The surprising French resistence to the European Constitution has triggered a number of discussions and round tables. On 20 April, a public initiative on this topic was organised at the European University Institute, Florence. The aim of this debate was to understand the reasons of the French threat to vote no to the European Constitution at the forthcoming referendum, on 29 May.
It is particularly difficult to do justice to this kind of debates without judging them through one's own prism of values. Few people, although very committed, were for the No. The remaining majority were for the Yes. Now, as it was rightly pointed out, there is a great variety of different Nos/Yes, that is, the reasons for voting in a certain direction in a referendum on a constitution are multiple. For example, supposing that France and the UK will say No, their Nos will have completely different, if not opposing, reasons.
Nevertheless, it is important to map, even if in a somewhat stylised way, the different Nos, and then rispond to them. To start with, I'll eliminate arguments coming from the extreme right, which claims itself as nationalist and anti-european. Its position is clear, and it is certainly not an European Constitution that would make them change their minds.
The positions I am concerned with span from moderate to extreme left wing, and they declare themselves as pro-european. They maintain, however, that the European Constitution is not a good step towards a better Europe. The first, less articulated, point of view comes from what I shall call the Vox Populi. People, it is argued with a purely rethorical device, are afraid of this "new liberal Europe". They cherish their "droits acquis"/ social standards, and they do not want to lose them. Nor do they want to share them: what if polish workers-- it has been argued--invaded France and, as a consequence, compete with local workers thereby depriving them of their high social protection?
Coming from what defines itself as a pro-european, leftist, standpoint the latter position has something deeply perverse. Not only it is incredibly nationalist, but it is also strikingly egoist, hence completely opposed to any idea of solidarity between individuals and between people. We want Europe provided that it means only more social protection!, would be the motto of this position. But the crucial question is, social protection for whom. Their answer would be: social protection for us.Where 'us', means French nationals. But not all of them, only the lucky one who have a social protection coming from their status as a worker (yet, I am sure that many French who do not benefit of a fully fledged social protection would happily trade-off less protection with more competition on the job market. Any sensible would in their position: I'd rather be employed and protect myself, than be unemployed and hope for an external protection!)
A second, more refined, standpoint can be defined as Euroimpatient. For them, the Constitution does not dare sufficiently. They want to see a brand new Europe, where tensions are sweeped away, social policies are carried out and enforced effectively, and where Europe can propose, and impose, its noble humanitarian concers to the rest of the world. Since the Constitution does not do all this ( Assuming that a Constitution can transform dreams into realities), they suggest a temporary arrangement whereby a group of virtuous pioneers (France and Germany and god knows who else) would go ahead establishing a reinforced cooperation on matters such as tax, defense, social justice etc. Of course, all this would be in the respect of all other countries: the coalition of the willing is not a closed family! Whoever wants to join the French TGV is very welcome to do so (even Turkey or Georgia). Isn't this beautiful and very innovative?, they wonder astonished.
Notwithstanding the ideal, which is surely noble from their own (individual) point of view, many doubts arise as to the desirability of such a view. This is best explicated in terms of the tension between the recent enlargement and the old federalist ambitions. Logically, it is not possible to be heartfelt defenders of the enlargement and proposers of rapid advanced integration amongst few, highly selected (only few member state can afford this luxury, provided that they want), members. Moreover, Euroimpatients fail to understand the tension, possibly even more problematic than the previous one, between economic growth and distribution of wealth. Even though ex-communist countries were champions of equal redistribution of wealth, they did not last very long because, after a while, there was nothing left to distribute. To be "good Robin Hoods" we still need something we can distribute. The only way to do so is by producing goods and services; the best way to produce goods is through a market where the competition is free and undistorted (I'd wish to know who wants a market where the competition is unfree and distorted). Thus, the problem with Europe cannot possibly be its stress on the common market. If anything the common market, when duly regulated, is a pre-condition of fair re-distribution.
Euroimpatients fail to acknowledge the sacrifices that newly enlarged countries went through in order to become part of the European Union. They haven't even started profiting of the advantages of the Union that they are told: Run faster lazy ones, we don't want to be burdened by your lack of willingness to cooperate, and accept our higher standards of integration! If this is solidarity, then freedom means slavery, as in the famous Orwellian line.