A More Imperfect Union. A Letter from Paris.

First Published: 2005-12-08

Reprinted with the kind permission of The American Spectator.This article first appeared in the July/August 2005 edition.

You can also view the web site of the author, Mr. Joseph A. Harriss by clicking here.

In Brussels, self-styled capital of Europe, one of the oldest clich?s is that "The European Union is like riding a bicycle. Stop moving forward and you fall."

The formula sounds boldly progressive. In fact it reveals an ugly truth about "Europe" the artificial creation, as opposed to the real, historical Europe: it is a frightened fuite en avant. Stop its incessant geographical and regulatory expansion and the EU loses much of its reason for being-and many of its well-paid, unaccountable Eurocrats in monumental buildings metastasizing all over the city risk losing their jobs. Now the sham momentum of fleeing forward is stalling and the European bike is wobbling, victim of a rare exercise in direct democracy. The consequences are incalculable but not serious.

For decades the EEO (Euro Elite Oligarchy) ran things as they liked, with only the most cursory nod toward consulting the peasants. It didn't matter that they never said where they were leading Europe. The French Socialist Jacques Delors came as close as any Eurocrat to defining the EU's ultimate objective when as Commission president he said, "We don't know where we're going, but we're on our way." Such a blind process could hardly be served by asking the varied peoples of Europe their opinion of the Common Market/European Economic Community/European Community/European Union or whatever it's called next week. Especially when most of them couldn't care less about it: 46 percent of Europeans can't tell you how many member states belong, 62 percent don't know that Britain is a member, while many are convinced that Turkey already is.

So they weren't asked if they wanted Brussels to invade their daily lives with niggling rules and regulations, usually decided behind their backs, on how their traffic lights should flash, or the exact number of bacteria in a slice of camembert. Or to expand from six to 15 to 25 ill-assorted, contentious members and counting. Or open their borders to allow illegal immigrants and organized crime to circulate freely. Or to replace their venerable, beloved national currencies with the misbegotten euro, with its neutered images of virtual architecture carefully designed-a subtle lobotomizing of cultural memory-to avoid resembling any of Europe's heritage. When the EEO finally got around this year to consulting public opinion, the citizen rabble took a closer look at what was going on and didn't much like what they saw.

One of the more exquisite ironies of French and Dutch voters' resounding rejection of the EU constitutional treaty in May and June was that one of its stated purposes was to bring the faceless, soulless organization closer to the people of Europe. In this summer of their discontent, Europeans are reacting negatively to the central thrust of the EU rather than to the constitution itself, which few have read. The document, laboriously entitled "Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe," is an incomprehensible thicket of legalistic Eurospeak (polls show only 10 percent of Europeans are familiar with its contents) comprising two preambles, four main parts, 20 chapters, 19 titles, 15 sections, 17 sub-sections, 36 annexed protocols, and a two-part final act-just what you would expect from a committee of functionaries.

It addresses the peasants with all due condescension. Whereas the seven-article American constitution, only about one-tenth as long, begins with the ringing, lapidary "We the people of the United States," the EU document intones, "His Majesty the King of the Belgians" and goes on to say that other majesties, highnesses and heads of state "have agreed on the following dispositions." (And back into your hovels, commoners.) If constitutions imply a nation-state and the collective will of a self-governing people, this is no constitution in any meaningful sense, the EU being neither a government nor a nation and the Europeans not anything like a coherent people. It is, rather, another example of the Potemkin slight-of-hand and flim-flammery the EU habitually uses to puff itself up. Example of the emperor's new clothes: it creates an appointed "president" but without popular election, sans executive powers, and, of course, no armed forces of which to be commander-in-chief.

When Jacques Chirac decided last year to put the treaty to a referendum-most EU members are rubber-stamping it in their complaisant parliaments-he was reacting to Tony Blair's announcement of one for 2006. Besides, polls then showed it would pass easily. To promote it, he and his strange bedfellows the French Socialist Party played the anti-American card as hard as they dared, stressing that a yes vote was to be forte face aux ?tats-Unis, strong against the United States.

With his place in political history riding on the result, Fr?re Jacques spent over half a billion dollars in his campaign for a oui vote. He also tried to buy support among civil servants, farmers, vintners and others with still more pay, subsidies and benefits, while the EU Commission cooperatively delayed any new moves that could irritate the French. He invited his Socialist pal Gerhard Schr?der over to France three times to give pro-treaty speeches. He spread scare stories about what would happen if they voted non: they would be "the black sheep of Europe," France would "cease to exist politically." He took to TV several times to plead, cajole, and threaten. In the end, the French, in an unwonted access of revolt against the powers that be, voted overwhelmingly to make Chirac look like (Should we say it? Oh let's do!) a Jacquesass. The rejection was a huge personal defeat for him, one which will forever taint his political legacy and preclude a third term.

For the usually docile French to have resisted the propaganda onslaught of their government, the major parties and the mainstream media showed a truly monumental case of up-to-here with the EU's euphemistically termed "democratic deficit." As a goat farmer on Noirmoutier Island, where I am often, told me as he offered a portion of his ewes' mellow product, "Everybody I know is voting no. We're fed up with the way things are going, with being ignored. This is the only way we can get the message across to those guys in Paris and Brussels."

When Holland, another of the six original founding members and ardent EU supporter, followed suit with a thumbs down, the constitutional treaty was effectively finished, along with Eurocrats' superstate ambitions. In any case, if French and Dutch voters had not given it the coup de grace, the Euroskeptical Danes and Brits would have.

There is little to lament, either by Europeans or the rest of the world. The frequent claim that the EU is necessary for peace in Europe is patently fraudulent: It was the American nuclear umbrella and U.S.-led NATO that let the Europeans get on with closer economic cooperation and pleasantries like high pensions, free spa cures, and seven-week vacations. Europe's real post-war success stories, like the Ariane launcher and Airbus, have had nothing to do with the EU, being the result of sovereign nations freely entering into joint projects.

Europe is probably in for a prolonged period of stagnation and neurotic introspection, so what else is new? Of course, if the Eurocrats have not learned by now that political union can only be based on a common history, culture and sense of community, they could just put the whole shebang on the path to slow disintegration. Anybody want to buy some euros?

Reprinted with the kind permission of The American Spectator.This article first appeared in the July/August 2005 edition.

Mr. Harriss is also the author of two books, "The Tallest Tower: Eiffel and the Belle Epoque," and "About France,"

The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.

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