Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Public Debate On the European Constitution

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.


Raphaël Paour said...

Reading Lorenzo's latest contribution two questions kept popping up in my mind: 1/ in which category would he put me ? The egoist French nationalist or the Euroimpatient ? 2/ What is more insulting, being called "incredibly nationalist, (...) strikingly egoist, "along with "completely opposed to any idea of solidarity between individuals and between people" ?

One thing I agree with in Lorenzo's post is that it is indeed "particularly difficult to do justice to this kind of debates without judging them through one's own prism of values." And, since his post doesn't seem to be limited to what went on at the European University Institute, but is formulated as a general comment on the left-wing No to the Eu Constitution, I think I can respond something quickly although I wasn't at the debate.

I don't find convincing at all the general conclusion drawn by Lorenzo from his story of the rise and fall of ex communist countries for children (with Robin Hood to make it more pleasant I suppose unless it is one more insult directed at those who "fail to understand the tension, (...) between economic growth and distribution of wealth"). His conclusion is the following : "the best way to produce goods is through a market where the competition is free and undistorted". The logic of this conclusion to him is so strikingly evident that no one in their right mind could whish for a market where the competition is unfree and distorted. Being already egoist, nationalist and, what again? oh yes, completely opposed to any idea of solidarity between individuals and between people, some of us can take the risk of appearing crazy as well. Yes, we can very much whish for a market where competition is distorted in order for other goals than production, decided collectively through democratic means, to prevail.

Is it really not thinkable that people be against the Eu constitution and against the type of capitalism that Lorenzo seems to whish for, without being nor egoistic nor completely ignorant to the point of not even understanding that there is no Robinh Hood without a Rich Monarch ? Above the arguments of the Yes, some of which I find very convincing, what strikes me is this necessity for participants in this type of discussion to make their opponents look like fools. If a public debate is held to inform, why would you go about using such a strategy? If the arguments of the opponents were as foolish as Lorenzo tries to make them seem or if his own were as powerful as he believes than he would need to use this strategy. Rational individuals would make up their minds, convinced by his arguments. That these tactics appear to be necessary, reassures me on the value of our own arguments.

Lorenzo Zucca said...

Thanks for this comment Raphael. It is slightly beyond the point because the two positions described (Vox Populi, Euroimpatients) are meant to capture two positions held during the debate. Hence, there is no attempt to portray everyone's position. But since you took it personally, here are the answers.(I am glad about that; it means that the descriptions hit some broader targets)
First point raised: "Yes, we can very much whish for a market where competition is distorted in order for other goals than production, decided collectively through democratic means, to prevail." Good, but you don't do it in Europe. You do it back home in a rigidly enclosed nation-state economy. In a European market, I still have to know someone who wants state players that helps companies JUST because they are national companies. Moreover, the market, as I tried to argue, does not preclude social protection. On the contrary, I think that it gives the means to implement social policies. Hence, the problem is about deciding democratically how to invest, and redistribute, the wealth that is produced through the market. Finally, you can see the market as a playing field, where different agents compete to make the most of their talents, and raise the production as far as they can. As in any game, distorting the rule is unfair, and risks to cripple arbitrary some of the agents. This is why it is better not to have distorsions and play freely. Unless, you think that games are better when distorted. But then, I guess that you prefer to have a distorsion to your advantage.

Second point raised: "Is it not possible to be against the European Constitution without being egoistic and nationalistic?"
The categories I have mentioned cannot (Vox Populi, Euroimpatients). I do not know whether you can, because I fail to understand what kind of Europe you want.

Djalila said...

I am also quite shocked by Lorenzo's views. I am thinking of voting no, and my hesitations are even smaller when I read this type of comments, exactly for the reasons reflected upon by Raphaël.
I also would like to add two points.
First, I don't think that I am egoist when my NO pretends to ask for a more social Europe. It is rather the opposite as I think that this Constitution comes too soon and might therefore kill any chance to have a more solidarian Europe, in favour of its people's wealth. Most of the clauses of the Charter of fundamental rights on social rights are not included in legally binding parts of the Constitution, whereas economic rights, of corporations are. This means that in the future, in case of conflicts between economic and social interests, the first will prevail with the protection of the Constitution legitimizing a progressive depravation of member state’s rights to limit economic freedoms on the name of social rights. This is not new, but the Constitution doesn't prevent it and this way, while the debate was publicly opened with the discussion around the service directive proposal, it closes it too soon. This directive's main problem is the harmonisation technique: by initiating a new method- harmonization through legislative competition- this project reveals a method this Constitution's unwritten hierarchy of values will favour in the future.
I don't think that I am selfish when I say that I want European solidarity which supposes a European social model, and it is already known that race to the bottom follows globalization when state agree to abandon their social policies in favour of economic growth. If European actors don't feel like countering this movement but rather enhancing it in Europe, I am faced with the opposite to what I whish for in Europe, and consider this Constitution to be a way to support a less solidarian option for Europe.
Barroso's intervention about this service directive was meaningful when he tried to explain that such a rejection was only nationalist (from French when many other people were rejecting it all over Europe, through civil society means like petitions) and meaningful of rich countries trying to protect themselves from poor ones, and recognize Lorenzo's arguments. No, it is not a nationalist view, but a pro-European one that tries to think of the real interest of all European workers: I reject the idea that the social conditions of workers should become the variable of adjustment for any entrepreneur in Europe, and the object of the race to the bottom between EU member’s legislations.
If I just have the choice between Charibde and Scylla I might decide to refuse one of them, hoping for better, and considering that a crisis cannot worsen things, but might create the conscious that some people want more. In any case I think that this Constitution comes too soon and I am not desperate to the point to accept something bad, because I think that despite enlargement, more can be achieved if we are patient.

Which makes me come to my second problem: I think that I understand the tension between economic growth and distribution of wealth, contrary to what Lorenzo suggests about those rejecting this new step. I understand it to the point that I cannot stand this minimalist and soon outdated view EU institutions have about it. Many economists now analyze how the end of the nation state is no solution for global wealth distribution, as corporations, which are the main beneficiaries of economic growth, defend their own interest and have neither the capacity nor the mission to act in the public interest. If European institutions were embodied with a duty to redistribute wealth in Europe, and adopting social policies, I would agree with this Constitution. But this latter arrives too soon and doesn't change the allocation of powers in that sense. As long as no European state can relay national states, this constitution would just enhance the domination of a market over national state interests. If the "old federalist ambition" is dead, I want to have control of the social policy carried out in my country, because this control would give a chance to bargain it, one day, in European institutions in favour of more social protection for the whole EU, therefore in favour of a revival of the federalist dream if it ever comes back. If the European process diminishes national sovereignty without the emergence of a European one, I don't think that it is a good thing as neither the US nor China are giving up their sovereignty in these fields and will keep on invoking it to dominate the world economy and politics in the future. Such has always been the problem of Europe. Not only will this constitution increase the gap between economical and political power, but also between people and European elites. And if Lorenzo invokes the history of communism to support his views, I would invoke that of Germany which, under harsh economic conditions decided in 1933 to vote for Hitler. The current rise of extreme right and left in Germany and France ( but not only) shows that faced with the harsh pressure of globalization their people tend to move towards more protectionism and exaggerated nationalist views which I don't deny are also represented in this NO. I just say that neglecting them and assimilating them with pro-European No would just reinforce a trend that would one day explode in a much worse way than if it was clearly expressed now through democratic ways, at a time when debate should intensify between European peoples. Because, this rejection is not only French, and need to be analysed in much more objective terms.
To conclude, I think that I understand what Europe Raphaël want. He wants a social Europe, not just an economic one. This Constitution is presented as the only possible compromise, which is not true. We have three possibilities: 1. Statu quo and a risk of crisis in EU institutions. In this case, a minimum reform of institutions is possible. so I am not afraid of this possibility.
2. A "stronger" EU in the paper, with a wonderful constitution that has been adopted through a not so democratic process since many people were represented by their parliament, by fear of their reactions, and others are being told that if they say no they'd be ostracized...which is in substance how French are being presented the possibility of a no, just like Dutch and British. Which will lead to an even bigger democratic deficit where people perceive EU decision making process as a masquerade where they don't have a say in the content. 3. A debate that could accompany a quasi-crisis. It won't make any good to Europe within the next ten years or so, but do we care? What is Europe and what can it be with this Constitution? Not much, even maybe nothing. What can it be in case of crisis? What are the worse and better options? In any case a debate would emerge and it could bring more legitimacy to Europe, and in my knowledge Democraties were all created through pain and crisis...I don't believe in option 2. I believe in 1 then 3. And by the way, option 3 and 1 are not in favour of French governmental interests, but a majority of French hope for it because they believe in Europe, and not because they are nationalist, egoists and idiots, thank you.

Biagio said...

I shall be brief as I think that in a way such as this one there is only a certain amount of things that can be said before reaching the point of no discussion. I left continental Europe a long time ago and so it always strikes me as bizarre when I hear “workers”, “more social Europe” and expressions of the sort, even more so because it always prompts me to ask myself, when will the left come to terms with the contradiction the lies deep in its ideological core? The same way as a Marxist national/separatist party such as ETA and the Union Valdotain is a bit of an oxymoron, so it is with the social nature that the left searches for Europe. Lorenzo’s use of the term selfish is none too apt to describe it. It is almost as if the left is moving from socialism to corporativism. Protection yes, but just for the people like us. They might as well vote for Fini and be coherent. On one side the left speaks of social Europe and workers’ rights, on the other side the effects of this is not so social: protecting national champions (one nations more important then other), trade unions fighting for their members (certain members or certain professions more important than others) and finally new entrants forbidden from fully enjoying their membership and bullied about things such as taxation which is at the moment one of their only strengths (old ways more important than new ones). We have all felt a shiver down our spines while listening to the “International”, but maybe it is time to admit that it is all simply for sentimentality’s sake, because actions do not keep up with it. Europe will not be for a long time (some say never) a political power of the calibre of China or the US, but it can be an economic force of great might and a competitive and efficient common market is the answer. Not only this, but a free market can provide a true social justice unhampered by selfishness about protecting your own national or professional interest. How can anyone that must have sung countless times “L’oisif ira loger ailleurs” be afraid of the competition from polish farmers or Ukrainian stone masons? It seems to me it is more of a case, l’oisif loge ici, do not disturb.