Tuesday, May 31, 2005
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
[Timmerman is the author of The
French Betrayal of America, just released in paperback from Crown
Forum. A forthcoming book, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming
Nuclear Showdown with Iran, will
be released on June 14]
The French people overwhelmingly
rejected the proposed European Union constitution in a referendum on
Sunday, handing a stunning political defeat to president Jacques
Chirac and to the French political elites.
In a tactic reminiscent of alleged
fraud in St. Louis, Missouri during the 2000 election, Chirac and his
advisors held open the polls in Paris for two hours beyond the 8 PM
closing time, hoping for a last-minute pool of support that would put
them over the top.
Before those last minute votes were
counted, the French Interior Ministry tally showed the Non vote
winning a staggering 57%. The final count, released later, brought
the nationwide rejection down to 54.87%, a respectable landslide.
took responsibility for the defeat on Monday Äì and
prepared to fire his Prime Minister. But the specter of an earlier
referendum defeat in 1969 that drove General De Gaulle from power now
haunts Mr. Chirac, with mounting calls that he resign.
The pressure on Mr. Chirac is his own
making, since he invested heavily in the Yes campaign. Mr. Chirac
told journalists on May 4, ÄúDo you realize what
other heads of State are going to say to me in summit meetings if
France votes No? TheyÄôre going to say,
ÄúKeep quiet, Sir!Äù
That was music to the ears of French
voters. Every time Mr. Chirac appeared on television in support of
the Referendum, his personal popularity and support for the
Referendum plunged in the polls. ÄúTen years after
coming to [power], Jacques Chirac is on the
mat,Äù writes Antoine Guiral in the center-left
Supporters of the European
Constitution, such as Chirac rival Nicolas Sarkozy, had been
predicting doom and gloom for well over a week as the polls showed
their campaign was headed for defeat. They were beaten by a rag-tag
coalition that stretched from Trotsyists and the former Communist
party on the left, to the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie
France,Äù summed up the sentiment of voters from
left to right. But what exactly they felt they were keeping is more
Some feared the Constitution would
pave the way for TurkeyÄôs entrance into the
European Union, bringing 70 million Muslims into predominantly
Christian (or formerly Christian) Europe.
Others complained of the
ÄúPolish plumberÄù who was going
to steal the jobs of French workers, since the Constitution would
allow cross-border competition without normalizing the social welfare
system and its burdensome costs.
In a last ditch effort to slay that
dragon, ChiracÄôs prime minister, Jean-Pierre
Raffarin, told the National Assembly last month that France would
oppose the free market initiative once the Constitution was adopted.
was precisely the type of legerdemain that aroused the suspicion of
French voters, who found the 448 articles of the proposed
Constitution to be opaque and incomprehensible.
The document increasingly was seen as
a FrankensteinÄôs monster created by the political
elites to perpetuate their own power. Without a shred of irony,
former president Valery Giscard dÄôEstaing boasted
that Äúthe text is easily read and quite
well-phrased, which I can say all the more easily since I wrote it
Americans could have found sweet
solace in a Referendum victory, since the creation of a single,
federated European Union government inevitably would have forced
France to abandon its permanent seat on the United Nations Security
Council in favor of the EU.
More troubling was the scarcely-veiled
odor of anti-Americanism and protectionism that permeated the No
Politicians and activists from the
far-left to the far- right denounced Europe as a mask hiding an
American-style free market where France would be unable to compete.
By hitching their political wagons to a staggering Chirac, French
conservatives abandoned the battle of ideas to LePen.
But the European project never passed
the smell test from the start. Put simply, Europe is not one country
or one culture, but twenty-five fiercely proud and independent
nations. While they have much in common, few Europeans are willing to
abandon their flag and tribe for an ill-defined idea, or for a
supra-national government of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.