Wednesday, March 30, 2005

And what if the "nons" win?

The Lord Pearson is a relatively happy bunny today as they printed his letter in The Telegraph today although, from the heights of Rannoch towers, he is somewhat miffed that they left out the word "corrupt", as in "corrupt octopus". Now what could he be referring to?

Anyhow, his Lordship is taking The Telegraph to task for expressing the hope in its 29 March leader that France votes "no" to the EU Constitution.

If it does, he writes, Brussels is likely to respond by setting up another inter-governmental conference, "listening to the people" of course, which would render our own referendum redundant. That IGC will then produce a new treaty, subtly achieving the constitution's aims, upon which we will not be granted a referendum, but which Parliament will rubber-stamp as usual.

In the meantime, he continues, the octopus (as in "corrupt octopus") will continue to devour the remains of our sovereignty piecemeal, under the treaties we have already been foolish enough to sign. So let us pray that the French run true to form.

This is one of several pieces on the "French situation" in today’s newspapers, although the Europhile Independent and The Guardian have very little of interest to offer (how often that is the case?).

A good summary of recent events can be found from "our man on the spot" and Charles Bremner of The Times describes the "Frantic scramble to revive the 'Yes' vote".

The Telegraph also has an interesting op-ed by Fraser Nelson with the somewhat misleading title: "Chirac is dragging us down with him".

"A spectre is haunting Europe - and terrifying the President of France," Nelson tells us, nothing other than "ultra-liberalism," branded by l’escroc as "the communism of our age."

That l'escroc thinks of it thus is to Nelson a "sad illustration” of how France is stuck in the political dark ages", but his main thesis is that Britain, under the ministrations of Messrs Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are following along the same path. "Britain… is slowly drifting from New Europe to Old," he writes.

That brings on the City comment which focuses on the referendum and argues that a "French 'Non' could echo across Europe".

So far, it says, the markets have reacted calmly as the French "non" to the EU constitution gains a solid eight point lead in the opinion polls. Everyone assumes that the EU has moved on since September 1992 when whiffs of a French mutiny against Maastricht set off speculative waves in the bond and currency markets, ending in a lira debacle and sterling's ejection from the ERM.

However, the Telegraph is worried that the markets may have misjudged the profound ructions that could occur if the French do indeed toss the constitution into the dustbin. It would be an ominous rejection of free market values and the EU cannot take many more hits on this front before real trouble begins.

With the simultaneous collapse of the Stability Pact, the Lisbon liberalisation drive, and the services directive, the piece concludes, it was perhaps the worst week for Europe in half a century and the risk for investors now is that a "non" could prompt market players to question whether monetary union itself has a long-term future.

Something of that theme is picked up by Bronwen Maddox in The Times "Foreign Editor's Briefing", where she argues to thesis: "The answer doesn't matter: it's the wrong question".

Europe, she writes, is making too much fuss about the French referendum. The "project" will stumble on without out it and what matters is that the EU should concentrate on policies to stimulate competition, to cut subsidies and curb government debt.

The constitutional debate is "a self-indulgent distraction if there is no interest in change" and the politicos are putting the importance of the constitution far above the actual policies which the EU is supposed to pursue, in the interests of its own future. In indulging its obsession with form, the EU is ignoring the content - and the urgency of the need for change.

That sounds like a half-way intelligent comment except for one thing. In truth, the EU only has one policy – political integration. Everything else is subordinate to that, and Maddox makes the mistake of assuming that the EU as a governmental entity is actually interested in anything else.

Thus, le crunch approaches as to whether France is going to put national interest above the interests of "le project", and that is why, actually, the constitution is not "a self-indulgent distraction". It is, in fact, a battle for the heart and soul of Europe.

But the point that Pearson raises is interesting. What happens if the French do vote "non". The danger is that the "colleagues" will fudge it, and proceed as before (as indeed they are doing now), with the UK deprived of the opportunity for a decisive vote on the process of political integration.

Happening after the UK general election, a French rejection of the constitution may indeed give Blair exactly the opportunity he needs to abandon a referendum he is unlikely to win, putting us back in the twilight zone, with no clear target to aim at.

On that basis, it might be just as well if l'escroc does manage to rig the poll and squeak home with a narrow "oui". His election agents had better get busy filling in all those polling slips.

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