by Austin Bay
May 31, 2005
The European Union isn't finished, and unfortunately, we haven'tquite seen the last of Jacques Chirac -- though politically he is a dead mantalking.
With France's rejection of the EU constitution, however, thedomestic and international political utility of Chirac's slimy, shallowanti-American schtick enters the dustbin of current history.
Nope, it wasn't the work of a wild cowboy's bullet orunilateralism by the American hyper-power: A disgruntled French electoratedealt the grand European project a staggering body blow.
"Old Europeans" -- by that I mean France and Germany's decadentand sclerotic leaders, Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder -- have used theAnti-Cowboy Card to mask their own social and political failures. Highunemployment? Blame those American cowboys. Problems with Muslim immigrants?Call Bush "Hitler" and then sneer. Troubles with labor unions, pensionpayments and potholes? Don't address the specifics -- instead, give pompousspeeches about the grand and glorious Near Future, when United Europesupplants the United States and we'll show those cowboys who'ssophisticated.
The fire lit by the French electorate has severely charred theAnti-Cowboy Card. Now it's time for a new generation of European leaders toquit the card game and pick up a mirror.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called for a "period ofreflection" after the vote.
Fear of including Turkey motivated French "no" voters. Parsethat, and a Jack Straw reflector will find fear of Islam, racism and fear ofcheap Turkish imports. The French nanny-state is tottering -- another raisond'etre behind "no." The mirror suggests a profound French identity crisis.
There certainly is no pan-European identity to save the Frenchpsyche. In some ways, the news that the Cold War really is over has finallyreached Paris. Granted, the EU's founders had reason to be wary of rabidnationalism, given the 20th century slaughters of World War I and World WarII -- but the EU was as much a creature of Cold War collective threat as itwas a child of economic rationalism. The Soviet threat is now waves ofimmigrants from Eastern Europe.
Yet, the European economic "super market" makes fundamentalsense. Free trade makes sense, particularly when your neighborhood is one ofthe planet's nicest pieces of real estate -- well-heeled, well-educated andintellectually creative Western Europe.
But political unification, beyond a loose confederation ofdemocratic states? That pitch was always suspect, something of aFranco-German canard.