Once again I wish to come back to the discussion on the French referendum on the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe. Principally I am against referendum as a form of democratic deliberation. Since there is no chance that the people will actually go on and read thousands of pages of the European Constitution, the referendum is bound to bread political populism, where both proponents of the “yes” and “no” have only indirect and very limited political responsibility for the political agenda they advance. The only thing that will matter politically, is the overwhelming impression as to why the referendum failed and, I think and will try to elaborate on in this blog, the general message, if the French majority votes "no", will be nationalist and racist. Voting for “no”, you are, unwillingly voting for “le Front National” or simply expressing a protest vote against the government and its policies. Here, it is useful to remind, we are not voting for or against the government, but for a much more important project.
I still think Raphael Paour should consider the overwhelming political effect of the French "no" to the Constitution. It is not only, civil society left-wingers, close to his heart, that promote this agenda, but many other French politicians, with whom, Raphael, quite surely, generally disagrees. Let us briefly present their arguments.
Some centre-right politicians from UMP and UDF say no to the constitution, but also say "long live Europe". They do not want to vote for the Constitution because they do not want to see Turkey in the EU fearing that its entrance to the Union will seriously and irreparably damage the prevailing system of values in the EU. A “no” to the Constitution would give a chance to the French voters to express their opinion about Turkey’s entrance in the EU. They are, at least declaratively, not against Turkey’s membership because it is a Muslim country but because it is not geographically in Europe. In this way, they believe, “we are going towards a Europe that will have nothing political and that will simply be an area of free exchange of goods and services.” One of the two MPs, Riviere further argues “Turkey has nothing to do with Europe.” Riviere believes in the creation of the Europe-nation and Europe superpower and is convinced that this Constitution is absolutely not going in this direction. This is why he invites the French to vote “no”.
Communists are for the “no” argument because they reject, as Raphael Paour does, the neo-liberal Europe. What do they want? What is their alternative social and political project, it is hard to understand. Arlette Laguiller, from Lutte Ouvriere, a radical left-wing Trotskyite Party, is one of the strong proponents of the “no”. She criticizes the European project proposed by the current French President, government and Socialist Party, but she does not have an alternative, apart from some poorly elaborated proposals.
Some time ago, just to give an example, in a TV program Laguiller suggested a total nationalization of the French economy. When the journalist asked her, and I paraphrase, so ok you are going to nationalize these companies and the workers will continue producing what they produce and, say for example, that the people are not really interested to buy their product, what will you do, how will that company earn the money, how will the workers get their salaries? Laguiller, remained silent, but history did not, look at how the Communist experiment ended. This is not to defend neo-liberal capitalism but to expose political amateurs such as some proponents of the “no” vote in France. They might have their ideas right, in terms of social justice (at least I believe so) but they are dangerously utopian. Similar, irresponsible political agenda, threatens to hamper the EU future.
Le Penists are against the Constitution because they are against the EU per se. Le Pen screams “No to the Turkish Europe” and “no to treason, decadence and corruption”. For him this Constitution is wrong because it even more strengthens the idea of Federal Europe.
The problem with this referendum is that you can only say “no” but not also WHY NOT. With the political elections the situation, although imperfect, is somewhat better, at least after 4 years, if not satisfied with the record of the government one has the opportunity to vote no. In the case of the referendum, everyone will claim that it is exactly his position that brought the referendum down. Referendum is indeed a perfect setting for the protest vote. The strongest political entity will have the means and power to say that it is their position that won the majority of the votes for “no”. The civil society, vibrant in the pre-referendum stage, insufficiently unified, will be to weak to express their view and say that it is for their arguments that the Constitution failed.
The most fundamental feature of this Constitution that it is a result of a compromise. People criticize it from fundamentally opposing positions: because it is neo-liberal, because it is giving more power to the EU powerful institutions interfering with every aspect of the economic life in the Union (see the comment of EU-serf )because it is creating a Federal Europe and because it fails to do so, because it is white and because it is black etc.
This Constitution is leading towards the deconstruction of the nation-state. Parallel to this process it is slowly transferring the political discourse, or at least big parts of it, from the national to the EU level. True enough, EU is not as democratic as the nation-state, but it is going in that direction. This Constitution creates the possibility for the left-wing sensitive voters, like Raphael, to fight for the socialist Europe at the European level, since it is going towards the creation of a European wide public sphere.
There is another argument suggesting that Raphael and other responsible proponents of the “no” vote, should change their minds. Look at the example of Spain. Are the Spanish left wingers less left wing then the French? Are they less concerned by the social Europe than the French. No, and despite this fact, in Spain the adoption of the Constitution was a pure formality (80% for “yes”). The Spanish voted for the Constitution because of the perception that the EU membership brought huge economic to that country. The French will vote “no”, not really because they are against such Europe, but because they wish to express dissatisfaction against the French political elite, economic slowdown etc. Not only that they will not read the text of the EU Constitution but will pay very little attention to the deep aspects of the “yes” and “no” debate. It is important to remember that this vote is not the vote of confidence to the French mainstream political elite but a referendum for the EU Constitution. I think that the problem in France is that many political or social groups voting and campaigning for the “no” see this as their chance to make significant political gains. But this is indeed not an appropriate setting to indulge in these political operations.
Let us, however, leave the Constitution alone for a moment. Let us talk about the alternatives. Fine, the French vote against the Constitution and then what? The Dutch might follow, the EU Constitution goes to the dustbin of history and the current EU Treaty system continues to apply. A victory for the left-wingers? Not at all. Most of the legislation that they do not want to see adopted can anyway get adopted both at the national and at the EU level. The only thing they will achieve in this way, is that they are going to strengthen nationalist (Euro-sceptical) sentiments in Europe, and they will refuse to create the political Europe (or at least move towards its creation) that would help for their voice to be heard at the EU level, through the parliament. Voting “no” you vote for the present Treaty structure. Do you like Nice? No. Well, you are voting for it.
Indeed, one can criticize this constitution for many things but one has to propose the alternative and be always aware of the political reality. Are the proponents of the “no” able to, get their version of the Constitution adopted, some time in the future. No chance. Then think about your acts, politics demands responsibility, or at least I believe so.
Pragmatism in Politics against dangerous idealism (or dangerous protest vote) suggests you should vote “yes”.
If I were to vote for the same position with Le Pen, I would think twice.
It is important, to be able to comprehend the long term importance of the “yes” vote. It is important that voting “yes” you are not voting for Hollande, Sarcozy, Chirac but for a future that goes well beyond their lifetime. For that reason, dear (honestly not sarcastically) left-wingers, hold your nose and vote “yes” regardless of the political benefits this result would give to the present government and mainstream opposition.
For further Information about the Constitution see 1 and 2.