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More tales of referendums

Posted by Helen Sunday, October 31, 2004

The preferred metaphors of various europhiles have always had to do with speed and transport: trains, bicycles, convoys, whatever. The strange idea there is that once you are on whichever form of transport you have chosen, the destination no longer matters, only the fact that there is movement. (This is, of course, true about London Underground but one cannot base political metaphors on that institution.)

The train part always amused me as it reminded me of the train of the revolution that was taking the unfortunate people of the Soviet Union and, later, other countries to the utopia of communism. The metaphor was rather ingeniously and picturesquely mixed with the trains that sped with Red Army troops across the fronts of the Civil War, the propaganda trains (shame about their progenitor, Trotsky, who was never mentioned) and the trains that brought the ideas of communism to the far-flung villages (as well as the death squads but that was passed over). There was even a song about it. But, at least, there was a firmly stated destination.

On the other hand, the bicycle metaphor, as well as being more suited to the careful, rather bourgeois methodology of the European integrationists, is also more accurate. If it is not moving, it falls. You can put your foot down and stop the movement for a time but sooner or later a decision has to be taken whether you go forward again or drop the machine.

With the Constitution and the various referendums we are coming to the point when the bicycle may have to be stopped long enough for decisions to be taken. Clearly, the EU is not going to collapse and its managerial, undemocratic, unaccountable legislative system will carry on, as well as all the other integrationist measures we have enumerated. Still, at the very least the bicycle will start wobbling and stumbling.

All sorts of problems are being faced over the referendums. Take the case of France. As the BBC Paris correspondent says on the World Service website:

“French politicians have long seen the European Union as an extension of French power, a deeply political project steered mainly from Paris, with Germany as the junior partner.”
Recently, worries have emerged. It is not that the French, and especially the ruling elite, the so-called enarques, are against the project, more that they are afraid it is not going their way. The train seems to have changed directions while they were gossiping over coffee and cognac.

First of there is the problem of the language. As we have written before, French is no longer the language of choice for the European Union and this development has intensified with the entry of the East European countries.

With the language, they fear the entry of those Anglo-Saxon ideas of free market and a relaxation in the centralized structure, that the European project has managed to avoid since its inception. They need not worry about that, as there is precious little sign of any change, but worry, they do.

Then there is Turkey. Though the disputed entry of that country is a long way off and there is no real guarantee that it will ever happen or that the EU will survive till then, a frisson of fear has run down the collective French spine. Turkey is a very large Muslim country; it is unlikely to be pro-French; it will upset the balance of power even more; it has been more pro-American and, certainly, pro-western rather than pro-European alliance than the likes of Chirac or, even, Sarkozy would like to see.

So the Constitution, instead of being perceived as another and crucial step towards the accomplishment of a French-directed European Union, has become an object of some dispute. Presumably, the full text is not available there any more than it is in other member states and, unprecedentedly, complaints are being raised about that. The latest polls find that a shockingly high 58 per cent is unsure which way to vote in the forthcoming referendum.

The last referendum on the Maastricht Treaty was a close-run affair with some questions asked about such matters as the number of spoilt ballot papers. Can President Chirac overcome the problems? And, more to the point, would it not be fun if the whole edifice started shattering because France, of all countries, voted NON to the EU Constitution?