Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where Did It All Go Wrong

First off, in the Observer on Sunday, was a cartoon that I still can't believe was published but it was CLASS! Most people (poor bastards) have now been exposed to Crazy Frog - a cartoon frog mimicking the noise of a moped, which is being used as a mobile phone ring-tone by chavs everywhere. Well the crazy frog is shown in the moped-riding position, mouthing "Non, non, non, non, non..." I've been searching for a link but I just can't find it - so use your imagination.

Anyway, apropos of nothing, the French said No to the European Constitution and the Dutch are about to say No as well. It certainly is a blow to the European project but surely it's not the crisis situation it's being presented to be. The EU constitution, as written, is trying to tie-up decades of ratified treaties (themselves often long-winded and complex - see the Treaty of Nice) and is trying to be all things to all people, effectively trying to tie the citizens of disparate nations, with differing world-views, to a common set of principles. Well, I'm sorry, but Europe in the 21st Century is not the United States in the late 18th, and this was never going to work the way it was attempted.

Apart from the fact that all the big governments in Europe are currently extremely unpopular with their citizens, which was bound to have a detrimental affect on ratifying the constitution, the 25-member states are worlds apart in what they want from European integration. In other words every country in the EU is a member of the club for their own national interests. Therefore, for every country, attempts to make Europe "work better" means giving up some advantage or other - vetos, commissioners, voting rights etc. France and Britain, to take the obvious examples, are worlds apart in terms of economic and social policy. The small countries have voting rights in excess of their national percentage of total european population, which is a source of frustration for France, Britain, Italy and Germany especially. There isn't currently 25 commissioners jobs to go around, yet having a high-profile commissioner is a badge of pride for the smaller countries.

So the French vote "No" because, essentially, they believe they'll be forced into an (as it's being called) Anglo-Saxon style market economy (less restricted labour laws, increased competition etc.) and they also believe their country will lose power. I should say now that French power over the EU is, in my humble opinion, a bad thing. Their complete mé féin-ism (Irish for looking after number 1), and lack of moral principle make the Americans look like they believe in all things to all men. For example, the EU's sanctions against Burma were watered down so completely by the French that the EU was too embarrassed to publish the renewal of the sanctions. The French did this so that they could protect the interests of ONE company - Total, the French national oil company. Of course only the yanks cause human misery over oil...

Holland will vote "No" for its own reasons - they feel they're bullied by the bigger nations (i.e. the Germans) and they're suffering a period of self-examination after a recent spate of race-related incidents following the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by (allegedly) a Dutch Moroccan muslim, who accused van Gogh of insulting Islam in his films. Incidentally that link is about the arrest of a Chechen in connection with the murder, which passed without much comment. I'm sorry for this tangent but I was always inclined to believe that Islamic fundamentalists had infiltrated the Chechen separatists like the Russians claim. Also Britain could well have voted "No" too in one of their fits of nationalism even if the constitution suits Britain, if what the French believe is true.

My guess is that the constitution will be redrafted following a period of renegotiation and will end up being pretty vague and non-threatening to any nation's interests. Then it will be put back to the people, together with a pile of promises about "listening to the will of the people" and "engaging the citizens of Europe in the European project" and all that guff and it will then be ratified. Europe is a bit directionless and, if it's to build on past successes, then some form of single rulebook does need to come into force. The various governments just need to work out how to persuade the people...
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