Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 02, 2005

European Votes

As you may have seen, a couple of stories on European elections have been started over at dKos, and I thought I'd share these with you guys over here, as these are a harbinger of things to come (hint, hint). The new installments have been posted over at BooMan Tribune, which is an offshoot of dKos with a wider international focus, and a potential model for an "European Kos" type of site.

So, please go read Welshman's
UK Elections 05 - Diary 1
UK Election 05 - Diary 2
as well as Febble's
A short guide to the British constitution and electoral system

As well as my own:
France Votes on EU Constitution (I)
European Constitution - France votes soon. Diary II. (this last one is also to be found below the fold here)
An introduction to the French electoral system (check that diary for other countries as well)

First of all, I would actually like to have your feedback on what actually would be of interest to you guys:

  • a description of the political campaign? It includes a lot of intra-party fighting this time, which makes it interesting to political junkies in France but may not have that many attractions for outsiders


  • a presentation of the main issues of the day? (again, if I go into details, if will be a lot of domestic stuff which may or may not interest you)


  • a more abstract discussion of the big issues? (I was going to include a bit on Turkey below, but the post is already long enough)


Thanks for your feedback ; here we go!


The campaign is now in full swing

The past week has seen the real start of the campaign. It started with a number of polls confirming that the "no" vote held a slight edge in voting intentions, and saw the start of the "real", organised, campaign by the proponents of the Yes.

Like the campaign for the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 (which saw the yes vote win by a very small 51% majority), the debate is not between left and right, but mostly between the centrists/mainstream blocs on each side and the more radical or extreme groups of the same side. The big parties (UMP and UDF on the right, and the PS and the Greens on the left) are all in favor of the yes, and the fringe parties (the National Front and the Sovereignist MPF on the right, the communists and trotskysts LO/LCR on the left) but there are also significant minorities/mavericks within the big parties that are in favor of the "no".

Like the Maastricht vote, the campaign is also "polluted" by domestic issues, in particular strong dissatisfaction with Chirac and his increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. There is a deep social malaise caused by the persistently high levels of unemployment, stagnant incomes, a perceived decline of France and a general sense that reforms are necessary but not done (of course, they are not done because the French - or a least a noisy subset thereof - complain about them whenever any attempt is made...).

The Lefty "No"

On the left, in particular, a number of issues which have little to do with Europe are helping the "no" vote gain legitimacy:


  • a strong desire not to hand Chirac another electoral victory, after having been forced to vote for him in 2002 against Le Pen (and also after he chose to ignore the result of local elections last year, which the left won decisively, and which should have triggered a change of Prime Minister to at least cknowledge the result);


  • the tactical decision by Laurent Fabius, a former Prime Minister in the 80s and one of the heavyweights of the party, to support the "no".  Everybody knows that he did this to distinguish himself from the other potential candidates for the 2007 presidential election (he was seen as a member of the rightist wing of the party, but was in the shadow of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former economics minister), but it has given legitimacy to the "no" position.


  • the Socialists held a internal vote to decide on their position, and registered members voted 60-40 in favor of the "yes", but this has not silenced the "no" camp, which has been even more strident since that vote, in blatant disregard of its result (after having called for it, as an exercise in "internal democracy"), whereas the "yes" camp, which thought it had done the hardest part, was caught flat-footed by the persistence of the "no" campaigners, and has been unwilling or unable to use party discipline to silence them.


  • this is all happening is a context of stagnant wages (INSEE, the statistical institute, recently came out with a study showing that purchasing power had actually declined in 2004, for the first time since 1996) and chronic demonstrations by workers to fight for salary increases and other social causes;


  • it has also been results season for companies, and the largest companies have come out with record profit levels, inevitably deemed "undecent" by unions. (and it would be even worse if we still had Francs instead of euros. Total made a 9 billion euro profit (close to 60 billion francs. I still remember the time when a 10 billion franc profit in the early 90s was a national scandal). The issue of fairness is coming up a lot as well with respect to the highest pay packages of the bosses which are increasing a lot faster than average wages.


There is finally a deep-seated belief on the left that the European Constitution is too much in favor of an "Europe libérale", which in French means, of course, laisser-faire, free-market, pro-business... (Strangely enough, the British Euroskeptics are persuaded of the exact opposite, i.e. that European Constitution is too social-minded).

The righty "No"

On the right, it is only slightly simpler:

  • all the hard right groups are against the Treaty. They are "sovereignists" and resent any transfers of power to Brussels. They have been consistently opposed to further European integration or enlargement, and this is typically the kind of vote where the can get the most visibility for their parties, and they make very active campaigns


  • the mainstream right is mostly behind the Constitution. There are a number of doubters, but they are mostly kept in check by their loyalty to Chirac and to the government now in power.

  • the biggest source of tension on that side in between Nicolas Sarkozy, the -very- ambitious head of the UMP party and expected rival to Chirac for the Presidential election in 2007. Like the left, he is not keen to hand a victory to Chirac, but as the head of the majority party, he cannot not support it either, so he is likely to do a tepid campaign. Chirac loyalists within the party will be more active, but it is likely that there will be a lot of bickering there as well.


The "No" has dominated the campaign so far

So, until the middle of this week, the campaign has been dominated by the antics of the "no"partisans, which have avoided no histrionics (does my own bias shine through this sentence...?):

  • Emmanuelli, a leftist socialist, equalled voting "yes" to the vote by the French Parliament in 1940 that gave full powers to Petain (and gave birth to the Vichy regime). He apologised for this particular remark, but it was only because this was obviously unacceptable, not because it was the most aggressive comment;


  • the fact that the leader of the Socialist Party, François Hollande, was photographed together with Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of the UMP, on the cover of Paris Match, a French political/people weekly, in a show of unity in favor of the Constitution, has been held as an argument that he is "sold" to "Grand Capital"


  • all the current social discontent and unhappiness with Chirac and Raffarin is happily mixed and used as an argument against the Constitution, however tenuous the link between the two; the fact that the government panicks and is now trying to buy off discontents by showering them with budgetary largesse (salary increases for civil servants, new help for farmers, etc...) only reinforces the link between domestic social issues and "Europe" and shows that demonstrations pay off.


The righty "No" has been much less visible, but as always, feeds on the general restlessness.

The launch of the official "Yes" campaign

But this week also saw the launch of the official campaign  by the big political machines, with official campaign meetings by the Socialists and the pro-governmental UMP, and both Raffarin and Chirac have stepped up to the plate (although some have suggested that Raffarin is such " damaged goods" that it is counterproductive) to defend the Constitution.

It remains to be seen if the more rational arguments will have any effect, but at least they are finally been made:

  • the European Constitution has nothing to do with current European directives, which are decided under the existing treaties;


  • the European Constitution actually formalises some new social rights; it protects "public services", a very important notion in France;

  • the European Constitution will not determine what kind of directives are voted when it is in force - it sets out how they are decided upon. Their actual  content will depend on political forces at that time. Currently, the right dominates in Europe, and you cannot expect them to bring about leftist policies. The Constitution is not the place to enshrine specific policies, it just sets the rules on how the political game is played;

  • the European Constitution was a hard-to-reach compromise between 25 countries and many opinions within each country; it is not perfect, and if it does not come in force, the much-worse Nice Treaty will remain in force. If the French vote "No", no one will come forward with new concessions to "improve" the Constitution from the French's perspective (especially as the lefty "no" and the rightist "no" are for pretty much the very opposite reasons).


In any case, barring the odd dying pope, this referendum debate is clearly the central item in the news every day (together with the various social movements that, as we have seen, are enmeshed in the debate)


Posted by Jérôme à Paris on April 2, 2005 at 11:40 UTC | Permalink


So what outcome would you, yourself, bet on at this point for the French referendum?

I am watching the campaign in France with interest from Austria, and wondering how my own compatriots will decide. There is no strong feeling either way as yet, I sense; but this week I was accosted, in the centre of Vienna, by campaigners who want Austria to leave the EU altogether (not very realistic, I would expect the whole EU to break apart before that particular wish comes to pass).

My own guess is that there is still a 15-25% chance of the whole EU project, and not just the Constitution, failing, in part due to the abysmal quality of the current generation of politicans, but also because you can only paper over real differences of interest for so long before a reaction sets in. Personally, I would regret this, though my feelings about the EU are getting increasingly ambivalent.

Posted by: Viennese | Apr 2 2005 12:16 utc | 1

I concluded when we had the euro referendum here in Sweden that if you hold a referendum on something uninteresting people will vote on something they find more interesting. Like domestic social issues. All a consequence of politicians deciding when and what you should vote on.

This or that set of rules to make decisions in EU, well it is not that interesting. And it is not a very clear constitution, as is shown by the French-Brittish controversy on euro-liberal vs social minded.

If it was an all EU referendum were you could rank different proposals for different chapters and the result then was calculated with the Condorcet method (or any other appropriate method), well that is what I would call an interesting referendum.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Apr 2 2005 12:25 utc | 2

What I don't get is why Chirac was stupid enough to make French vote on it when he wasn't forced to do it. Was it hubris? Was he so sure that French would vote yes because they want to piss off UK and US that he wanted them to hand him a political victory? This was a braindead stupid decision, as usual with him alas. The only thing to do was to let the British vote first on it, so that *they* would sink the Constitution and would be seen as the 5th column Bliar and the Tories really are.
As for Emmanuelli and Fabius, I just don't get why the PS leaders haven't fired them, booted their sorry fucking asses out of the party, because it's just what they deserve (ok, scrap that, they deserve far worse, but still).
Whatever, the main argument should be obvious: people will have to live with the steaming pile of horse dung known as Nice Treaty, which is socially far worse, not to speak of the whole organisation of EU decisions which is just abysmal. The question arises of why people, notably French, didn't vote on it since it was as important as Maastricht or the Constituion, but once you've made that decision, don't let them vote on something overall better, because you always have to take into account, in democracies, that most people are downright stupid and couldn't know what's in their best interests even if their life depended on it.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Apr 3 2005 12:34 utc | 3

Ah, CJ, but making things better is not good enough. Things must be made perfect, immediately.

I've read the constitution, and it doesn't seem awful in the context. The fact that is pisses off all the extremists recommends it to me immensely.

I'll be interested to see how much US money is put into the various campaigns, especially in the UK and Ireland. Several of the anti-groups (on the right/religious/keep-the-darkies-out wing) here have had connections to US groups, and there was talk of money changing hands during Nice Treaty campaigns. Of course, Sínn Fein will be campaigning against it, on the basis that they intend being the sole power in Ireland when the revolution comes, um, I mean it is an unacceptable power grab against the working class and against national self-determination. They are funded mainly by Americans, except when they rob banks. I mean the IRA, with which Sínn Fein are in no way associated. Except they drink in the same bars. Sometimes.

ASKOD: yep, boring referendums make it easy to distract people with other issues, which is what the no side will, of course, do.

Posted by: Colman | Apr 4 2005 9:44 utc | 4

From the Independent: French opposition to EU treaty intensifies

An opinion poll published yesterday showed that 55 per cent of French voters who had reached a decision were likely to reject the proposed new EU treaty in the vote on 29 May.

Worryingly for the "yes" camp, the latest survey - the sixth in a row to predict a "no" vote - shows an erosion of support for the treaty on the centre-right and a hardening of attitudes on the left.

What happens if the French vote NO? Will other countries continue with their vote or is the topic over for the time being, until an new constitution or whatever is available?

Posted by: Fran | Apr 4 2005 10:00 utc | 5

Funny, how did that happen? The small blockquote questions are from me!! and not part of the article.

Posted by: Fran | Apr 4 2005 10:01 utc | 6

Fran, you probably forgot to put the / to close the blockquote and opened a second one instead...

Wolfgang Munchau: EU is not ready for a French No (FT, behind subscription wall) On May 29, France will hold a referendum on the European constitutional treaty. I believe the odds still favour ratification. But since the last five opinion polls before the weekend put the No vote ahead, it is perfectly legitimate to ask what would happen if the French voted this way.

One would have thought Europe's political leaders had a contingency plan to deal with this kind of emergency. But, at least to my knowledge, no such plan exists. As one senior European Union official put it recently, the consequences of a French No vote were "too awful to contemplate". As a result, few EU officials have contemplated them.

Under EU law, the constitution requires ratification from all 25 member states to come into effect. If even one country failed to ratify, the Treaty of Nice, the EU's current legal framework, would remain in force.

Compared with a French Non, the consequences of a British No are almost trivial. In a much noted pamphlet, Charles Grantfrom the Centre for European Reform in London set out in great detail how a British No would trigger the formation of a coreEurope based around France and Germany.* This would leave the UK politically isolated. An EU without the UK is imaginable. An EU without France is not.

The French No campaign opposes the EU constitution for precisely the opposite reason to that of Britain's eurosceptics. The French are fervent pro-Europeans, who believe that the EU is becoming too "Anglo-Saxon". The now watered down services directive, which would have created a single market for services across the EU, became a symbol in the French debate of how Anglo-Saxon capitalism has corroded core European values. By destroying the treaty, French opponents of the constitution hope to drive the enlarged liberal EU into the ground and rebuild it as a much more integrated - and inward-looking - political grouping with France and Germany at its centre.

In this scenario, the EU would continue to exist. But since the voting rules of the Nice Treaty favour the formation of blocking minorities, such an EU is unlikely to be effective. Meanwhile, France, Germany, Spain and Belgium would join forces to create an informal grouping to co-ordinate foreign and economic policy. Membership would be by invitation only. It may not even be open to every country in the 12-nation eurozone.

If a French No were simply regarded as a vote of no-confidence in the EU in general, and in President Jacques Chirac in particular, the consequences would be even worse. There would be a political crisis in French domestic politics. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister, would probably have to go the next day, so would François Hollande, the pro-constitution leader of the Socialists, a party deeply divided on this issue. The one person who is not going to resign is Mr Chirac himself.

The crisis would quickly engulf the whole EU. An immediate consequence of a No vote in any of these scenarios would be the indefinite postponement of enlargement talks with Turkey and Croatia. One of the rationales for the constitution was to prepare the EU for enlargement by reducing the threshold for a qualified majority. Turkey could then look forward to another 40 years of waiting in the EU's antechamber.

None of these scenarios is particularly appealing. But there are not many realistic alternatives. The EU will not be able to renegotiate the constitutional treaty after a French or British No. Any changes acceptable to France are unlikely to be acceptable to the UK, and vice versa. This is also why a slimmed-down version of the constitution - for example, one that included only the new voting rules - would probably not find a majority.

Nor would it be possible to placate the naysayers by granting them "opt-outs" from certain areas of European integration. The Danes, for example, were allowed to opt out of the single currency after they rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum. The constitutional treaty does not add policy areas; instead, it defines the fundamental rights of EU citizens and the workings of the institutions. There is nothing to opt out of, except for membership of the EU itself. This means that there exists no firm basis for a second referendum, except for a referendum on continued membership.

One suggestion I have heard is that the EU could decide to downgrade the constitution into a simple treaty revision - without changing its material content. There would be no renegotiations, except that it will not be called a constitution, but a treaty. The idea behind this is to persuade some countries to fast-track the ratification process through their national parliaments without the need to hold referendums. But such an approach would be fundamentally dishonest and undemocratic. If the French electorate reject this constitution they will, of course, be rejecting its content, not only its form.

This leaves us with two rather unpalatable options: a coreEurope in which the EU would remain little more than the shell of a single market; or an empty shell without a core. It is no wonder that some people find a French No vote "too awful to contemplate".

* What happens if Britain votes No?

Posted by: Jérôme | Apr 4 2005 10:43 utc | 7

Jérôme, thank you for the FT article. I still don't know what to think about the whole thing. Somehow I feel more with the section that is against the 'Anglo-Saxon' aspect, as it seems to move toward an US stile economy and hope Europe will be able to upkeep it's social qualities and way of life. Meaning being more environmentally aware (I know more needs to done here too) and just a more leisurly way of life, that doesn't make money its main focus. I am not against money, it has it uses but it is not everything.

Posted by: Fran | Apr 4 2005 12:11 utc | 8

The FT article makes good points. The EU might have reached a mass were the liberum veto makes further changes impossible (including changes to lessen the effects of the liberum veto). That is changes might be impossible within the current decision making process.

However I believe this could be solved by creativity and by deciding the constitution in an all-EU referendum. But I have posted about that previously. Creativity has been used in the past when it comes to moving the EU forward.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Apr 4 2005 17:46 utc | 9

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