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European constitution supported by business elite { May 31 2005 }

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005. Issue 3177. Page 11.
Saying 'Oui' to Democracy

By Boris Kagarlitsky

The European Union Constitution, which was supported overwhelmingly by the political and business elite, by the leading media outlets and of course by the EU bureaucracy and major transnational corporations, failed when more than 55 percent of French voters voted against it. After the French results, the vote in the Netherlands is unlikely to bring any surprises. It is merely a question of how closely the Dutch result will mirror the French one.

The commentators who declared that Germany and France were on different sides of the fence were completely off the mark. The Germans were simply not given a chance to vote. The issue was decided behind the closed doors of the parliament. If the Germans had been given the chance to express their opinion, the referendum would have likely gone the way of the French referendum.

The question of whether Turkey and Ukraine should become EU members can now be postponed indefinitely, to the great benefit of both countries, which now have a chance to rid themselves of the irrational belief that their problems will disappear like magic when Brussels waves its bureaucratic wand.

Hard-nosed French voters were not drawn in by discussions of the pressing need to "support Europe." They saw that the integration process in practice was not promoting European values, but destroying them. The Europe cooked up in the Brussels bureaucracy's lab under the watchful eyes of transnational corporations and international banks is a faceless continent, where culture, communities and local traditions are sacrificed to the holy and omnipresent laws of the free market, which are worshiped with totalitarian solemnity.

The EU Constitution is very strange. It focuses less on how the political institutions of a united Europe would function and more on giving the multitude of neoliberal reforms of recent years the force of law. The Europeans were supposed to reject everything that sets them apart from everyone else on the planet: strong labor unions, protective labor laws, a better social safety net, universal access to health care and education, and the diversity of age-old national customs and institutions.

The Europeans were supposed to forget the ideals of the French Revolution, to erase from history the ideals of the anti-fascist resistance and to make peace with a political situation in which the only difference between the right and the left is the color of their party flags. In other words, Europeans were supposed to turn their backs not only on the social state but also on real and substantial democracy.

The media attempted to pound into people's heads that anyone who was against the EU Constitution was in favor of nationalists, clerics and xenophobes.

But the propaganda misfired. Leftists conducted their campaign against the constitution separately from the nationalists, and for precisely this reason they were able to win mass support for their cause -- which would be a helpful lesson for Russia. The socialist leaders who snuggled up to the official right-wing camp discredited themselves more with every passing day in the eyes of their own supporters. As the referendum proceeded, the government and the opposition appeared as a united front. And they lost together. The results of the referendum were in effect a vote of no confidence in the political elite on the part of the public.

The results of the referendum came as quite a blow not only to the government in Paris, but also to the European Commission officials in Brussels. There is more at stake here than just the failure of the proposed document. After all, the text of the constitution was in fact little more than a compendium of numerous agreements and documents that had already been approved by the EU over the last 15 years.

But this is the heart of the matter: An overwhelming number of Europeans are profoundly unhappy with the status quo. By voting against the constitution, they took advantage of the opportunity to say what they really thought about the rules they are forced to live under and the politicians and institutions that govern them.

Neoliberal economic policy has never been too popular. The political triumph of the European and American elite came when they managed to convince the average Joe that there was no other way to do things. Thus, the democratic process has been deprived of its main point -- talking about alternatives.

The French referendum is sending us back to square one, and the discussion of constitutional propositions for Europe will start anew. In other words, they have put the substance back in the democratic process.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute for Globalization Studies.

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