The results are in from the French EU Constitution Referendum of May 29th, and 54.5% of French voters said “Non,” with turnout running at an impressive 70.5%. The “Constitution” has been squarely rejected once, and will probably be rejected again on Wednesday in the Netherlands.
This isn’t a vote against Europe or against progress or against togetherness and fuzziness. That’s what the political elite has wanted you to think, but, in all reality, the “no” vote is little more than a demonstration of European capacity to see through the lies that have been constantly slung at them by politicians and their pals in the media.
Lie #1: A “no” vote will throw Europe into complete chaos.
This is one of my favorites: like the political elite would offer a vote where one of the possible options would result in anarchy, confusion, and complete disorder. My friend at Spectrezine, Steve McGiffen, phrased this one fittingly in conversation by evoking the metaphor of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” to describe what presumably happens if one votes “no” in this referendum.
This is democracy in the neo-liberal era: “get out there and vote everyone! And, most importantly, vote correctly, nothing stupid!”
Lie #2: A “no” vote is stupid.
The image left by this oft-flung accusation is something like this: The “yes” supporters have spent long hard working hours in libraries poring over thick volumes of legal and trade documents followed by rigorous application of the appropriate scientific methodology to arrive at the perfect Cartesian conclusion that: “we need this constitution.”
Meanwhile, the “non” supporters are the base, idiotic masses. Images of Marx’s “rural idiocy” are conjured up: where all of the French farmers arrive in Paris with shovel and hoe in hand, half their teeth missing, making wild proclamations about French “Grandeur”, seemingly lost on all the Euro-progress that has gone on over the last few decades.
Lie #3: This constitution strikes the perfect balance between market and social principles.
First, the word “market” appears over 100 times in the text, out trumping the words “social”, “environment”, “welfare”, and any of their cognates some ten times over.
Second, either one of these principles is the stuff of politics, to be decided by democratically elected representatives. Why the hell is the constitution having this discourse? Even the constitution presiding over the Land of the Free doesn’t make mention of the “market”. America’s capitalism is not pronounced in its constitution, nor should it be. Leave it up to right wing nut jobs who manage to receive a governing mandate by skillfully putting themselves in bed with big business and the media to institute free market reforms to their own glorious benefit. Don’t need the constitution to make these decisions.
Third, the constitution proclaims that Europe will be defined by open markets, minimal government interference, and free trade. The first two have generally come to mean shrinking social benefit packages, and greater fiscal constraint on the welfare state. Already, France has been feeling the squeeze on its prized Social Democracy, as the Eurozone cap on deficit spending has forced blanket cuts on rent and housing assistance, holiday time and pay, and even threats of putting a fork in the ole 35 hour work week. By locking countries in to “shrinking government” commitments, eventually the squeeze will win, and voila! we have a brand spanking new Land of the Free ready for mass consumption by whoever manages to pull off a decent wage.
Fourth, the language of market reforms tends to be exact and well nurtured, marking the accumulation of decades of trade treaties driven by market logic. Meanwhile, the social protections that exist tend to be watered down and vague. Take the one on environmental protection: “Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”
Terms like “high level of protection” and “diversity of situations” are never explained, nor is the spirit of “priority”. In sum, this safeguard acts like it has a lot of meaning, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing in the legal sense.
Lie #4: Europe needs to be stronger in order to counterbalance American hegemony.
Wait. I’m suddenly horribly confused. Is Europe supposed to go to war with the United States? Is this going to be happening soon? Because, I will re-locate myself to somewhere safe like, maybe, Japan if this comes to fruition.
The constitution also commits countries to increasing their military capacity in order to pursue a common military policy. Technically, it says “foreign policy,” but I’ve noticed through several years of being on this planet that there is little difference between foreign and military policy when we are talking about Great Powers. If countries strictly abide by this regulation, then they will all eventually spend 100% of their resources on military: increasing their expenditures year after year until they are eventually perfectly fascist.
Lie #5: You can’t turn your back on Europe now!
This sort of argument is laced with the Catholic commitment logic: once you find a girl you like, you stick with her for life. I tend to operate more under the logic of: “If the girl goes crazy, then it’s time to move on.”
Either way, politics tends to work quite differently than romance. In politics, there is generally a handful of sneaky bastards roaming underneath ready to take advantage of whatever framework they can in order to institute more power for themselves. There’s never just two: “us” and “Europe”. In fact, there’s the hodge podge of “us” that mostly don’t know each other but can pretend, and “Europe” which is a political construction vaguely resembling a geographical entity in the physical universe, then the wide array of interests that want to make “Europe” work for their own good while pretending to be working for “us”. Because the latter have begun to really fuck things up between “us” and “Europe”, I really think that we are going to have to break things off for the time being.
Lie #6: The No Campaign is led by right wing nationalists.
I am not a right wing nationalist, the “Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens” (ATTAC), a wildly popular group pushing for a redistributive Tobin tax in Europe, is not a group of right wing nationalists, France’s largest trade union, the Confédération Général du travail (CGT), is not a right wing nationalist group, the European Social Forum (ESF) is not an enormous collection of right wing nationalist groups, and over 50% of France and the Netherlands are NOT right wing nationalists.
Sore losers tend to make arrogant remarks like this out of desperation. It’s time that the power elite realizes that the problem is not the opposition, but rather THEMSELVES.
So the French people have picked through the lies and voted their conscience, and produced a fairly unpredictable result on the heels of hard effort by grassroots groups through France.
The apocalypse will never come, Europe will not disintegrate, Europe will not be obliterated by the American military machine any time soon, and the quality of life will not suddenly plummet.
Europe will keep on truckin’ as it has since the last round of treaties, sans constitution, and packed full of hope for a progressive future. The constitution will be re-worked, and the power elite will attempt to take into consideration what voters are concerned about, and then a re-vote will likely occur in France, and maybe in the Netherlands where the vote is not binding, but “consultative”.
They could possibly decide to take a page from previously existing constitutions wherein the dense political language is left out, and what remains is some pseudo-inspiring dribble drabble about Posterity, Freedom and Liberty; three things discovered on this very land by White Men with a flare for the dramatic.
More likely, a few more watered down passages guaranteeing social protection will be added, and all of the same problems will remain.
What needs to happen now is a concerted effort by ATTAC, the CGT, and other trade unions and grassroots groups throughout Europe to band together and make clear what changes they want: staying principally opposed to all language demanding the “removal of government” from the economy, and vanishing barriers to trade. Those are not healthy things to have locked into a constitution. It is the job of governments to responsibly suit tariffs and monetary policy to the constantly changing reality of the world around them.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that no compromise can be made between social and free market guarantees at the constitutional level. Thus, grassroots groups need to accept absolutely no language on the market and trade barriers.
Then, Europe will be well constituted and suited to take care of her children for the coming centuries. This is where the only guarantees are those that protect the citizenry from soiled interests: from the heavy hand of government, from the greed of corporate interests, from the tragedy of inequality, from the fickleness of war, and from the cliché nature of consumer-driven society. Education, housing, health care, safe and sound working conditions, and a thoughtful political discourse driven by concerns of equity ought be the focus of a constitution. These are the needs of society that governance has the capacity to help with.
Enormous corporations need no further guarantees than those already contained by their extraordinary wealth and power.
Now that the right wing assault on liberties termed the “European Constitution” has been justly shot down, let us begin work on something resembling an equitable construction of principles grounded in concern for human dignity for a Europe that is strong in the moral sense of the word.
Matt Reichel is an American expatriate and graduate student in Paris specializing in international relations theory. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The EU Constitution: Don't Believe the BS by Mike Whitney
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