The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve problems of the present: they cannot ensure their own progress or control their own future. And the Community itself is only a stage on the way to the organized world of tomorrow.
— Closing words of the Memoirs of Jean Monnet
On June 16th, 8,000 Parisian leftists streamed through the Champs Elysees in a noisy but civil celebration of their victory in the May 29 referendum over the forces supporting the European constitution, a document which would have, in their view, ripped apart the French patrimonial state and its elaborate social and health protections, and placed the nation at the mercy of the “Anglo-Saxon model” of brutish economic competition and global capitalism. The Republic had once again been saved. It was 1789, the Paris Commune, the liberation from Nazi rule, and 1968 — all rolled into one.
Whatever one thinks of the project to build a European superstate, there is something inspiring about 20 million French and Dutch voters who, having been told what to do by their most respected leaders, listening attentively, and even plowing through the dense, 448 article document they were told they must approve, then do the exact opposite. The double vote against the European constitution may be the most significant historical event on the continent since the fall of the Berlin wall. Or maybe not.
Last week’s festivities in Paris were scheduled to coincide with meetings in Brussels of the heads of state of the 25 member nations of the European Union (EU) — meetings that would ostensibly halt the ratification process in other countries and bury the constitution. But that is not what happened last week in the corridors of Europe’s largest office complex, the headquarters of the EU.
Stunned, perplexed, and “destabilized,” as they were commonly described in the European press, the leaders spent two days sorting out the future in meetings with the officialdom of Brussels. European Commission president Jose Manuel Borroso described himself as “paralyzed” by the French and Dutch votes, “but there is no decision to take here. The French are in charge of themselves alone. We have to move on. But we must examine the reasons for this malaise.” Others, like Liam Fox, the British Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, were more blunt: “I know how to recognize a cadaver when I see one. This constitution is headed for the morgue. Only the political dinosaurs in France and Germany and the army of eurocrats whose careers depend on this document are acting as if nothing has happened.” But even the announcement from 10 Downing Street that the government of Tony Blair would “freeze” its referendum process pending “clarifications” didn’t dissuade most of the eurocrats. “The constitution,” said M. Borroso, “is not the property of the United Kingdom. It is the property of the European Union. It is not for the UK alone to decide its future.”
In the event, the leaders pumped themselves up, mustered their courage and, in the face of what they all described as the gravest crisis in the 50-year history of the EU, called for a “pause for reflection.” Back in France, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose rightist National Front Party had campaigned vigorously against the constitution on the grounds that it would erode the sovereignty of the French nation, warned that the EU was about to bypass the voters it claims to represent. He was right. The “pause” extended the deadline for ratification by member states by one year to 2007 and permitted those countries which had not yet ratified the constitution the right to “suspend” ratification processes — a right, incidentally, that is embodied in the domestic law of all member states and cannot be “conferred” by the EU or any other international organization. Quietly, the governments of Denmark, Luxembourg, and Poland proceeded to cancel referenda variously scheduled between July and early fall. Polls in each of those countries show solid majorities opposed to the constitution. The prospect of rolling rejections of the constitution was avoided, as was any pretense of consulting the voters.
In Brussels, attention focused on an obscure provision of the constitution, which provides that in the event that five or fewer member countries have “difficulties with the ratification process,” the European Council of the EU (heads of state) will be “seized of the matter.” Of the thirteen countries that have not ratified the constitution, only six will submit the matter to the voters. The others will require parliamentary approval, virtually certain in all cases. If just three of the six referenda result in Yes votes (likely in Portugal, Belgium, and Slovakia), the conditions would be met for the heads of state to decide the future of the European Union despite the formal requirement that each state must approve the constitution before it can be implemented.
Would the Council of the EU enact the constitution in whole or in part against the expressed wishes of a significant number of its members? Of course it would. After all, why should a project that will supplant the nation-state system with a new and higher form of political community, endow its citizens with created rights, including the rights to housing subsidies, “environmental justice,” and the security that comes with knowing that ladders in Scotland are exactly the same length as those in France, and that promises to extend by example the “Zone of Peace” to the rest of humanity, why should such lofty purposes be held hostage to the inconvenient outbursts of childish passions by voters in two countries who should have known how to behave better?
That is only a slight exaggeration of the extent to which the architects of what is now called the European “construction” have consciously rejected consensual democratic practices. When the current rotational “President” of Europe, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, said before the French referendum that “If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go,’ and if it’s a No, we will say ‘on we go,” he was expressing what Brussels bureaucrats take as their modus operandi: the European project is a bicycle that can never be allowed to stand still; it must be peddled constantly. That is why in Brussels today, Eurocrats are gliding from one Eutopian planning session to the next contriving ways to appoint a permanent European President and Foreign Minister even if the constitution establishing those offices never sees the light of day. But Juncker’s comment cuts through all the arcane debates and the thickets of former French President Giscard d’Estaing’s unreadable constitution. The American constitution begins with “We the People.” The EU constitution begins with “We know better than the people.”
It is probably impossible for Americans, with their strong traditions of self-government and citizen participation, to understand how a narrowly based cabal of intellectuals and friends could conceive, write, and implement a constitution for 500 million people without review by judicial bodies and thrust it upon legislatures and voters. It was clear, however, to Jean Monnet, the acknowledged Father of Europe, whose words appear at the beginning of this article. It was clear as well to the little-known French philosopher of Polish origins, Alexander Kojeve, who was convinced that the world that emerged from the destruction of World War II was moving towards a Hegelian moment in which the contradictions of the nation-state system would resolve themselves through the advent of the “Universal State.” Among his students were the current French President Jacques Chirac and a significant number of those in the French political elite.
The European superstate has suffered a setback and there are encouraging signs in France and elsewhere that the debate over the future governance of Europe is broadening beyond the narrow center-right, center-left parameters where it has largely been confined. You know something is afoot when in the pages of the prestigious left-of-center Le Monde appear the writings of formerly unheard from libertarians complaining about the centralization and regulation of the French social model and the dangers they foresee in its European-wide application.
Unfortunately, though, in Brussels they keep peddling that utopian bicycle.
(Editor’s note: Dr. Liam Fox is a Conservative member of the British Parliament, representing the constituency of Woodspring. He was incorrectly identified as a member of the European Parliament in the original text of this article.)