DT column – French vote on new European Constitution

The no campaign is ahead in the polls in France, which votes on 29 May.

The European constitution means more irresistible and pernicious regulation, with more majority voting envisaged on questions of technology, education, social affairs … The French are being scarified by unscrupulous politicians with tales of a Tebbit-like constitution, full of free-market on-your-bikery

On the reason to vote no:

the last thing the French (or anyone) need is more detailed prescriptions from Brussels about the labour market or anything else

The French must give Giscard a rocket
Let’s face it, when you hear the kind of Frenchmen who are lining up to oppose the new European constitution, you can’t help wondering whether it might be a good thing after all. The communists are against it. The trade unions are against it. Huge numbers of old Lefties are going to vote Non at the end of next week, and for the most peculiar reasons.

It is altogether choquant, they say, when they have finished reading it. It is nothing but neo-liberalisme and turbo-Thatcherisme. Voyez! they say, pointing with horror at article 1-3 paragraph 2. It is the law of the jungle, the free market red in tooth and claw. See where it is written that there shall be “an internal market where competition is free and undistorted”. An internal market! Free competition! No distortions! Quel horreur, sacre bleu and bien je jamais, they say. The French electorate sway beneath the anti-capitalist rhetoric, and once again the Non campaign is in the ascendant. What is going on, mes amis?

Here we are in Britain, with well over half of us preparing to vote No, as soon as we are given a chance, because we think the European constitution means yet more interference and regulation from Brussels. There they are in France, in a state of gibbering paranoia, because they think the constitution is an “Anglo-Saxon plot” to export croissants from Tesco and populate the Trois Vallées with ski instructors from Surbiton.

The French seem to be against it for precisely the reasons – free trade and competition – that moderate Euro-sceptics should be broadly for it; and British Euro-sceptics are against it for precisely the reasons – more regulation and interference – that your average French Lefty should be in favour of it. We can’t both be right. One of us must be mad, and the answer (I suppose I would say this, but it is true) is that the French Non campaign has seized the wrong end of the stick with awesome tenacity.

There is much that is new in this text, and much that is wrong, but whatever you think about the free-market stuff, it is certainly not the first time it has been enshrined in the basic treaties of the EU. In fact, the current hoo-ha in France is a testament to the ruthless way in which the French élite has traditionally withheld the details of EU agreements from the population. Their eyes bulge, these poor French trade unionists, as though it was the first time that anyone in Brussels had ever mentioned the concept of the single market. Well, here is article 3 c of the 1957 founding Treaty of Rome, which calls for “an internal market characterised by the abolition, as between member states, of obstacles to the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital”.

The 1957 treaty goes on to insist that there is a “system ensuring that competition in the internal market is not distorted”. Yes, the new EU constitution has plenty of pious words about ensuring that there should be no unfair state aids and other subsidies. But so did the Treaty of Rome, and the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice.

There is nothing new about any of this, and the amazement in France at this free-market language is like that of the fellow in Molière who finds that all his life he has been talking prose. The French debate is absurd, with everything about it topsy-turvy except the conclusion.

They certainly should vote Non, but not for the reasons they think; and so should we.

Since there is nothing new in the free-market stuff, we in Britain have nothing to gain from the constitution, and could manage perfectly well with the existing texts. What is new, and dangerous, and anti-democratic, is the extension of majority voting into yet more areas of government and human life; and for those unfamiliar with the ways of the EU, majority voting is the system by which the wishes of the British Government – and therefore of the British people – can be crushed round the table in Brussels. If you seek an example of this political self-castration, look at the 48-hour week, which the present Government is trying pathetically to oppose, when it can now be forced upon Britain by a majority vote, and all because Blair removed the protection of John Major’s social chapter opt-out.

No, the European constitution does not mean more free-market stuff from Brussels; it means more irresistible and pernicious regulation, with more majority voting envisaged on questions of technology, education, social affairs and Giscard’s pet plan to have a decent European space rocket. And THAT, of course, is why the French should vote against it, if they had any sense. They are being scarified by unscrupulous politicians with tales of a Tebbit-like constitution, full of free-market on-your-bikery, and they have been somehow brainwashed into believing that the problems of France are caused by rampant Anglo-Saxon capitalism. The exact opposite is the case.

The reason the French have massive and chronic unemployment is that they are governed by an élite still gripped by a demented belief in the Colbertian lump-of-labour fallacy. They have excessive taxation, regulation and bureaucracy, and the last thing the French (or anyone) need is more detailed prescriptions from Brussels about the labour market or anything else.

Insofar as the European constitution mentions the free market, it is simply banal and unoriginal. Insofar as it extends majority voting, it is damaging and undemocratic.

Insofar as it tries to create a common foreign and security policy that all members are bound to support “in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”, it is just wacky, when you consider what happened in Iraq.

Insofar as it wants to put a Frenchman on the Moon, that might be a noble aim if his name were Giscard, but it is otherwise completely unnecessary to the building of a bigger, better, brighter, free-trading European Union, and my strong advice to those about to vote is, français, françaises, votez non! Votez souvent!

34 thoughts on “DT column – French vote on new European Constitution”

  1. You know that something is seriously wrong when the British right are praising the French left.

    Liam Fox did rather well this morning on Today, even if he did circle the questioning over the cost of a referendum for an already rejected constitution.

    Oh and Boris, don’t mock the EU Labour party for accepting a 48 hour week, the EU Conservatives are bending over for software patents. Malcolm Harbour’s attitude is laughable at best for a party that wants to promote a free market.

  2. It was not Blair who signed away the right to veto the working time directive (or any amendment to it), it was Thatcher, in the Single European Act in the 1980s who agreed to majority voting on matters affecting the health and safety (as the length of the working week obviously does, unless you think having truckdrivers or doctors on 80 hour call is merely a matter of labour market flexibility).
    Poor old Tories. You used to understand why the EU is in the UK’s national interest. You won’t ever get a sniff of power til you remember. And lying about Thatcher’s active participation in the shaping of the EU before she went batty fools no one … except yourselves.

  3. SWCFF:
    If it were the case that the UK had; as you state; agreed; unconditionally, to ALL health and safety matters at the time you cited,why is this Government still arguing,( even amongst themselves), that we should be allowed to keep our opt out, with regard to the flexibility of the working week?

  4. They’re trying to negotiate, they’re trying to persuade. Thatcher gave up a veto, Major got an opt-out, now the question is whether the opt-out will continue.
    Giving up a veto is a bloody good idea – as Thatcher realised. The UK might lose the occasional vote, but we’ll win plenty of others. We’re better off in a world of majority voting, we win (far) more than we lose.
    Of course, we could just pull out and hope the French, Germans, latvians etc will do exactly what we want, even if we’re not even round the table trying to persuade them.

  5. When the Constitution was being written, the government (through Peter Hain, then the Europe Minister) asked for 275 amendments to the Constitution to make it compatible with British interests. Only 27 were granted. That should tell you something!

  6. Why don’t we just leave the E.U.? We got nothing from it anyway. All we get is foreigners taking fish stocks, masses of rules and regulations and we’re expected to pay for this ‘privilege’! One can gather from the kind of language European politicians are using that the constitution is nothing to do with making the E.U. work better, it’s more to do with giving them more powers. Their prophecies of doom, should the constitution not be passed, only serve to show in full colour the true nature of the E.U. We shall not lose anything by leaving, despite the hysterical cries of the europhiles. One thing that does confuse me, however, is the stance of the Conservative Party concerning the E.U. It would appear that Conservatives, on the whole, reject almost everything that emanates from the E.U.; in which case, why isn’t it a policy to pull out?

  7. There is obviously much to criticize in the detail of European politics, but is there any alternative to a policy of engagement? We are, after all, permanently anchored 20 miles off Calais, not on a celebrity mooring in the Monterey marina, pleasant though that might be.

    There is also much to criticize in the detail of British politics, but we have to just get on with it and attempt to modernize and reform our institutions.

    Albania also tried to isolate itself – not a success!

    Boris: “Insofar as the European constitution . . . extends majority voting, it is damaging and undemocratic.”

    Am I missing something? Since when was majority voting undemocratic?

  8. Not 3 weeks ago you were revelling in how you had gained a probable vote from someone who had thought you a Labour candidate. Now here you are desperately asking people to understand what they’re voting for! As someone who considers myself a normal voter, I’d care to express the views of the majority: What On Earth Is This EU Constitution For, About and Doing?!

  9. For a better understanding of what we would let ourselves in for, should our Presidential Candidate get his way:log onto:-
    This gives in detail , the proposals for the constitution.( dated 19.05.05)

  10. Something deep down inside me wants to say: OUI. But I think the french will say: NON. Still love Paris any how!?! regardless of the way they vote!

  11. I’m very firmly behind Boris on voting NON! but each to thier own as far as reasons go. I firmly believe, no, actually I KNOW that a yes vote is a mistake for our country. Not least because it won’t be our country any more. As far as the EU goes we should be around the table but holding all our own cards and giving nothing away.

    Members of my family died to keep us free. I can give you financial reasons you cannot argue with but I would rather say that I am English, not european, and intend to stay that way!

  12. Ooh like the new piccy Boz Cat.
    Saw this and thought of you:

    A sweet disorder in the dress
    kindles in clothes a wantonness:
    A lawn about the shoulders thrown
    Into a fine distraction:
    An erring lace, which here and there,
    Enthrals the crimson stomacher:
    A cuff neglectful, and thereby
    Ribands to flow confusedly:
    A winning wave (deserving note)
    In a tempestuous petticoat:
    A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
    I see a wild civility:
    Do more bewitch me, than when Art
    Is too precise in every part!

    (Apologies to Robert Herrick)

  13. The photo was taken especially for the blog by our latest work experience recruit last week!

    Glad you like it

  14. It’s still nicer living in France than in the UK though. I’ll be voting Oui – Vive l’Europe! a bas les rosbif aristos!

  15. In a highly respected german newspaper last week,( danke schoen Jozef), it was reported that the philosopher,Andre Glucksmann was in favour of Chirac as French President, but later, rather strangely, he said that Chirac had plans to make the EU into an anti-American Power: bas les grenouilles imperialistes.

  16. Isabella – I can only agree with you. But then I’m stuck at the moment in a dull english backwater. Anything has to be better then old Plymouth. But this old town is a part of my love/hate realationship with life. Alas – alack -What can any of us do? This ones for the world.

  17. Ha ha, Macarnie, but don’t you remember the slogans from the last French election – “Between the crook and the racist, I’m voting for the crook??”

    Nick – > – I spent 2 years in Plymouth in the late 90s. Unlike our host, I’m not putting myself up for election, so presumably I have the freedom to describe it as a complete dump without fear of consequences … my abiding memory is of dogs shitting in the park opposite our house, seemingly 24 hours a day, vandals and thieves everywhere, drugs etc.

  18. I like the photo of a frog sporting a “no” badge, was this intended!?! Are most muppets expected to vote yes?

  19. Plymouth;at least Devonport; was not QUITE so bad in the time I was there, but I defer to your more recent association. As to the French preference of Chirac over Le Penn: un escroc egotiste et suffisant est moins souhabitable qu’un patriot sincere, raciste ou non,( if you’ll pardon my french.) By the way , is it not racist to condemn all things Anglo-Saxon, as your M. Chirac, and his predecessors, repeatedly did, and indeed, the anti Anglo-Saxon crusade continues .

  20. Algerian friends tell me that Le Pen was a French army torturer during the Algerian war. All I can say is that I prefer to be on the receiving end of Chirac’s brand of racism than Le Pen’s – and I have experience of both.

    Patriotism is nothing to be proud of anyway (puts tin hat on and runs for cover)…

  21. *chases Isabella aiming cottonwool balls at spikey tin hat*


    Isabella ‘white fluffy head’ is teased mercilessly

  22. Macarnie, however, takes pity and unpicks fluff.

    *penny drops*

    Lo and behold Isabella then sees the light and converts to ‘non’ vision

    It all becomes clear all round at last.

    ……mmmm…….Happy fairy tale ending at last just like frog meeting princess

  23. Nick, brings out cymbals and begins merrymaking with castanets and pom poms

    ..while Simon Holledge and Vicus prepare speeches and Jozef rustles up some cracking jokes and quotes

    Boris then calls a halt to all this and stands as leader to enforce authority and no-nonsense on this site

  24. Melissa – I think a bout of sillyness is long over due around here – at lest at the top of the page we have a Muppet to get things started. All together now – ‘It’s time to get things started/ Its time to dress up right/ Its time to get things started on the Muppet Show tonite…’

    Isabella – I don’t thing things are that bad in Plymouth, although to read the local papers you would think so, their just so unbalanced. And some times have the habit of trying to write a discourse on the city that few people on the ground reconise. In the end when you try to bring new ideas to the table they just don’t want to know. You just try and make things look fresher and they shot you down. I’ve called this the saddness of the modern age. Sometimes I wonder if this city ever left the 1970’s. Or it could be that I’ve been here to long – love/hate – time to move may be. I must admit sometimes I don’t think this city has enough Newspapers everything is owned by the same company and follows the same line of discourse as the Daily Mail – but then both the locals are owned by the Mail group so no other voices have the hope in hell of being heard.

    By the way on a lighter note – Does any one know if The Muppet Show is out on DVD?

  25. EU Constitution? Non !

    Perhaps for the flimsiest of reasons
    But then, once again, perhaps not
    The French have decided against it.
    They struck whilst the iron was hot.
    Napoleon Chirac cannot hope to get back
    Those dreams of an empire he had,
    Of a new francophonic renaissance
    Today , as he woke,had gone bad.

  26. The French have voted no. May I suggest that we quickly have a referendum to vote yes to the new constitutional treaty so that we can move rapidly to a new Europe which excludes the French?

  27. Melissa: you mention ‘frog meeting Princess’…I would say , according to Isabella’s avowed preference for the French way of life, if / when she eventually succumbs and goes , surely it would be the Princess meeting with the Frog

  28. Does the ‘NON’ from o’er the Channel toll the knell for Europe’s hope
    Of a Constitution meant to bring us closer?
    Will the Dutch now do the double, will they cut the treaty’s rope?
    Will they answer Brussels’ question: shouting,” NO sir?”

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