French voters struck a mighty blow for liberte, egalite, and the 35-hour work week by defeating the proposed European constitution decisively on Sunday. After fifty years of arguing fervently to convince the rest of Europe to unite around them, the French did the perfectly French thing and made a mess of it for others to try to clean up. For the nine nations that previously succumbed to French blandishments and ratified the charter -- though they comprise about half the population of the EU -- the French have no apology. And there's a bright silver lining in the cloud that envelops EUnuchdom. We must see it clearly and act on it, because opportunities such as this don't come along very often.
The national religion of France, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out recently, is the vacation. Panicked at the thought of cheap labor from Eastern Europe flooding their moribund economy with people who'd actually work for a living -- to the French it's the "Polish plumber" problem -- French voters have accomplished what French soldiers never have: they have defended successfully the French way of life. They will fight to the death (just rhetorically, of course) to protect their legally mandated short work week, six-week vacations, and the many weaknesses of their economy propped up by EU subsidies. The French vote doesn't kill the EU: the EUnuchs will remain EUnuchs, but their anger will be more for each other and less for us in the next few years. In Old Europe there is consternation, even panic. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, "There is a risk of contagion." Just so.
The EU draft will be voted on by the Dutch tomorrow, and they are likely to reject it by an even larger margin than the French. Petulanty-Reidish (Reidishly-petulant?) Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende said on Saturday that a mere "no" vote by a Dutch majority wouldn't stop his government from ratifying the EU document. Seeking, perhaps, to filibuster the vote, Balkenende said only a 60 percent majority would be sufficient to deter ratification by the Netherlands. But regardless of Balky's intentions, Dutch rejection at any level would be of little significance unless Britain were to go ahead with its planned referendum despite the French rejection. Tony Blair may be liberal, but he ain't crazy.
Blair, enormously relieved that the French vote spares him the indignity of submitting the document to the near-certain rejection of Brit voters, said, "If there is a constitutional treaty to vote upon we will have a vote in Britain before ratifying it." (That "if" must have sent Chirac into an apoplectic rage.) Blair added, "But we have to see what happens in the Dutch referendum." Czech President Vaclav Klaus, no big fan of a Big Europe controlled by France and Germany, declared the EU paper "a thing of the past." For those nations that still pursue it, they must resign themselves to renegotiating its principal terms. It only took a decade of negotiations to come up with this draft. There's no reason to think a renegotiation will take much less time.
European presidents and prime ministers reacted to the French vote with restraint, hoping to conceal their varying degrees of hilarity and desperation. Chirac, his dream of uniting Europe under a dominant France in tatters, is now the lamest of ducks. On the slippery totem pole of power, Chirac now has to look up to see the soles of Bill Frist's shoes. Chirac is down, but not out. He will shake up his government to stay in power, fending off his would-be successor, Nicholas Sarkozy, for a time. Prime Minister Raffarin will resign and others will be thrown to the wolves as Chirac fights to stay in office.
The French defeat of the EU referendum will not change France, or lead quickly to the dissolution of the EU. It will totter along nicely, and governments such as Balky's in the Netherlands will keep holding referenda until they get the answer they want. But the unification of Europe has stopped for the moment. And this is the moment we should act.
THE FRENCH VOTE GIVES US an opening to improve trade and defense relations with New Europe and those parts of Old Europe that can be weaned away from the Brussels losers. Around these nations we can even hope to rebuild NATO, excluding those, such as France and Germany, that have broken the bargain on which it is based. We can wean some away with carrots, while applying a stick vigorously to French backsides.
Seeing the opportunity, President Bush has apparently decided to take the issue of EU subsidies for Airbus -- Boeing's competitor in the passenger and cargo aircraft business -- to the World Trade Organization. The EU subsidies have enabled Airbus to take the lead in global sales. Our complaint against them should succeed: Airbus's defense is that America subsidizes Boeing through government contracts. That, as anyone involved in the business can tell you, is nonsense. Outright gifts and below-market rate loans are what Airbus receives. It's high time -- and an opportune time -- for us to force that issue.
We toss free trade agreements around too casually -- NAFTA, CAFTA, whatever -- and usually gain nothing from them. But why not an "EFTA" -- a free trade agreement with those nations of Europe such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- who take their own defense seriously, and whose economies aren't yet suffocating under the socialism that is killing France?
And why should Turkey, our sometimes recalcitrant Muslim ally, be left out? The Turks have much to offer, including access to the new million-barrel-a-day Caucasus pipeline, that can benefit us enormously. Their current government is quasi-Islamist, but their westernized majority and very capable military aren't. Most Turks harbor enormous resentment of France and other EU members that have -- on obviously racist grounds -- delayed Turkey's EU membership application. Why not give Turkey now what the EUnuchs promise and never deliver?
A wise man -- it was either me or Boris Badenov -- once said that "in chaos there is opportunity." There is chaos in the EU and in its favorite outpost, the UN. President Bush has apparently decided to try to fix the UNfixable. It's unwise to place any faith in the UN, but if we are to do so, we have to act boldly in improving what little of it we can. Kofi Annan will be out of a job at the end of 2006. In the usual rotation of the secretary generalship, his successor would be from an Asian nation. But, with Burma's U Thant, Asia has had a turn. Eastern Europe has not. America should be championing an East European -- one whose life has been dedicated to the cause of freedom -- to succeed Annan. Such a man could give the UN a new voice, one that has a moral compass, that condemns terrorism instead of excusing it, and won't echo every anti-American sentiment. Lech Walesa for secretary general.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).
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