Monday, May 30, 2005
the French NON
Needless to say I find it a bit disappointing that there was a NON of 55% to 45% in the French referendum on the European Constitution yesterday. But in some ways it's not surprising.
The reasons for the non must be many, and I'm certainly no expert on them. I haven't actually met a French person who was against the constitution so I've not really had the chance to clarify why there was such a strong no. Nevertheless, the reasons I've picked up on seem to point to the fears of being overrun by Turkish immigrants who will steal jobs, and by being invaded by a 'liberal' Anglo-Saxon economy where social benefits are cut back. Then there is apparently a large number of people who voted against the government and the president in order to register a protest vote out their general disgruntlement with French politics. Another factor is that the point of the constitution and of the European Union generally has not been well explained and so people aren't buying into its development. I think this is true all over Europe. Until I started reading the constitution, I certainly wasn't certain what the Union was looking like. What I have learnt is this.
European integration started after WW2 as an effort to pool economic resources, with the logic that if you integrate your countries economies and make them dependent upon each other then there will be no war. Things have steadily progressed and now it is clear that, embracing 25 countries and with a common currency and a collection of institutions and procedures, Europe needs some streamlining in its decision making processes. Another significant factor is that we face political and military hegemony from the US, and are seeing a dramatic increase in the influence and power of China. European nations which once ruled the world now face the possibility of marginalisation in world politics. It is against this backdrop that the leaders of the EU are working to build a power block that will be of sufficient size to compete on the world stage. Similar efforts are underway in Asia and in South America, although we are by far and away the trailblazers in this process.
For me, the simple truth is that our best future does lie as part of federal Europe. I am happy to accept this idea. But I know that this will never be achieved until we can figure out how it can happen without overly traumatising or even destroying our national identities. Our nations have long histories of which we are proud. How can Britain, which ruled over half the globe until 60 years ago, be happy simply co-operating in a power share arrangement? How can France, which started a project with its neighbours as a means of self-protection, be happy as the project threatens to engulf it? I don't know, but some of the answers lie in the direction of a science of culture and identity - something we currently lack. Other answers lie in improving our understanding of the project, dispelling the thousands of myths and fears, and explaining why it is our best chance for self-preservation and improvement. There is also a strong need to increase interest in the democratic process, so that the people of Europe participate and sense that they are represented by this Europe, and so that scaremongers and racists can't hijack politics with their opportunist populism.
I'm sure that some of you there reading this will be squirming and feeling that I'm stupidly idealistic. But since I am a Brit living in France and working in the first European company, everyday I live and experience the benefits of European integration.
In the 1970s the European aerospace industry comprised of a handful of tiny national companies compared to the American giants of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. In the same way that our individual nations today lack the size and clout necessary to stand up to the giant nations and are grouping into the EU, four national aerospace companies of France, Germany, Britain and Spain slowly came together in a co-operative venture under the brand 'Airbus'. A headquarters was established where representatives from each nation formed the employees and headed up the high level functions of the new venture, including marketing, finance, training and support - basically all the functions which required contact with the customers in the outside world. The synergy of different talents and ideas that is present in such a cultural mix has driven Airbus forward to the point that it is now market leader and McDonnell Douglas has been driven out of business. The national companies still hold considerable power in the company and although their identities have changed, they still retain an identity of their own, distinct from any other. If they had stayed apart, its unlikely they would even exist.
It's because of this industrial rejuventation that I am comfortable with the idea of European integration. As long as we can combine our talents and ensure our federal government is truly run by a mixture of cultures and nationalities, and as long as we involve ourselves in the government so that our voice is heard, then surely us Europeans can find that this is the best way to retain our prosperity and influence in a world of giant nations. We do actually have a lot of common interests despite our differences in perspective.
We've done our stint at global domination and are ready to see a different world, a world in which nations co-operate and communicate peacefully and in which resources are shared. The EU model is by far the most developed in bringing this world into existence.
More so than the domineering US or the developing and hungry China and India, we are concerned about such issues as environmental change, sustainable development, third-world poverty and disease. Aren't these are the issues that humanity needs to face?
With our long long history of engaging other cultures and languages, having already made all our mistakes on the world stage and resolved on diplomacy, aren't we uniquely qualified to bring out concencus and solve conflict?
My personal faith is that together us Europeans can really make a difference to this world. I hope that France's NON will cause us think for a moment, and to wake us up to this possibility for our future.
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