Fareed Zakaria finds little to like in the French and Dutch rejection of the EU constitution. The underlying themes of the rejection, he says, are (1) opposition to free market reform, (2) opposition to immigration, and (3) opposition to Turkish membership in the EU. Zakaria contends that Europe needs all of three of these things that the voters, in a fit of “populist paranoia,” reacted against.
I certainly agree that Europe needs free market reforms. But it’s far from clear that Europe needs Turkish participation in the EU. And if Europe truly needs waves of additional Arab immigration to sustain itself then it is doomed, EU constitution or not.
Claire Berlinski in the Washington Post provides a more general and, I think, useful perspective on what the vote was about — the unwillingness of French and Dutch voters “to cede any more of their national identity to the fantasy of a unified Europe.” Berlinski applauds this sentiment:
Nobody in the French elite has been prepared to say what the French electorate has said clearly — that, even if the E.U. makes sense economically, it makes no sense historically. It reflects neither the will of a single nation-state, nor the will of an empire, based on the ability of a central political entity to dominate its periphery, nor does it reflect some form of established European identity with deep historic roots. . . .The E. U. is in effect an empty empire. The only national identities up for grabs are the old national identities of the chief nation-states of Europe. And no matter how hard the E.U. bureaucrats try to turn the French identity into a European one, the people just aren’t buying it.
I agree. As much as I would like to see market reforms in France, if French voters want socialism they are entitled to have it. But let it be “socialism in one country,” not a more liberal form of statism imposed top-down on an imaginary state, essentially all of Europe, including the nations of the “new Europe.”
It might also be worth noting that, whatever the French voters had in mind, the defeat they inflicted on the old political order could hasten the rise of younger leaders who are more comfortable with free markets. Indeed, immediately after the election, Chirac shuffled his ministers to the benefit of Nicolas Sarkozy who has been sympathetic to lower taxes, flexible labor markets, and more freedom for innovation and enterprise. Similarly, in Germany recent local elections have boosted the prospects of German opposition leader Angela Merkel, a proponent of market reform.
Europe is in sharp and perhaps irreversible decline. Last week’s votes won’t change this dynamic much, but the willingness of French and Dutch voters to say “no” to the political elites who have so poorly served them is a positive sign.