Alien nation

Half the French population is living on another planet in its resistance to the EU constitution, writes Jon Henley Wednesday

France may be correct to say "NON" to EU Constitution - but it shouldn't reject it because it is "Anglo-Saxon." As Britain has proved, the Anglo-Saxon model is superior to Continental Europe's.

May 18, 2005 - The French debate on the European Union constitution, or to be more accurate the arguments put forward by the mainstream left against that much-maligned treaty, is slowly forcing me to conclude that there exists a place called Planet France.

The arguments of the far right I can deal with: they are essentially the same old British eurosceptic arguments of loss of sovereignty, decline of national identity and so on. They (the British views)are at least consistent and, sort of, coherent.

Similarly, the arguments of the extreme left I can at least recognise: Europe is, bien sur, just one big capitalist plot by the dastardly owners of the means of production to maximise the oppression of the proletariat.

Where the debate removes itself to Planet France (losing me, for one, in the process) is where the Mainstream Left No, which we shall henceforth call MLN, steps in. And all the polls show that the MLN is where France's May 29 referendum will be won or lost: more than 70% of centre-right voters are preparing to vote Oui, while more than 55% of centre-left voters presently plan to vote Non.
For your average Brit who has lived through Mrs Thatcher and observed with more than passing interest the activities of Mr Blair, the MLN lives on Planet France. This planet is ruled by Laurent Fabius, a former socialist prime minister who a) was not best known for his concern for the oppressed proletariat and b) negotiated several of the past treaties on which the constitution is based.

Now that he has moved to Planet France, however, Mr Fabius and his followers have understood that the constitution is in fact a blueprint for a liberal, free-market, Anglo-Saxon Europe of untrammelled competition that will lead to French companies going under, French jobs being lost, and French public services and benefits being destroyed.

Viewed from Planet France, therefore, the French electorate has a democratic and, above all, a social duty to reject the treaty, at which point the rest of the continent will instantly come to its senses and realise that France had it right all along. A new constitution will promptly be negotiated, incorporating all France's concerns.

The belief system of Planet France has several curious characteristics:

- It believes that economic liberalism (or a market economy) is the end of civilisation as we know it, despite the fact it is the sole economic system so far developed by mankind that has actually been shown to work;

- It believes the new constitution will create an EU based on economic liberalism and the free market. This, despite the fact that economic liberalism and the free market were enshrined in the first ever Treaty of Rome in 1957, and that this free-market EU has done much to cushion France (and everyone else in Europe) from the worst effects of globalisation;

- The MLN also believes that the French economic and social model must at all costs be protected and preserved, when the French economic and social model boasts an unemployment rate of 10% more or less unchanged since 1983, lower-than-average growth, falling purchasing power, and a health system running a 12bn deficit;

- The liberal Anglo-Saxon model must be avoided at all costs, even though the liberal Anglo-Saxon model (in Britain at any rate) boasts an unemployment rate half that of France's, a minimum wage raised by 40% in five years, health spending doubled over the same period, steadily increasing purchasing power, years of sustained growth, low interest rates and 2 million children lifted from below the poverty line;

- It also believes that France can singlehandedly resist the process known as globalisation, and has a moral duty to do so, rather than seeking to adapt to it (at its crudest, it seems to believe it is possible to distribute wealth without first creating it);

- Finally, the MLN believes that if France rejects a constitution that France demanded, negotiated and even, under the former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, wrote, and under which France's clout within the EU would be substantially increased, it will be possible for it to persuade the EU's 24 other member states, none of which live on Planet France, that the above claims are true.

All of this allows Mr Fabius to say, as he repeatedly does: "France has a choice: if it wants a liberal Europe, it can vote Yes to the treaty. If it wants a social Europe, it must vote No. If you believe in Europe, say Non." It is, frankly, Planet France-speak
(And before anyone puts finger to keyboard, I am not saying that Britain is perfect. What I am saying is that it has a fair case for arguing that its philosophy (of adaptation) in the face of globalisation is probably faring better than France's (resistance), and that if public services in Britain seem on the whole to be gradually improving, it is at least in part because the money is being generated to throw at them. In France, the reverse is the case. Yes, today I would rather be treated in a French hospital than a British one - but in five years' time, I'm not so sure.)

So Planet France is a strange place. The really worrying thing about it, though, is that according to yesterday's opinion polls, somewhere between 51% and 53% of the French currently live there.

Quel magnifique pays, quand-meme.