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WHAT'S WRONG WITH EUROPE

In English, a double negative usually means yes. but not in European. Last week's double "no"--from France and the Netherlands--has for all practical purposes killed the new European constitution. Most Americans are not quite sure what to make of this. The clearest and loudest voices have been gleeful. Conservative commentators have delighted in the results, seeing them as a defeat for Jacques Chirac and his dreams of an alternative to American hyperpower.

The European constitution is a badly written, confused document whose death no one need mourn. But as Princeton's Andrew Moravcsik has written, the constitution would have changed little, codifying existing arrangements in almost all areas. There are two exceptions: a more coordinated and unified approach to crimefighting and foreign policy.

On foreign policy, the constitution would actually have changed little. Europe's currently powerless High Representative of foreign policy was to become an equally powerless "minister." It wouldn't change the fact that neither Jacques Chirac nor Tony Blair would ever delegate serious policymaking to a Brussels bureaucrat. When things get serious, as with Europe's negotiations with Iran, look who negotiates: the foreign ministers of the Big Three powers. The High Representative gets to go to conferences on the Middle East peace process.

This is the irony of last week's votes. It was a revolutionary moment that will keep things as they are. In fact, one could argue that Europeans cast their votes in the full knowledge that it would have changed nothing in their day-to-day lives. That means it provided the perfect opportunity for a symbolic protest vote. But symbolism does matter. And the signal that has been sent is threefold.

First, it's a signal against economic reform. If you want to understand why people voted against the constitution, listen to the advocates of rejection. Virtually no one campaigned against a more unified foreign policy (which has more than 70 percent support in poll after poll) or more coordinated police work (which, post-9/11, is also extremely popular). Almost all those leading the "no" movement spoke out against one thing above all--the free-market-oriented reforms that Brussels is associated with.

Throughout Continental Europe, the people who vote in favor of "Europe" in one way or another tend to be urban, educated and, above all, involved in private business. That's because they have seen that it is Brussels that created a common market, lowered tariffs and deregulated industries. It is Brussels that now aggressively urges further reforms--such as the so-called Lisbon Agenda.

The only European voice that claims Brussels is an enemy of the free market is Britain's Europhobic Tory press and its fellow travelers in the United States. So The Wall Street Journal editorial page bizarrely asserted last week that the constitution "would have enhanced the leverage of French socialism on the Continent." The Journal must believe that all of Europe's business groups and entrepreneurs (who supported the constitution) and all of Europe's labor unions, pensioners and protectionist groups (who opposed it) suffer from what Friedrich Engels called "false consciousness." I tend to think that European entrepreneurs on the ground have a better sense of what Brussels has meant than New York editorialists.

The second signal that this vote sends is against immigration and labor mobility. The "no" from Holland is clearly related to this. The nightmare unfolding in that country is that a large segment of its North African immigrant population is proving to be illiberal, unwilling to assimilate and, increasingly, violent. Against this grim backdrop, the Dutch look at an ever-expanding Europe of lowered borders with great suspicion. There is a related backlash against foreign aid. The Dutch are now the largest per capita contributors to Europe and believe that the EU's expansion has taken place on their backs.

Finally and related to these first two: the most emphatic signal from last week is about Turkey. Turkish membership in Europe has suffered a mortal blow. The most potent arguments on the campaign trail were anti-Turkish, and politicians will take note of that. In two years, the likely leaders of both Germany and France (Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy) will be staunchly opposed to Turkish membership in the EU.

Of course, what Europe desperately needs is more of all the trends that are producing populist paranoia. It needs more economic reform to survive in a new era of global competition, more young immigrants to sustain its social market and a more strategic relationship with the Muslim world, which would be dramatically enhanced by Turkish membership in the EU.

Perhaps the European project has been too elitist and its leaders too unwilling to explain their actions to their populations. But before we start singing paeans to people power, let us hear what the people actually said and ask ourselves, Is this good for Europe, for the United States and for the world in general?

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