Monday, May 30, 2005

Der Spiegel is really unhappy about the Non Vote

EU: The non vote in the bag, now we have open hostility against the French people.

"France's stunning "non" in Sunday's referendum on the European Union constitution accomplishes two goals: it gives both globalization and Jacques Chirac, the nation's 72-year-old president -- known to some as "Europe's dinosaur" -- a swift kick in the derriere. The televised news coverage said it all. First, cameras flashed on the No camp, where burly workers flexed their biceps high in old-fashioned clench-fisted salutes to what they viewed as a grand victory. Then came shots of the Yes camp, where pale bureaucrats in suits slumped and scrounged to find some positive spin on the disastrous results. Chirac -- looking terribly old and gray -- offered a classic French pout. The truth is, the victory may be brawny (55 percent No to 45 percent Yes), but in the end it will prove terribly illusory. ....And anyone who has spent time in France knows, the lifestyle -- not to mention the abundant wine and cheese that accompanies it -- is stunningly good. Think six week vacations, 35-hour work-weeks, strong unions unafraid to call nationwide strikes, good childcare options, fat pensions and a bulging class of fonctionnaires happy to take all the state will give. Fear of losing all that sweetness has France trembling. For change does, indeed, hurt. As such, despite all their pro-worker rallies, slogans and calls of Liberte, the French have become closet conservatives. As much as they want to be part of a growing, entrepreneurial world, they are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary for 21st century life. Neither of course are their erstwhile pals, the Germans. Indeed, both nations are suffering from disillusionment. In Germany, the nation is stagnated by unemployment, frustration, and a seeming inability to spark an aging society used to being comforted rather than challenged or stimulated. Voters voiced their dissatisfaction by delivering German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats a stinging defeat in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia last weekend. Now federal elections have been pushed up a full year -- and many predict that Schroeder -- like Chirac will end his term in disgrace. France, too, has become a nation of complainers. And their favorite past-time is jabbing at the EU, which they view as too domineering, too anti-French, and to ready to force niggling changes on them. They are also terrified that a larger EU will give Germany more power and turn them into an even more marginalized former giant. July rightly points out in his editorial the self-aggrandizing nature of the vote. France proves it "exists because all alone, it is able to unhinge Europe," the sickened editor writes of his nation's hunger to prove its own power. "On your knees, Europe, in face of our no!" July calls the vote a "popular disaster" and headlines Monday's paper "The (nation's) Most Negative Day." ....Part of the problem for Chirac is that he has been in power a full decade and has little to show for it. During the Iraq war, he thumbed his nose at America and incurred the wrath of US President George W. Bush in order to win the love of his people. Now, he's lost that, too. By trying to ram the EU down his people's throat -- rather than sitting down years ago to patiently explain it to them -- he's lost his grand vision of creating an EU that would serve as a counterweight to the US. Indeed, Chirac failed to present the constitution -- or anything about the EU -- to his citizens in a way they could understand. Instead, all has been offered as a simple fait accompli. From that perspective, the French No reads as an understandable plea for democracy. Still, it is terribly regrettable. The Bush camp isn't saying so; officially, they support the EU. But secretly, when they are alone on the ranch in Crawford, there must be some heavy snickering taking place. Bush has made no secret of his dislike for Chirac. Yet certainly he must be pleased that the silly days of open animosity and "freedom fries" may be coming to an end. Now it is Chirac -- not Bush -- who's been French fried. "

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