by Austin Bay
May 31, 2005
The European Union isn't finished, and unfortunately, we haven't
quite seen the last of Jacques Chirac -- though politically he is a dead man
With France's rejection of the EU constitution, however, the
domestic and international political utility of Chirac's slimy, shallow
anti-American schtick enters the dustbin of current history.
Nope, it wasn't the work of a wild cowboy's bullet or
unilateralism by the American hyper-power: A disgruntled French electorate
dealt the grand European project a staggering body blow.
"Old Europeans" -- by that I mean France and Germany's decadent
and sclerotic leaders, Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder -- have used the
Anti-Cowboy Card to mask their own social and political failures. High
unemployment? Blame those American cowboys. Problems with Muslim immigrants?
Call Bush "Hitler" and then sneer. Troubles with labor unions, pension
payments and potholes? Don't address the specifics -- instead, give pompous
speeches about the grand and glorious Near Future, when United Europe
supplants the United States and we'll show those cowboys who's
The fire lit by the French electorate has severely charred the
Anti-Cowboy Card. Now it's time for a new generation of European leaders to
quit the card game and pick up a mirror.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called for a "period of
reflection" after the vote.
Fear of including Turkey motivated French "no" voters. Parse
that, and a Jack Straw reflector will find fear of Islam, racism and fear of
cheap Turkish imports. The French nanny-state is tottering -- another raison
d'etre behind "no." The mirror suggests a profound French identity crisis.
There certainly is no pan-European identity to save the French
psyche. In some ways, the news that the Cold War really is over has finally
reached Paris. Granted, the EU's founders had reason to be wary of rabid
nationalism, given the 20th century slaughters of World War I and World War
II -- but the EU was as much a creature of Cold War collective threat as it
was a child of economic rationalism. The Soviet threat is now waves of
immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Yet, the European economic "super market" makes fundamental
sense. Free trade makes sense, particularly when your neighborhood is one of
the planet's nicest pieces of real estate -- well-heeled, well-educated and
intellectually creative Western Europe.
But political unification, beyond a loose confederation of
democratic states? That pitch was always suspect, something of a