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A strange bedfellow

Posted by Richard Thursday, August 26, 2004

There is some minor rejoicing in the Eurosceptic camp about the announcement that Jean-Pierre Chevènement, a former French interior minister and presidential candidate, has spoken out against the EU constitution and is calling for a "no" vote in the French referendum.

But, before the rejoicing gets out of hand – unlikely though that may well be – it is appropriate to reflect on the nature of this new-found ally.

Chevènement himself is something of a fixture in French politics, having been on the scene for over 30 years. He was an ally of Mitterrand in the early 70s and its widely regarded as the architect of Mitterand’s successful coup which brought him the leadership of the socialist party in 1971. He was rewarded with several Cabinet posts but, over the years, he seems to have lost faith with socialism and reverted to a more fundamental French nationalism.

His brand of nationalism brings him into conflict with the project of European integration, but he is also viscerally anti-American, having resigned from the government (not the first time) over French "subordination" to the Americans in the 1991 Gulf War.

In the autumn of 1992, in response to the Maastricht treaty, Chevènement left the Socialist Party and founded the Movement of Citizens (Mouvement des Citoyens — MDC) to champion French nationalism, which he believes transcends traditional left-right politics. But his loathing of European integration occasionally conflicts with his anti-Americanism: a fervent opponent of the euro, he has nevertheless grudgingly accepted it as a means of helping France assert itself against the US and its mighty dollar.

What is interesting and perhaps significant about his current opposition to the EU constitution, however, is that Chevènement seems to have found a way of reconciling his anti-Americanism with his opposition to European integration. Yesterday, he told Le Figaro of his "disappointment" with the Treaty for taking an overly liberal approach to the economy and for giving a "tool of vassalisation to the United States" in the field of foreign policy and defence.

Chevènement's fear is that France will be marginalised in the EU of 25 members, the majority of which, in his view, are loyal to the United States. The new Commission, in which France will only have one member for the first time, will be dominated by liberals and Atlanticists, he said. He thus wants his country to reject the constitution, as a precursor to negotiating a replacement – presumably one which is more in tune with French nationalist aspirations.

Thus does the constitution bring out the worst in French politics which, for British Eurosceptics, makes him a strange bedfellow.