Monday, October 11, 2004

The French syndrome

"Talking louder than everybody else, making a little bit more noise, and thinking that by yourself you constitute a majority."

That is the view of the French, by Bernard Kouchner, a physician and former Socialist cabinet minister, as cited by the International Herald Tribune today in a piece chronicling the growing unease about the EU constitution.

According to the IHT, and others, there is now a "kind of suppressed rage" in France "about coming to terms with an expanded EU that has drawn away from France, and decided, rather incontrovertibly, not to build itself on the basis of a French social model".

In practice, the IHT reminds us, that "social model" means ten percent unemployment, high taxes, an obese state apparatus.

Le Monde is called in aid to develop IHT’s thesis, with writer Eric Le Boucher explaining that it all started when "France lost the European battle to export its social model." He argues that the French political establishment has become an anachronism for Europe in arguing for a dead-on-its-feet social program

Another leading French political commentator, Alain Duhamel, says France has now devolved into a minority voice in providing ideas for Europe's future. More harshly, the historian Nicolas Bavarez, whose vision of his country's decline has become embedded in French consciousness, describes the phase as a new one in France's isolation.

France, according to the IHT, sees two problems with the direction the EU is going. Firstly, the draft constitution is seen as "officializing" a European economic and social system "along the lines of Tony Blair's flutes-and-strings re-orchestration of Margaret Thatcher's rough-edged policies". Secondly, the EU's 25 members have turned from France's notions of "Europe puissance," code for a kind of activism that many in Europe have come to regard as meaning confrontation with the United States.

Taken together, these have created enormous stress on the French political fabric, and it has begun to tear. And while this is most evident with the Socialist party, "in reality", says the IHT, "no one across the political spectrum has any enthusiasm for the constitution, which is seen at very best as a wash for France."

However, before taking any great satisfaction in what has become known as the d├ęclinisme of France, and claiming success for the "Anglo Saxon model", it is as well to remember that the EU commission has its own agenda.

The word "liberalisation", which causes the French such profound despair, and some British such joy, has an alternative meaning. In community terms, it is not actually the denationalisation that we think it means. It is merely the precursor to detachment of enterprises from the nation state in order to reinvent them as European "champions".

In rejecting this, therefore – would that we knew it - we might have common cause with the French. We too can fall into the trap of "talking louder than everybody else, making a little bit more noise" but, with only 13 percent of the vote on the EU Council, we are not the majority either.

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