On Point

Chirac, Political Dead Man Talking

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 talking.

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 sophisticated.

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 Franco-German canard.

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