June 14, 2005

Quote of the Day

"The French social model isn't a model, because no one wants to emulate it. It's not social, because its caused record unemployment."

--Patrick Devedjian, one of Nicolas Sarkozy's right hand men.

More here from the indispensable John Vinocur.

P.S. Don't miss this part of Vinocur's piece either:

In the middle of this, the following brainstorm: Villepin, who had toyed publicly with the idea two years ago, said in his first major policy speech that the countries ought to move toward a French-German Union in "specific political areas." Whacked upside the head by this added incongruity, Schröder's government first responded that it "is not on the current agenda." In fact, if Villepin is talking airily about union, it's a next-to-ridiculous concept in real time. The French have no plans to share their most treasured international lever with their neighbors: Take it on good authority, it was French insistence earlier this month that led Germany to drop its demand for UN Security Council veto-power from its very shaky bid for a council seat...

...I would not want to leave all the blame to Schröder and Chirac's tactics for keeping away from commitment to change, or to the ludicrous-seeming inconsistencies or incapacities they have brought to German and French politics over the past few years.

Truth is, there's something in the EU's general culture that seems to make its members shy from the real hard stuff.

Remember the murder last year of a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the real furor it unleashed about the compatibility of Islamic fundamentalism (or just Islam) with European life? It happened while the Dutch held the EU presidency during another EU summit meeting, and became part of the process in which the Dutch government's timidity in not urgently putting the issue on the summit agenda turned up as a factor in the Dutch no vote on the EU's constitution.

Ridiculousness still kills, and just as surely. At this juncture, the EU could not get more absurd than by refusing to focus all its intelligence and resources in Brussels on Thursday to deal with its single great subject: how, and with whom, it has gone wrong.

There is truly a stunning lack of political courage on the Continent these past years. Seemingly no one is willing and able to really confront honestly and full bore what ails the European project. That, or the political elites are just stunningly disconnected from reality (or some combination thereto). Until this changes dreams of a cohesive, united Europe will remain just that. An idyllic fairy land realm, of sorts--an utopic project left unrealized and increasingly relegated to the dustbin of history. After all, how can one take seriously dreams of Euro-cohesion when, even in the face of the debacle of recent weeks, de Villepin's default is some lame resucitation of some Franco-German union? All fine and good, you say. Until one remembers the French are busy backstabbing there supposed best Euro-buddies--during this so sensitive time of troubles--to ensure they are denied a United Nations Security Council seat (lest the nettlesome Teutons in any way share the limelight of the neo-Napoleonic grandees containing the American hegemon round-the-UNSC-horseshoe-table)! This is all pretty farcical, isn't it? Henry Kissinger still, alas (or thankfully, perhaps?), has no number to call when he wishes to speak to Europe writ large. Save Javier Solana, of course. Whose real power and mandate, we might say, is quite limited indeed.

Posted by Gregory at June 14, 2005 05:46 AM | TrackBack (15)

The absence of mainstream anti-Union parties has led to a shortage of debate about its strengths and weaknesses, even in the UK; I am sure the situation is still worse on the Continent. The leaders of the unification project have attempted to get their way by portraying the process as inevitable (and as progress), and have profited from this lack of debate.

This has two salient effects. First, now that they are reduced to mere persuasion to obtain what they hoped to simply take by fiat, they are not prepared to argue their case.

Second, and more important, the mere act of engaging in debate is an admission that the unification project is open to questioning and criticism. Such respect has never yet been accorded to the opposition, because it would greatly strengthen them, and the pro-unification leadership is very reluctant to make this change.

Thus the apparent "disconnect from reality" is better understood as an attempt to discredit opposition by denying its intellectual validity.

Posted by: sammler at June 14, 2005 01:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Political systems that propagate lies with abandon and barely concealed enthusiasm are fated to no longer be able to recognize truth.

Having been viciously slandering Israel and America for the past several years, Europe is now unable to tell the truth about itself. Euro-blowback, simply put.

Still, the dragon teeth have been sown. The fruits can't but be reaped. And once again, Europe finds itself at the eleventh hour.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 14, 2005 01:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the Right, Sarkozy is showing some courage in what he is saying. .... As for backstabbing, there is a fair amount too for 'perfidious Albion', but then we expect that. Javier Solana, of course, would have been given more powers and the title of FM, if the constitution had gone through.

The constitution was not a utopic project, but a realistic one, which, on the left, most of the PS leaders supported. But their supporters rejected it. What do you do when your people supports 'an idyllic fairy land realm' ?

Sammler, there was many times more debate in France than in the UK. Whether it was on the terms you would have wanted is another matter.


Posted by: DavidP at June 14, 2005 04:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The possibility of an effective EU Constitution only became a reality when it became obvious that only a united Europe could act as an effective counterweight to the Bush regime's imperial ambitions. The Iraq debacle has made it quite obvious that dealing with Bush's megalomania will not require the sacrifices that a United Europe would result in --- and there is no longer any sense of urgency.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 14, 2005 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p. lukasiak said: "The possibility of an effective EU Constitution only became a reality when it became obvious that only a united Europe could act as an effective counterweight to the Bush regime's imperial ambitions."

Europe has never been united about anything and hasn't been an effective counterweight since the Congress of Vienna. Europe couldn't muster sufficient spine to deal with the breakup of Yugoslavia in their own backyard... and only managed to intervene backed by one of the second most spineless American President, ever. If the American presidency had ever been imperial or megalomanical, Europe would be states 49-60, and English would be the official language.

Posted by: Greg too at June 14, 2005 11:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's "Imperial ambitions?" Tinfoil hat time. If anything Bush has shied away from real confrontation of Iran and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who aid jihad against us, fund bin Laden and fellow jihadis, and shelter him personally.

The problem is that the Left and Euroweenies believe the West and Western Civilization is immoral and should be destroyed as quickly as possible by morally superior folks from the Third World. Self-hatred as an ideology and religion. Even Europe rejected that position; the Netherlands had a good dose of self-hatred with the PC Multiculties and Muslim Women fighting for their human rights found that the Left and EU preferred Muslim men to universalist human rights. See: Ayan Hirsi Ali. Epitomized by the Director of Human Rights watch blaming "racism" for Muslims beating gays in Amsterdam.

The Death of the EU is the death of the ugly witches brew of self-hatred and Third World pesthole worship, PC-Multiculturalism, aristocratic romantic pretensions (Villepin's Napoleon worship) and pseudo-Marxist crackpot theories (Greens, Schroeder's SPD, etc). The various "barbarian" forces (mostly Muslims demanding well, Islamic rule over Europeans) will simply provoke the latent nationalism which lay dormant after WWII but has not gone away. Frenchmen still love their country, as do Dutchmen, and they are not ready to abandon them for some grandiose scheme to enrich a new Roman Empire and Imperial Class ruling a PC-crackpot version of Augustus's domain.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at June 15, 2005 01:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The French and German social / labor / economic models are sustainable only to the extent that they can attract external capital to continue funding them. (The same applies to some of the smaller nations of the old EU.) Increasing regulation from the Brussels technocrats has been generally welcomed by the elites but not so by the general populace in most countries are mixed, as Germans complain about beer and sausage regulations and others complain about this or that. By land large folks have been content as long as they had the expectation that their pensions, benefits, and salaries were secure.

That they are not secure, that France and Germany must reform the social programs, is unsettling but certain. Because the proposed constitution introduced greater uncertainty - probably primarily in the acceleration of change – folks were of the mind that if they rejected it, everything would remain as it is. Acceptance might introduce competition within the EU, a fear captured in the Polish plumber meme.

New Europe found EU membership enticing, a sign for each folk that they’d arrived, and for their governments membership in the tariff union that would provide economic benefits. But I can’t help but believe that the old European elites planned to dine on the new members to support their own social systems, primarily those of France and Germany. But the latter folks have gotten a bit smarter about the game and don’t appear to like it.

What’s remarkable in all this is the gall of the Gauls who exert far greater influence than their population and economy warrant. They push the EU tax normalization, which simply means raising tax rates to the levels of France. Other nations would be embarrassed by the size of the agricultural subsidies they’ve managed to extract, and no nation has been as favorably treated in terms of regulations affecting agricultural products, primarily wine and cheese, as well as in trademark protection, although the Italians and Germans had a few bones thrown their way.

Part of this game is being played in the international arena, where France is the least affected by Kyoto (because of its nuclear power capacity), can conduct a quite selfish, pragmatic foreign policy in Africa or the Middle East unilaterally without criticism from outsiders, can game the UN Oil for Food program shamelessly, can bribe officials in other nations to further arms sales without blame, and yet be quite offended when anyone brings any of this up.

France’s success is truly mind-boggling. It has been wildly successful in creating hundreds – if not thousands – of side deals with other countries in order to maintain its influence in world affairs. Yet I suspect that in a way it’s acted like the second-rate player that it is by recognizing that the US will clean up any messes that get out of hand, thus freeing itself to act somewhat irresponsibly in pursuing its very narrow self-interest.

France has been living a fairy-tale existence. Methinks the Huns have caught on, and the results may be grim.

Posted by: The Kid at June 15, 2005 02:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

DavidP: You say "there was many times more debate in France than in the UK." Are you referring to the past couple of months (in which case I readily grant your claim) or to a long history of debate?

Posted by: sammler at June 15, 2005 08:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sammler, it's not just the past couple of months, the debate has been pretty intense since last October, in the run-up to the Parti Socialiste's internal referendum. Obviously the French have had their referendum and it looks like we won't get ours. But we've had a general election in the UK where Europe was hardly mentioned, whereas it was already clear that a French rejection would bring about some difficult issues on which the Conservatives would have taken a different approach. For example, they are now calling on Mr Blair to immediately abandon the referendum in Britain; and if we've forgotten how John Major's government was perceived elsewhere in Europe, they haven't - see the "Game, set and match" article cited in the post on my weblog I linked, if you read French.

Posted by: DavidP at June 15, 2005 09:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p.lukasiak I hate to hurt your feelings but despite what you may believe, America is not central to every nations decisions and policies. Your obsession with(/against) the USA borders on arrogance. Believe it or not sometimes European countries deal with domestic European issues without reference to what's going on on the other side of the Atlantic.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at June 15, 2005 11:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arrogance? More like psychopathology. And yet, it is a most useful glimpse of what lies beyond, of the "logic" that motivates so many.... So that while it is a far from pleasant exposure, it is better to witness just how the mindset works.

One is, in the end, being done a favor.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 15, 2005 01:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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