TCS Daily


The Day After

By Sylvain Charat - May 30, 2005 12:00 AM

Non! Some 56 percent of French electors have rejected the European Constitutional Treaty. This is perhaps the most important of Jacques Chirac's failures, and surely the most disastrous in its consequences. France now faces a crisis on two levels.

One level concerns the European Union itself. That a founding country would turn so dramatically from the European process means much more than any if other member states do so. Europe could have explained away refusals from "little countries", but not from France.

Immediately after the vote, European Commission President José Barroso acknowledged this was a serious problem for the Constitution. The UK now wonders whether it should even both to hold its own referendum. The Netherlands is bolstered in its intention to vote No. Poland is puzzled by such a result, especially when the French vilified so much the "Polish Plumber", a character created to frighten French workers and make them believe the Constitution would open the doors to foreigners who would take their jobs. The Czech Republic can now be more opposed to the treaty. And Italy is wondering if it was too hasty in ratifying it.

Aside from this immediate reaction, a political trend has strengthened. The French referendum was not only about the European Constitutional Treaty, nor Europe itself. It was just a pretence to confirm a widespread feeling in the French political class, to spread fear among workers, to provide a life insurance policy for a close-to-bankruptcy welfare state. It was a referendum about the kind of society France wants. That is why the outcome was already known to most of us: It was No to free trade, and Yes to a collectivist society.

Chirac, Socialist Party President François Hollande, UMP President Nicolas Sarkozy, former socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, all swear that the Constitution would protect Europe from economic liberalism. Former socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, UMP representative Dupont-Aignan, anti-globalization activist José Bové, right-wing nationalist Philippe de Villiers, all promised that the No vote would protect Europe from economic liberalism. They opposed each other in a hypocritical campaign even though they all deeply believe that economic liberalism shall not be and must not be a European core value. All agree with Chirac's stunning statement that economic liberalism would be as disastrous as communism.

Yes and No: two different words for the desire of the same protectionist and collectivist society. Here is the political ideal that is victorious on this day after, and France will solidify its posiiton as a stronghold of collectivism against free trade policies and influence Europe.

The other crisis concerns France itself. We are in a serious political predicament. Chirac's inability to govern is more obvious than ever. The French president asked voters again and again to vote Yes. He involved himself so much in the referendum campaign that most of the No voters, whether they be from the Right or the Left, voted against Chirac. The repudiation could not have been more harsh: 56 percent said No, with one of the highest participations in an election (more than 70 percent of voters turned out).

What kind of leadership can such a president offer now? What kind of legitimacy can he retain? But Chirac is not going to resign. His reaction of course will be to form a new government that is likely to be center-Left. The political aim will be to create a social liberal program in order to reinforce a social economy that can make the market fit with the aims of social cohesion. The French social model will be more protected than ever.

Protectionism and collectivism are only the first steps toward communism. With economic globalization so demonized, the only remaining solution lies in market control and state monopoly. Will today's France be Europe's future ? Sadly enough, this future seems probable owing to popular support that can be seen in France, paving the way for a process that is opposed to the building of free and open societies.

The political class - and even its most economically liberal leaders -- now raves about this social economy for the market, the first step of collectivism. Some really believe it, others support it for political opportunities, all join in the same rhetoric. Oddly enough, it could be related to the new Star Wars movie, in which Padme declares after a vote giving executive power to Chancellor Palpatine: "So this is how liberty dies -- to thunderous applause."

Sylvain Charat is director of policy studies at the French think tank Eurolibnetwork.

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