[OUTLOOK]‘No’ votes mustn’t stop Europe

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[OUTLOOK]‘No’ votes mustn’t stop Europe

After the failure of the last European Union summit in Brussels, the picture is getting both clearer and more somber for Europe. One thing is clear: May 29 and June 1 of 2005 ―when the French and then the Dutch said “no” to the constitutional treaty ― will be seen by historians of the early 21st century as a symbolic turning point for Europe, dates that will enter history as surely as Nov. 9, 1989.
Although the fall of the Berlin Wall was a much more spectacular event, marking the end of the Cold War, the French “no,” followed by that of the Dutch, marks the end of the postwar period ― a period characterized by a sort of reverence for a European Union associated with peace, prosperity and freedom. The cause of Europe was common ground for a majority of Europeans. But for the young French and the young Dutch who voted “no,” peace is not a marvelous achievement ―it is the only situation they have known, and the high level of unemployment makes an association between the words “Europe” and “prosperity” an irony at best, and a provocation at worst.
May 29 is an occasion for reflection, and for listening. It would be dangerous to proceed as if nothing had happened, as if the ratification process could go on unimpeded. Recent opinion polls suggest that a majority of Germans would reject the constitutional treaty, too, if they could express their view in a referendum. Only a combination of masochism, blindness and arrogance could lead us to proceed on the ratification path.
Even if the success of the “no” case has as much to do with domestic causes as with growing frustration with Europe, even if its coalition of the extreme right and left does not constitute a coherent majority, to ignore the significance of the two “no” votes would be the surest way to delegitimize the cause of Europe in the eyes of Europeans, and to further alienate citizens from their political elites.
To cling to old recipes, such as the evocation of the Franco-German couple, will not do either. The raison d’etre of such a self-appointed avantgarde would be to set a good example. But this is precisely what France and Germany have refrained from doing in many areas of European integration. Moreover, how can two sick countries that refuse to fight their domestic diseases seriously believe that they will be accepted as a vanguard? Today, given the state of the British economy and the political strength of Tony Blair, it is Great Britain that is in a unique position of strength, not the Franco-German couple.
Yet if a pause is necessary, it should not be equated with immobility and inaction. And in the meantime, three causes have to be pursued. The first one consists in saving European foreign policy from the electoral disaster. Europe must not be perceived by countries such as the United States, China and Russia as irrelevant, passive and totally obsessed with herself. Whatever the title ―high representative, foreign minister, vice-president ― the position of Javier Solana must be extricated from the political hurricane that has engulfed Europe. If Europe needs an internal pause, it must demonstrate some political will to the outside world. Such a necessity will be understood by a majority of Europeans, and will not be perceived as a transgression against the will of the majority of French and Dutch citizens.
The second and even more fundamental area for action concerns economic and social reforms. Germany, France and some other countries have not done enough in terms of the labor market, the welfare state and budget reforms. The statist and relatively rigid continental social model cannot be pursued anymore. Only if this homework is done may we be able to overcome the European paralysis. To quote Nicolas Sarkozy, it is necessary to “give back reality to the social model.” And the alternatives to pure market-dictated economies exist more in Nordic Europe and Great Britain than in traditional continental Europe.
Thirdly, in spite of the fact that the “no” vote was in part the product of many Frenchmen’s negative reaction to past enlargement of Europe, and its expansion from 15 to 25 members, the cause of enlargement must be fought for with courage and determination by Europe’s political elites. It must be explained that enlargement constitutes Europe’s greatest political triumph, not its greatest economic catastrophe. Delocalization is not the product of “Europeanization,” but of globalization. It is not the Polish plumber but the Chinese and Indian workers who constitute the greatest challenge for Europe’s labor force.
The process of enlargement must continue, to include the two countries already accepted, Bulgaria and Romania, and in time all of the Balkan countries that satisfy the criteria of the European Union. But beyond ―i.e., in the case of Turkey in particular ― we cannot proceed as if the people of Europe had not expressed themselves.
We have been taking Europe for granted. What has been achieved through patient effort in the last 50 years can be unraveled much more quickly. To be sure, the result will not be a return to the wars of the past, but a sliding into irrelevance. If it keeps missing appointments with history, the fate of the European Union will be that of the Republic of Venice: once a key actor in world affairs, now turned into a museum for others who are more dynamic and more determined to succeed.

* The writer is a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations.

by Dominique Moisi
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