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Tuesday, May 31, 2005



france decisively rejected the european constitution in a vote over the weekend, leaving the future of europe in disarray as many expect contagion to set in as netherlands popular ratification is next.

the european union will continue to function under its existing law. what exactly the vote meant and what the electorate was trying to say is subject to much speculation, however. widespread belief is that the no vote spoke not only against the constitution, which was the actual object of the plebiscite, but also the entire liberal vision of the brussels political elite of a common (if far from laissez-faire) market and even european integration itself -- particularly against turkey and eastern europe, states that many see as unmanagable, poor and prone to american imperial influence. economic difficulty in france is also believed to have played a role, as it has for schroder in germany, as many have come to believe europe to be a retraction of the national social safety net without any accompanying economic vitality.

The problem for Europe's leaders is that French voters have not just rejected a treaty but the very basis of what the EU has become: a machine for opening markets and extending Europe's borders to the east.
alain juppe, quoted in the economist, summed up the french mindset:

"The problem is that the French, constitution or not, no longer see the European Union as a construction that brings them progress and security in a world full of menace."
market fears outline not simply liberal economic policy setbacks but a concern for european integrity in the face of nationalist particularities.

"It is another sign that Europe is on a slippery slope towards more disintegration and less stability," said Joachim Fels, economist at Morgan Stanley. The risk of the eurozone breaking up had increased, Mr Fels added, although such a scenario remained unlikely.
i myself have said repeatedly that european integration is a centuries-old dream that has remained unrealized despite a hundred ambitious attempts, from charlemagne to barbarossa to the habsburgs to napoleon to bismarck and hitler. failure would not be surprising, especially in an age of pervasive decadence.

one of the grave difficulties of democracy is the unreasoned vaccilations of popular will. electorates are crowds -- and crowds are, after all, panicky herds of animals who can behave in the most irrational and self-defeating fashion. for all the searching for the meaning in the vote -- and there is some meaning -- what goes uncommented upon is the truth that some significant aspect of the vote may have little rational definition at all. it may be instead a vote for selfish particularism in the face of what could help european peoples remain economically, socially and politically vital (or even relevant). much of the west is in a long process of rejecting the old institutions -- the catholic church, the aristocracy, the nation-state, even the family -- for emancipation from authority in favor of maximum individual autonomy. the rejection of an organized europe can be seen to be just another articulation of that romantic sentiment -- the same that rules american minds in the discussion of social security.

however, one must also say that the european union solution was a longshot from the start in rome 1957. the spontaneous creation of institutions of wide authority by fiat is always an extremely difficult and often very dangerous solution to any problem. the most effective institutions i can recall all survived by chance a perilous initiation to be crafted organically by necessity, experience and time. most such plans are destroyed in the early going by the course of events. that course is made all the more difficult by the direct involvement of the people.

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