that's why politicians rave about a social economy. What kind of future can France have when 70 percent of its teenagers dream of being civil servants? At best, equality, in this collectivist meaning, is the praise of mediocrity.

In Eastern European and Anglo-Saxon countries, social vision is based on freedom. This involves the social integration of the rule of law and the acceptance of risk. Freedom is a risk and cannot be separated from responsibility. This is the prefect ground for a free trade society, the only one able to bring wealth and prosperity to the greatest part of its citizens. It does not mean that everything is perfect, but it means that there is much more opportunity for individuals to better themselves, to give the best of themselves, to make good use of their gifts and improve the world. At best, freedom is the praise of excellence.

Only one of these two social visions has a future. Europe is at a crossroads, and new political divisions will emerge from this opposition. The question is whether Europe will be united in freedom or in collectivism. Some European countries are leaning toward freedom, others toward equality, and we recently witnessed that the latter was the strongest. France's leadership is leading Europe in the wrong direction.

What if a collectivist society is in store for the European Union? What if this project first based on economic union and free trade would slowly devolve into a protectionist and welfare union? These questions are far from trivial. Recent events show a failure to promote economic liberalization as protectionism reaches new peaks of popularity among politicians and, worse, with a significant part of the population.

A collectivist society is symbolized by protectionism. It is the best and surest way to destroy the past 60 years of work in Europe "The protectionist regime is a source of evils, uncertainty and dangers," wrote French economic liberal Frederic Bastiat in the 1840s. "It fosters national animosities, delays people's union, increases chances of war." Thus, Chirac's leadership is heading toward instability and economic failure, tearing down the European Union in its collectivist folly.

Sylvain Charat is Director of policy studies in the French think tank Eurolibnetwork.


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