April 15, 2005

(New) Party Time!

This is not another "whither Europe?" post. I'm just thinking out loud here.

Suppose French voters really do reject the new European constitution in the referendum scheduled for May 29. Dan Drezner outlines some of the difficulties Jacques Chirac and the rest of the French political elite are having in persuading voters that the greater glory of Jacques Chirac and the rest of the French political elite requires them to vote for this gigantic monstrosity. If it's rejected it could be resubmitted to the voters later, but would more likely have to be renegotiated.

Obviously this would have implications for the other European countries. A European political identity defined as much as anything by not being American would suffer a heavy blow indeed if French voters of all people decided that they do not really want what their president is commanding them to vote for. What could replace it?

Like I said, this is not a "whither Europe?" post. There are many possibilities that Europeans will want to consider themselves. I'd just like to suggest one, as humbly as I can: surrender.

OK, so humble is not something I do well. But I'm not talking about unconditional surrender here -- I don't expect Europeans, for example, start clamoring for the American health care system, pledge week on NPR, white Zinfandel or NASCAR. Europe already has soccer, which is enough boredom for anyone. And Europe has plenty of government spokespeople who can obfuscate quite as well as Scott McClellan, in multiple languages yet, so no change would be required there either.

All I'm suggesting is a new political party with a platform for making Europe more like the United States. It could campaign, for example, to change business regulations like these in Germany. It could urge a program to facilitate immigration from mostly Catholic Latin America, to ease concerns over a flood of immigrants from the mostly Muslim Middle East. This new party could even put forth candidates committed to cutting spending on dopey government programs aimed at fighting the spread of English, subsidizing boring movies and giving handouts to idle farmers. We could use some candidates interested in cutting government spending in this country, too, but let's not get off the subject.

A Europe defined as "the place that is not America" is defined in a fairly negative way; no wonder it doesn't arouse much enthusiasm among people who do not see it as a trough at which to feed. Why not a new political party that instead of struggling to multiply differences with America seeks to reduce them, that instead of mucking around with a constitution longer than some dictionaries promotes a shorter, less detailed constitution modeled on one that has actually worked before?

It could be called the Yankee Party, or the Lincolnists (I suspect that one probably sounds better in languages other than English). Or the Really, No Kidding Christian Democrats. No one is using the name Federalist Party that I know of; we were for a while, but that was a long time ago. As I said, it's just a suggestion. Let's have a dialogue!

Posted by at April 15, 2005 06:12 PM | TrackBack (8)

Thoughtful post. A few criticism. First, don't suggest American names or ideas so overtly. Even pro American Europeans would balk. Also, borrowing the American constitution to inspire the European one is unworkable. The constitutional traditions and the underlying ideological outlooks are just too vast.

What reformers need to do is to mine the European ideas and traditions of decentralization and federalism. They exist and reformers can articulate compelling political platforms for the various European electorate to consider.

Second, encouraging immigration from Latin America is fine but it doesn't solve the long term problem of convincing Europeans to have kids. A less chrushing tax burden. really serious pro family policies, and less expensive housing would go a long away.

That's al I can think of for now.


Posted by: xavier at April 15, 2005 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do not see this as very likely to occur. There are too many differences between Europe and the US. They are real, fundamental, and date pack for centuries. Given that, why would anyone expect a political party of Europeans to appear and be successful pushing American ideas and ideals even if couched in European language...

Posted by: Dundare at April 16, 2005 02:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Desperate to avoid a humiliating personal and national defeat, Chirac went on TV - in an American style Town-meeting - to promote a "OUI" vote in the upcoming referendum on the EU constitution; (more in a previous post HERE).

From the NYTIMES:

Mr. Chirac's bold move - his first major effort on behalf of the constitution - occurred amid anxiety that next month's referendum will not pass. Opinion polls show increasing opposition to the document, led by many people who worry that a more powerful union will threaten French social benefits and lead to even higher unemployment, now riding at a five-year high of slightly more than 10 percent. [...]

According to a poll conducted for L'Express this week, 53 percent of French voters intended to vote no on the constitution compared to 47 percent who planned to vote yes. A poll for Le Figaro and for Europe 1 radio produced similar results. [...] Many commentators deplored what they said was a blurring of the line between staged propaganda and informed debate.

There was ample skepticism expressed by the audience. From the FT:

Asked by one voter why the unemployment rate was so much lower in the UK than in France, Mr Chirac replied that Britain had social rules that would not be "acceptable to us". Scrambling to reassert his authority, which has been badly damaged by the faltering start to the Yes campaign, the president said that France should be proud of its contribution to Europe and the spreading of civilised values around the world.

However, Mr Chirac's greatest political rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, the populist president of the ruling UMP party, yesterday contradicted the president's upbeat views by saying that the "French social model" was failing the people. In a speech in southern France, Mr Sarkozy said that with a 10 per cent unemployment rate France should stop saying its system worked better than that of others. "In 20 years both the left and the right have doubled the credits to combat unemployment but we have not produced one fewer unemployed person," he said.

ME: People instinctively understand that creating and enabling another corrupt bureaucracy in Brussels will do NOTHING to improve their lives - like by lowering unemployment. That's why the polls have shown for week aftyer week for months now that 53% of France is adamantly opposed to the EU constitution.

Sarkozy (who supports the constitution) at least understands that France's socialist policies just simply do not work, and that they must be replaced with ones that do work, policies like those in the UK and the USA. If Sarkozy wins the next French presidential election in 2007 (and if this is followed by a rejection of the Socialist/Green coalition in Germany and of Zapatero's socialists in Spain), then there is real hope for continental Europe; (if it lasts that long under the onslaught of Islam, bad demographics, a collpasing welfare state, a failed constitution and the resulting weakened Euro. Between now and then the NEW POPE could have a major positive effect on morale in Western Europe - that is: IF the CofC picks the right one).


Most French newspapers give President Jacques Chirac poor marks for his performance in Thursday's live TV debate aimed at producing a Yes vote in the EU constitution referendum. Faced with an audience in which the No camp seemed to be in the majority, the head of state often struggled to get his pro-European case across, throughout a programme which was often confused," says the leading conservative daily Le Figaro. Le Parisien is even less impressed, calling it a "complicated, chaotic and - all things considered - a very disappointing broadcast." [...] The French president stressed that the constitution sets a goal of full employment, and he told his audience that he opposed an "Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist Europe".


French media has dismissed as unconvincing President Jacques Chirac's efforts to persuade his country to vote for the EU constitution in an upcoming referendum. [...] "In front of an audience in which those favoring the 'No' seemed to be in the majority, the head of state often struggled to make heard his pro-European plea during a muddled broadcast," the conservative Le Figaro wrote on its front page. "Chirac: difficulty reassuring," LCI television said, while the left-leaning Liberation newspapers said Chirac appeared "strained, almost clenched-up" in the meeting. Laurent Fabius, a former Socialist prime minister and leading "no" campaigner accused Chirac of trying to scare voters into backing the charter. "I found Mr. Chirac, like the constitution, long and not very convincing," he told RTL radio. "I was very struck to see Mr. Chirac saying on the one hand, 'don't be afraid', but his main argument was to try to create fear."


ME: The failure of the EU constitution has MAJOR IMPLICATIONS - it will likely cause a precipitous drop in the Euro and put brakes on the momentum that has built up for a SOCIALIST-STYLE EU bureaucracy - both painful but necessary things. MORE HERE. The EU CONSTITUTION NEEDS to be STALLED until Germany and France and Spain - Old Europe - wean themselves off of socialism at home. Then and only then can an EU be effective. Old Europe may become much less socialist after the next round of elections, when socialists Zapatero, Schroeder get tossed ot of office and when Sarkozy takes over from Chirac in 2007.

Posted by: reliapundit at April 16, 2005 03:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That was a very American post, displaying poor knowledge of "Europe". The are any number of reasons why it won't fly. Here are three:

- there is no Europe-wide political consciousness (this is always a difficult point to get across to Americans). A Europe-wide political party won't happen in the near future (even leaving aside the elementary error of equating the EU or Euroland with Europe). Politics in the EU is national, and, for linguistic and cultural reasons, always will be
- there may be small desire amongst a few individuals in the EU for free markets and so on, but there is no desire in the EU to imitate America for the sake of doing so, and indeed explicit acknowledgment by any party that it is aping America would reduce support for it, not increase it
- in countries where such a desire exists, there are already parties with many of the ideas which would appear in such a programme. Starting a new party would simply divide the vote, as those old parties wouldn't just fade away.

"A Europe defined as "the place that is not America" is defined in a fairly negative way"

To my knowledge, nobody has ever defined the EU in such a way - certainly very few have. And if they have, they are in a minority. Most EU debates, and most national debates within EU members, are conducted without reference to the United States - the exceptions are military and foreign (extra-European) policy matters, but, apart from a brief moment at the time of the Gulf War, these rank low down most voters' priorities - certainly not high enough to start a successful political party.

Posted by: PJ at April 16, 2005 09:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PJ begins by offering me very high praise indeed, and later makes a valid criticism, namely that several national rather than one European Yankee party are what is called for here. A new party in each country was in fact what I had in mind, but I may not have made that clear.

The individual parties could be known by different names, reflecting the national characters on different European countries. The Yankee party in France could be named after Lafayette; in Sweden with its tennis heritage it could be called the Borg Party (campaign slogan: Prepare to be assimilated! Resistance is futile!). The strong sense of patriotism in the United Kingdom could be appealed to by a Britt Party. This would be just too cool for anything.

Posted by: JEB at April 16, 2005 06:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PJ says that Europeans do not define themselves as other-than-Americans, he should read the comment directly above his own where Chirac, when flustered, has to resort to the bogey man of "Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist Europe" as his ultimate debating point. I have never been as offended by a political betrayal in my life as I was when Scroeder and Chirac, for differing reasons, went out of their way to make sure as many American boys would die in Iraq as possible. This was not a dispute amongst allies, (abstention at the UN and a vigorous dissent would have served that purpose), this was a declaration of petulant, adolescent rebellion. Instead of kicking the brat out of the house, as I would have done, Bush decided to punish these miscreants with kindness. His vocal support of Turkey finally being allowed inside the gates of Vienna is what is killing this Constitution, all other objections are window dressing.

Posted by: wayne at April 16, 2005 10:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Won't happen, Joe/Zathras.

There's no chance in hell of rallying around a US neoliberal banner a set of peoples who are so concerned with their own comfort, convenience and security as to stage massive protests when someone proposes raising the retirement age beyond 55 for certain professions, or threaten to dump their leaders when they suggest that maybe 39 public holidays are too many, or cannot be bothered to disrupt their vacations if it means preventing grandma from asphyxiating....

The EU has won huge popular support when it focused on relatively limited goals consistent with two grand principles: elitist dirigisme, and social protection for farmers and workers. These are essentially internal-facing issues of redistributing (mainly German) wealth to poor nations and small farmers, or internal to Europe issues concerning ending military rivalries, harmonizing IP and other commercial laws etc.

Where the EU project loses popular support is in its own version of neo-con national "greatness", the quest to become another superpower. Bush-hatred aside, there is no appetite whatsoever for the social and fiscal sacrifices that such greatness would entail. Given an ambitious vision of a Europe that can throw its weight around, dally with China, hold off Japan and spite the US, most Europeans are legitimately asking, "What exactly does any of this stuff have to do with my pension/CAP/my job?"

The best way to save the EU is to scale back its ambitions and focus on small victories in the domestic, ie intra-European, sphere. Forget about the rhetoric of "competitiveness" or blather about being a "moral superpower" and create an intelligent continent-wide immigration policy.

Posted by: thibaud at April 17, 2005 06:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB - how is saying that you display very poor knowledge of Europe high praise indeed? Greg would never have written a post like yours.

The only party in Western Europe with significant understanding of, or sympathy for, the America centre or right is the British Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher. Even that sympathy is limited - she cared nothing for banning abortion, for instance, and never moved seriously to reintroduce the death penalty. Anywhere else, such a party would be stilborn, and in England it is not needed.

Wayne -

I agree with the last four sentences of your post (though don't forget that it was British as well as American lives that Chiraq and Schroeder were endangering). However, in quoting Chiraq's "Anglo-Saxon, Atlanticist Europe", you overlook that not all Anglo-Saxons are Americans, not all Americans are Anglo-Saxons. Chiraq meant to attack England and maybe Australia as much as America.

I will, however, admit that often in France, and occasionally in other countries, the US is sometimes used as a bogeyman. But I stick to my points that 95% of European political debate is conducted without reference to the US, just as 95% of US political debate is conducted without reference to Europe, and that a political party founded with explicit or implicit allegiance to American ideals would never be more than a fringe.

Posted by: PJ at April 17, 2005 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

95% of European political debate is conducted without reference to the US

Not quite, PJ. A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of US-led global capitalism. Any European political debate that concerns the shape and direction of the EU, particularly as regards anything to do with "competitiveness," will by definition involves the EU's relation to its greatest competitor.

Certainly there are many topics that have zip to do with the US or global capitalism, but not so for anything to do with Europe's social welfare or economic model. When it comes to liberalizing work rules, or trade law, or creating single markets for energy or services or what have you, the threat of US-style liberal capitalism is always the great unmentioned elephant in the EU room. There are indeed many sub-texts to the current votes on the constitution, but for the French especially the greatest one is the perceived trade off between becoming more like the US-- more "competitive", ie liberal/capitalist-- and being crushed by US-led global capitalism.

Call it Anglo-Saxon if you like, or "liberalism", or "globalization" or just plain old capitalism, but the crucial question that the European publics are struggling with is whether it's necessary to destroy the EU social model in order to save it.

Posted by: thibaud at April 17, 2005 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There's already a Henry Jackson Foundation in England (started by smart young profs at Cambridge U.) That might be a good starting point...

Posted by: michael ledeen at April 17, 2005 10:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So you find soccer boring. Problem is that any and all sports are boring when you don't know anything about them. Except basketball and sychronised swimming which are boring either way, except that what is there to know about synchronised swimming? And who said that basketball teams should be given 100 points each and then play for three minutes.

Posted by: Ligneus at April 18, 2005 03:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is there a Raymond Aron foundation anywhere on the continent?

Posted by: thibaud at April 18, 2005 03:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Marvelously ill informed post.

Let's start with the basic assumption: Europeans want to be like Americans. They don't. They have their own national and regional cultures, which have their own histories and have found their own expressions in politics. Suggesting mass conversion ("All I'm suggesting is a new political party with a platform for making Europe more like the United States.") is probably too stupid to be insulting, which is would be if it passed the laugh test as a political program ("All I'm suggesting is a new political party with a platform for making the United States more like Bhutan." See?).

Then there's the constitution, or more properly, the constitutional treaty. The basic problem is that institutions that were built for six member states don't work very well with twenty-five and may approach collapse as membership nears forty over the next decade and a half.

Also, go read any US state constitution, and you will find documents equally detailed and lengthy. Alabama's is particularly instructive.

Posted by: Doug at April 19, 2005 03:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Doug, I believe there are some people to whom nothing is too stupid to be insulting. Imagining their faces changing color when reading pieces like the one I posted on European Yankee parties is part of the fun.

Of course I know that most Europeans don't want to be like Americans. Most Europeans don't want to be Communists or Greens either, yet almost all European countries have political parties devoted to the ideals that inspired the Soviet Union or whatever it is that Greens believe in today, or both. No one considers that insulting as far as I know. And Europeans in their thousands flock to McDonald's, the Gap, even Euro Disney -- all aspects of American culture far more objectionable than our letting department stores open on Sunday afternoons or the federal structure of our Constitution.

Of course to someone who cherishes the idea of Europe as the place that is not America the idea of a Yankee party will appear as sacrilege, or as close to sacrilege you can get in a determinedly secular political culture. But as one poster assures us above, there are very few such people. Especially not in the French government, or in Brussels.

At least we can agree that the Alabama constitution is not a fit model for anyone. I think even Alabama's governor believes that.

Posted by: JEB at April 19, 2005 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good post, but let me add a spin on it: Your idea has already been done. It's the EU itself.

The EU was initially conceived as a sort of United States of Europe. Europeans saw at how successful the Americans were after amalgamating a number of states into a democratic-capitalist continental new order. In the time of Adenauer and De Gasperi (and even De Gaulle), the EU was capitalist, pro-American, anti-Soviet, and highly successful.

Since then, the EU (that is, the Euro-elite) has been motivated by a desire to become America's Doppelganger, to achieve American-style wealth, power, and modernity, while becoming a geopolitical, moral and ideological rival. But the drive for unification still basically emulates the United States. The authors of the Constitution looked to the Constitution of 1787 as their paradigm of constitution-making.

There are certainly elements of America's experience which Europeans would do well to emulate. It would be a good idea, for example, to liberalize economically. A revival of religion would be welcome. Your idea to promote immigration from Latin America is clever.

But in general, Europe should look, not to America's present, but to its own past, for an example to follow. Europe's nation-states are legitimate and organic communities in a way that the larger European entity cannot be for the foreseeable future, and to make that larger European entity more organic and legitimate is no more desirable than countless other options which are more readily available to the Europeans. They would be well advised to pursue their own courses of development, form ties all over the world as chance and feeling allow, throw out the EU constitution, and let the EU dwindle to a simple free-trade zone.

A couple articles I wrote might be relevant: see here and here.

Posted by: Lancelot Finn at April 19, 2005 09:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Doug, I believe there are some people to whom nothing is too stupid to be insulting. Imagining their faces changing color when reading pieces like the one I posted on European Yankee parties is part of the fun."

And here I thought the blog might be an interesting read instead of just more R talking points spewed into the pixels of the world. For what it's worth, most European countries with proportional representation do have parties roughly like the ones you describe, and are generally known as liberal parties. (Germany's FDP and Poland's Unia Wolnosci are good examples.) They tend to draw single-digit percentages of the vote, and they keep in the upper parts of that range by carefully excising the phrase "like America" from public utterances.

Posted by: Doug at April 20, 2005 10:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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