TCS Daily

Vive La Difference

By Joseph Tom Goeller - May 31, 2005 12:00 AM

With their vehement 'No' to the EU constitutional treaty in Sunday's referendum, the French people have, among other things, finally punished President Jacques Chirac for his foreign affairs mistakes. It may look like a repudiation of European political aims, and may seem as if it is only relevant in the EU, but the vote actually will have a profound effect on transatlantic relations and on world politics.

The French opposed the constitution for a multitude of reasons: Some feared it would create a super-state that is alien to French pride and self-understanding because it would diminish sovereignty. Others voted against it to express their dissatisfaction with the French political class. They also wanted to give a thumbs-down to Turkey's possible EU membership. In short, the No to Europe actually was an effort to embarrass the French government. It worked. Now what?

First of all, Americans can sit back and observe how a longtime troublemaker has now created trouble for himself and for his country. Like the German poet Goethe once exclaimed in his "Sorcerer's Apprentice", Chirac can only hope to be saved from the spirits he conjured up. While indoctrinating the country with the slogan "French first" and trying to make France a serious competitor of the US by constantly bashing President Bush, he did not pay attention to the real needs and concerns of his compatriots. It's the same as his German friend Gerhard Schröder did in Berlin. Both leaders are now paying the price for their narrow and selfish politics. Their electorates finally understand that these leaders are on the wrong track. The only way to stop them is to slam on the brakes. While the Germans expressed their dissatisfaction only at the low level of a state election a week ago, the French did more damage by rejecting the European constitution.

Chirac told French voters in an address that he is "hugely disappointed" with their non. "France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for defending our interests in Europe," he said. Europe's ambitious goals are now in jeopardy. It all started in March 2000, when the EU heads of state and government agreed to make the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010". That is, to outsmart the US. Although some progress was made on innovating Europe's economy, by early 2005 it was clear that these targets will not be met. Also in 2000, the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who actually is the mastermind of the European constitution, outlined his vision for a European continental congress. In a speech at Georgetown University he surprised the American audience with his declaration that "Europe needs a Philadelphia convention like the one of 1787".

Fischer's plans for a "United States of Europe" were almost immediately opposed by the French. What came out as the final EU constitution actually aimed more or less just at "united foreign affairs". That's exactly what Thomas Jefferson proposed in 1787: "My idea is that we should be made one nation in every case concerning foreign affairs, and separate ones in what is merely domestic." Now even a Jeffersonian minimum has gone down the drain and with it a lot of hope within Europe.

For the European Union the result confirms that the decisive Franco-German motor is now stuttering. While the EU as it is still will function primarily as an economic union, the future for European integration remains unclear. Questions will be raised about new memberships for more Eastern European countries and Turkey's accession is in jeopardy. There will also be a significant impact on the stability and political independence of countries like Ukraine and Georgia. Both might, to the satisfaction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, look again for closer ties to their big neighbor instead of pinning their hopes in a West that is unwilling to integrate them.

For the US the consequences are clear. Washington will still have to deal with the European scorpions on an individual bilateral level. For the foreseeable future it will have neither a competitor in world affairs nor a strong ally that can substantially share the burden in fighting the threats to Western societies. While Europeans in general are facing the same challenges from Muslim fundamentalists as the US, the EU will not be able to act accordingly in her own defense. The Europeans will stay vulnerable without the US military umbrella. So, in the end, the French non means that the American taxpayer has to continue to pay for European security and defense. In this respect, the French have snubbed the Americans yet again.


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