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Monday, May 30, 2005


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   The French "Non"


 

In a decisive vote, France, one of the founder nations of the European Union, rejected the draft European Union Constitution. A shocked French President Mr. Jacques Chirac conceded defeat and talked about new "impulses" that he would initiate.

 

Several times before, different efforts have failed to unite all of Europe. From military maneuvers of the Roman Empire to the current democratic effort, a unified Europe had always been a problem. Differences in language, geography, economic status along with old rivalries, clans, political differences, ethnical grouping separate the many countries of Europe. The modern effort was as much a political unification of these divided lands as is about economics and inter-dependence.

 

A unified European Union brings many benefits to Europe and even the world. A strong unified currency provides a degree of stability and hedge against the dollar. It removes trade barriers and makes it easy for countries to import from and export to Europe. It enables a consistent trade policy making it easier for companies to collaborate, trade, and transact efficiently. It makes traveling to Europe easier as tourist and business travelers to Europe will not have to deal with multiple visa regulations. Through the unification, militaries, diplomacy, customs, and other bureaucracies are optimized clearing budget allocations for development, trade, and other positive investments. A unified judicial system and system of governance makes it easier to achieve global laws and understanding. A unified Europe will create a parallel global power that competes positively with the United States and act as a check against unbridled unipolar power. It would serve as a stabilizing force in the world to arrest the growth of radical and destructive nations that manipulate a divided world to achieve nefarious objectives.

 

Analysts point out that the French "Non" vote is rooted in fear, self-interest, and opposition to Mr. Chirac's policies. They cite the high unemployment rate (above 10%), a drastic increase in working hours from 36 to 45 a week, and a fear that their constitutional rights of equality, fraternity, and freedom as reasons for the vote. They cite the success of the coalition of left wingers who actively campaigned against the EU constitution on the platform that it was pro-rich and anti poor. They say that increased membership of EU dilutes French position, respect, and influence in the EU. They say the new Constitution would make Europe more Anglo-Saxon and less French. These seem to be fascicle analysis on a complex vote. These may have been symptoms and strong reasons but there are numerous other undercurrents at play.

 

The new Constitution was authored by a Convention chaired by a former French President; would he have not influenced the text to ensure the preservation of European (or French) influence? Would not the people of France know that a dilution of EU is a departure from what they have supported earlier? Would not the French understand that the dilution of EU means weakening of the Euro and therefore a loss of wealth for Europe? Would not the French appreciate a loss of opportunity for business means more unemployment? Actually, one of the strangest things that happened was that most of the arguments for the "Non" vote was centered on old texts of the draft Constitution that constrained too many amendments that few understood.

 

The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War brought together Germany and also the concept of unification of Europe. This however graduated to a point where countries clambered to become part of the European Union to get a piece of the benefits listed above. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pushed to include former Eastern European states. The Russians claimed this was to marginalize the fledgling Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) formed soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The greed to expand Europe grew to a point where Turkey is now a prospect to join the EU. This brought home the truth that inclusion of these economically backward and socially different states could radically affect and perhaps erode traditional European values and culture. Can France sustain an unbridled invasion of populations seeking economic benefits from Turkey when it cannot even handle controlled influx from Africa and Asia? With existing French immigration laws being the way they are-- liberal, naive, and overly gracious, could an influx of large populations into France take away money from social, infrastructural, and community spending to finance incoming populations who really do not have to work? Can France accommodate  increased ghetto populations outside Paris? Clearly, the French have instinctively said "Non."

 

An optimistic analysis of the French "Non" is that the vote has created an unknown period of uncertainty for the fledgling union and the world. A Dutch "No" (another founder member to vote next week) followed by a British "No" will arrest the progress of EU for a long time. Apparently, there was no "Plan B" as such a plan would mean diluting the Constitution. But EU Commission leaders are quick to point out that they will pursue with the plan of getting votes from all member states and then ask nay-Sayers to vote again since all 25 member states must say "Yes" or "Oui.". This may be a decent strategy. But a better one is to go back to the drawing board and evaluate the current situation with the original concepts behind EU. Answers to the French "Non" will be evident. The EU could possibly learn a bit from the Indian American experience in living with culturally and ethnically diverse, religiously polarized, illegal economics-seeking migratory populations.

 

The EU is India's largest trading partner. And, a collapse of the EU or its stunted existence is not in India's or anybody's interest. The only people who would benefit would be extreme left wingers who want a resurrection of Communism. 


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