"in Bobo's World, whenever a tree falls in the forest it discredits large swaths of American liberalism, whether anyone hears it or not. So I am less concerned about what an animated cabbage thinks of American liberalism than I am about what the rejection of the EU constitution actually signifies.
I think it signifies that the people of Yurp are not an alien species but folks like us Amurrkuns, folks who put on leurs pantalon one leg at a time and who are just as capable of making stupid decisions in the voting booth as we are.
This does not comfort me much."
Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Germany prepares for unthinkable? Not yet, but it may have to if attitudes don't change
Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Germany prepares for unthinkable? Not yet, but it may have to if attitudes don't change
02 June 2005
The euro was unnerved yesterday by a magazine report that the German finance ministry and the Bundesbank are already contemplating how to respond to the previously unthinkable - the collapse of monetary union. The report was immediately denied, but it is indicative of the fragility that exists in currency markets post the French "non" that for a while it was taken quite seriously, and it certainly makes my own hitherto sanguine view of the likely market fall-out from the death of the European constitution seem open to question.
Of course, it would be utterly astonishing if the German authorities did not have a contingency plan for the collapse of the euro. This is the sort of thing that central bankers and civil servants are paid to plan for. A bit like nuclear war, nobody expects it to happen but we would surely wonder why we have a government at all if it turned out nobody had bothered to think about what to do if it did.
The more concerning aspect of the Stern magazine story, again denied, is that the German government is planning to blame the euro for Germany's economic malaise. They've blamed just about everyone else, from the locusts of Anglo-American capitalism to European enlargement, so why not the single currency too?
Yet not even Gerhard Schröder, with defeat looming in the general election, could be that cynical. To turn round and damn a project which up until now he has been the main cheer leader for would surely lose him any remaining support he might have. You don't, in any case, need to be a trained economist to know that the euro is not the root cause of Germany's problems. The interest rate set by the European Central Bank for the European economy as a whole is undoubtedly too high for the stagnant German economy, but it is arguable what effect yet lower rates still would have on an economy where domestic demand is so subdued.
Would Germany be better off without the single currency? According to the polls, that's what a growing number of Germans believe, for they look back to a supposedly golden age of economic prowess that existed before the euro was introduced and draw a connection. This is a not unreasonable thing to do, but it is also largely a delusion.
Those of us in Britain who have supported the single currency have tended to do so in the belief it would galvanise Europe into free market economic reform. Indeed it is hard to see how the euro can ever properly work if this does not occur. As a collection of essentially national economies, each with their own employment and industrial protections, the euro is doomed to division and failure. It is only if the full force of industrial and labour market competition is unleashed on these economies that a single currency becomes economically sustainable and politically acceptable.
The French no was a vote against precisely this kind of vision. Europe seems intent only on looking backwards to a past ideal which never really existed as Continentals seem to believe it did and in any case is unachievable in a fast changing world. The euro is not yet a doomed project, but it will be if attitudes don't change.
Forgive me for making a blunt and obvious point, but events in Western Europe are slowly discrediting large swaths of American liberalism. [..]
The highest "no" votes came from the most vulnerable, from workers and the industrial north. The "no" campaign united the fearful right, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the fearful left, led by the Communists. [..]
Over the last few decades, American liberals have lauded the German model or the Swedish model or the European model. But these models are not flexible enough for the modern world.
So you're thinking maybe there is a reason that isn't a power struggle or squeamishness about the currency, Nimh?
A speaker from Holland on NPR said his country is worried about supporting all of Europe.
The perception in much of the U.S. media is that resistance to the Constitution has come from those who fear giving others more power over their national affairs--a sense of nationalism perhaps
The perception in much of the U.S. media is that resistance to the Constitution has come from those who fear giving others more power over their national affairs--a sense of nationalism perhaps--plus concerns re the Euro. I was just picking up that you see the issues running deeper than that Nimh.
Tribes of the left gather to celebrate a vote against hated EU constitution
By John Lichfield in Martigues
26 May 2005
The hall resounded with 6,000 voices chanting the war cry of the French left. "Tous ensemble, Tous ensemble, hoy, hoy." (All together, all together. There is no known translation for hoy, hoy.) They were all here, or almost all of them - the many tribes of the Gauche Française.
[..] They were here, in Martigues, a Communist-run town between Marseilles and the Camargue at the mouth of the Rhône, to celebrate the [upcoming] victory of the "non" in Sunday's referendum on the proposed EU constitution.
[..] Speaker after speaker, and there were 18 of them, called for the preservation of the "new unity" of the anti-treaty left [..]. These people hate [..] capitalism, globalism, liberalism and the EU. The treaty campaign has divided them from the "electable" core of the moderate socialists and greens.
[..] Before the rally began, I spoke to a score or more of "militants" of one persuasion or another. They were against the EU treaty because it was "ultra-liberal" and "not sufficiently social"; because it was "written for the bosses, not the people"; because jobs in France were being moved abroad; or because they feared an influx of Polish or Romanian workers, on cut-price wages.
But weren't all the references to "free-trade", "competition", and "markets", which they hated, copied into the constitution from existing EU treaties going back to 1957? Weren't they therefore challenging, not just the constitution but the whole basis - free trade, free movement of workers - on which French prosperity had been built in the 1960s? No, they weren't against free movement, they were just just against the Poles and Czechs coming to France on low wages. They wanted a united Europe but one with harmonised social protection, not free trade or "competition".
A Frenchman of Polish extraction whom I met on my travels this week said: "The French left is like a radish. It is red on the outside and white at its heart." In other words, fiercely nationalist. Much of the left-wing rhetoric in this campaign has resembled far-right rhetoric: anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner.
For low-paid Poles, read low-paid Arabs, I suggested. George Capozi, 58, secretary of the Martigues branch of the CGT, objected to that. "We are not far right. We are not against foreigners," he said. "My own grandparents came here from Italy in the 1930s..."
Would they be welcome today?
by David A. Bell Only at TNR Online
The New Republic
Post date: 06.01.05
Behind France's solid rejection of the European Union constitution on Sunday, there were a number of stunning exit poll results. One of the most widely reported was that among those who identified with either the extreme right or extreme left, more than 94 percent voted no. Historically, this situation is known as "the extremes touching." Another was that the only age group where a majority voted yes was made up of those over 55, who remember the early post-war enthusiasm for a united, peaceful Europe. But even more important, and less widely reported, is the fact that while around two-thirds of professionals and executives voted yes, a huge percentage of the working class--more than 80 percent--voted no. In other words, the result was strongly linked to class.
To understand why the lower classes voted no, one really needed to do little more than listen carefully to the French politicians who rushed into the television studios to argue about the vote on Sunday night. While of course they all expressed their respect for "the will of the people," they did not seem to take "the people" very seriously. On Channel Two, Henri Emmanuelli, a dissident socialist who had campaigned against the constitution, pointed out that since close to 90 percent of the deputies to the National Assembly had supported it, the referendum amounted to a vote of no confidence in them, and should be followed by new parliamentary elections. Immediately, the mainstream politicians on the panel accused Emmanuelli of "populism." Throughout the night, and in the newspapers over the next few days, warnings against "populism" were repeated with tedious regularity and carried more than a whiff of contempt for ordinary voters supposedly governed by fears and anxieties rather than rational calculation. It was easy to see why France's wage earners feel ignored and disdained by the country's political and economic elites--and easy to see why they had seized this opportunity to express their frustration.
Of course ungrounded fears and anxieties are part of the equation--notably the fear that the constitution would lead to Turkey's entrance into the EU and a new flood of Muslim immigration to France. But there was also anger that many previous decisions about Europe had been taken without directly consulting the people or considering the effects on workers. These include, most importantly, the recent entrance into the EU of ten countries with generally lower labor costs, weaker regulations, and meeker unions. Already, jobs are starting to flow east as a result, and the number of Polish, Hungarian, and Slovene trucks bringing cheap manufactured goods into France is visibly increasing.
There was also understandable confusion and resentment in the face of a document hundreds of pages long, written in grinding bureaucratese, and mentioning matters as specific as coffee prices, while providing no means for its own amendment or revocation. While the constitution took this form because it codified earlier treaties, this did not change the fact that it was tedious and rebarbative. And then there was the almost irresistible urge to stick a thumb in the eye of Jacques Chirac, who campaigned in 1995 on a promise to lower an unemployment rate that hovered around 10 percent. Ten years later, the rate has barely budged. [..]
Yet most important, perhaps, was the simple problem that French elites could give the rest of the population no strong reason to vote yes. Mostly, they resorted to the shibboleth that they were building Europe. Except they forgot that "Europe" means very different things to different segments of the populations. It means one thing to well-off professionals who vacation in Italy or Spain, send their children to Britain or Germany on educational exchanges, and routinely interact with their counterparts from other members states of the EU. To them, earlier steps in building Europe, such as the introduction of the Euro three years ago or the establishment of university exchange networks, have had a palpable, beneficial effect. But to wage earners who do not attend university and can barely afford to travel, Europe remains far more of an abstraction, and a threatening one--the idea, not entirely false by any means, that decisions that affect their livelihoods are going to be made even further from home.
Among the best reasons for voting yes was the argument that the Constitution would make the existing EU work better, providing it with a president, with a more responsible parliament, with better-defined governing institutions. Presented more forcefully, it might conceivably have carried the day. Yet the only way to have made this case with real force would have been to criticize the existing institutions, to have run against them, to have denounced them as the distant and overly bureaucratic morasses that they often are. But to do this would have been to admit that mistakes were made in the past, and made in large part by the French elites who have been the greatest driving force behind the EU. Needless to say, this was not done.
In the coming days, Chirac will undoubtedly make changes and concessions--he started this process yesterday with the appointment of Dominique de Villepin as prime minister--and many bold noises about assuaging the fears of the anti-constitution voters. But he will almost certainly not give them any real reason to support the building of Europe, and will not do anything to address their concerns about the French elites, which he and Villepin so perfectly represent in their family backgrounds (big business, the old aristocracy), their educations (the ultra-selective National School of Administration), and their suave, confident, often-arrogant manner. Villepin is so little a populist that he has never even run for elected office (in France, you can be prime minister without being a member of parliament). And so Chirac is unlikely to assuage those who have voted no, and is almost certain not to advance the cause of the EU any further. Indeed, the attempt to construct a larger, continental political structure has now not only stalled, it has rebounded upon the political structure of the French state, exposing and exacerbating serious cracks in its own political foundation. Far from the referendum bringing Europe closer together, it is fragmenting it in profound and troubling ways.
I find the story of the emerging "Democratic Left" party fascinating, myself. I've been collecting bits and pieces from news stories about it from the moment the possibility was first mentioned, wanting to bring it to this thread sometime, but just never found the time.
The "Democratic Left", for those who havent caught up, is the newly patched-together alliance between the PDS, the party of East-German former communists, and the WASG, the party of disillusioned trade unionists and assorted leftists who are "cobbling together their own SPD without Agenda 2010", as one newspaper put it. Talk of an alliance was triggered when the WASG went from 0 to 2,2% in the North-Rhine Westphalian elections despite lack of money or well-known candidates.
Well, the latter problem sure has been solved now. In a "Return of the Titans" set-up, Lafontaine will head the new alliance (formally a renamed PDS that will open its lists for WASG representatives), which is being forged in torturous negotiations now, together with Georg Gysi. Gysi was the one charismatic leader the PDS ever had, who led the party to successive gains in the 90s before giving up over the party's un-reformability.
Today is both these men's big chance - and their last one, too. Two men out to get their personal revenge, before turning definitively too old? Or a unique opportunity for an aging PDS and budding WASG to jump over their own shadows - and create something Germany hasnt known in fifty years: a country-wide party of the far left in Parliament?
If Oskar and Georg's project will indeed make it (big), that would make a European trend.
First, the French (mostly Trotskyite) far-left garnered enough support in 2002 to push the mainstream Socialists' leader, Lionel Jospin, into third place in the presidential elections; without the 10% of the vote that went Trot and the 11% that went to other far-left candidates, Jospin didnt have enough support to get past Le Pen anymore.
The result was echoed in this year's French referendum on the European Constitution, with Communists, Trotskyites and nationalist leftwing Socialists playing a pivotal role in the "non", leaving the mainstream Socialists looking lost.
In Holland, the (once upon a time Maoist) Socialist Party fulfilled the same role. With a campaign strongly emphasising national sovereignty, it played a decisive role in rallying a leftist vote against the European Constitution, to match the opposition against it in far-right circles. The SP has benefited proportionally in the polls, rising from 9% to 15% in the course of two months - its best ever poll result.
On a sidenote, there was Galloway and his Respect! party, giving New Labour a black eye in London's Eastend and almost in Birmingham Yardley as well. And now Oskar and Gysi in Germany?
If they do get significantly over 5%, it would be sensational - and if that helps bring the mainstream Socialdemocrats down to a record low, we're talking watershed moment. All in all, we'd be talking a rebirth of red politics, to the left of the Socialdemocrats, in West-Central Europe.
The return of Marxism-Leninism it is not, but after a decade or two in which you had only the post-materialist Greens left of the moderates - and them going ever more pragmatic/liberal at that - it signals the return of the reds. Who would have thought?
The Greens have sensible positions, which I share: on the environment, the integration of foreigners, equal rights for women. But when it comes to soico-economic questions, I don't trust them a meter on the road. They are ever more similar to the liberals. The Greens are an elitarian party. They have the attitude of former squatters, who now own houses.
Unlikely Hero in Europe's Spat: The Beckoning 'Polish Plumber'
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: June 26, 2005
PARIS, June 25 - Blond, buffed and blow-dried, a come-hither half-smile on his face, the man in the travel ad grips the tools of his trade as he beckons visitors to Poland.
A Polish ad features a model as a plumber who assures the French that he is staying in Poland (away from their jobs).
"I'm staying in Poland," the man says, a set of strategically placed pipes in one hand, a metal-cutter in the other. "Lots of you should come."
He is the "Polish plumber," a mythical figure who became a central actor in the debate in France over the European Union constitution, which was roundly rejected by French voters last month. Portrayed as a predator who would move to France and steal jobs by working for less pay, this "plumber" has come to personify French fears about the future.
Now the Polish Tourism Bureau is using the character to try to allay French fears and attract visitors at the same time.