Over the past few weeks, we've had several informative diaries from Jérôme and Welshman on the upcoming French referendum on the European Constitution. This diary
by Welshman stirred up a bit of debate yesterday on the actual issues underlying the opposition to the text of the constitution as it stands today.
At the core of the discussion, in my view, is the type of society we want to achieve as members of the EU - and hopefully, the world - and the appropriate types and levels of social policies we are entitled to defending in the process. I believe this is a genuine issue the importance and validity of which goes way beyond Europe.
While in the US, humane social policies are often derided as "tools for the lazy", they are seen in many European countries as the backbone of a self-respecting society where everyone is entitled to live in dignity. As the free market ideology takes over the world, aren't the people of the world entitled not only to be heard on these issues, but to demand that their governments do not try and sandbag their concerns as they expand the scope of free markets geographically? In this, I see quite a bit of synergy with growing movements all over the Third World to rein in the neoliberal program until it is properly backed-up by real and sustainable social policies that do not leave humans on the sidewalk of "economic growth".
The point of this diary is to give voice to some of the arguments of the French opposition to the treaty. The French people are asked to vote on a lengthy, detailed and so obscure document that Le Monde has been publishing a very useful interactive explanatory commentary for the past couple of weeks.
The establishment's (left, right, center) campaign in favor has been loud and omnipresent while, according to Serge Halimi the opposition seems to have been seriously muffled by the media. Also, the advocates of the constitution, in an unbridled show of pompous arrogance, seem to position themselves as "enlightened and progressive" while dismissing the opposition as coming from a place of "ignorance and anger". That is just not good enough of an argument.
Today, Le Monde reports on Laurent Fabius (# 2 of the Parti Socialiste - PS) and his attempt to take leadership - in square opposition to Jacques Chirac - of the No contingent.
No doubt, his precise targeting of Chirac can be seen as presidential posturing - which is fair enough. Still, by taking this position, Fabius is also opposing - and therefore alienating - the leadership of his own party. We'll have to wait for the presidential elections to see how that works out for him. His TV interview on Sunday attracted 9.3 million viewers (39.6% of total audience in that time slot) and remained at that level throughout. That's a sure indication of the level of interest in the arguments against the constitution as it stands.
On the Constitution, Fabius denounces what he sees as massive efforts to demonize opponents (sounds familiar?) and focuses on three main points according to Le Monde articles linked above:
1. Social issues vs. free competition: Fabius refers to large differences in wages in various EU countries and goes on to argue: (my translation):
If we are going to say that competition is the only rule among all these countries, then there is a terrible risk that we will see our salaries go down, fewer social protections and lower retirement levels
* This is key, in my view. The trend ought to be to bring everyone's wages and social protection policies up to the best existing levels in Europe rather than down to the lowest common denominator.
2. Lock-in Fabius argues that the text of the constitution cannot be modified [for 30 years?] once approved and should therefore be rejected for this reason alone. He also claims that an alternative plan (Plan B) exists, which is denied by the advocates of the text. Fabius highlights the fact that, unless the treaty is adopted, it must be reviewed by the governments within 2 years.
He argues that negotiations are possible, whereas Valéry Giscard d'Estaing claims that everything has been negotiated to death and that government positions are not likely to change enough in the near future to alter the text in any significant way.
* This is also key: how can we have a constitution that cannot be amended for 30 years?
3. Fabius suggests three modifications: (i) the removal of the third part of the text which simply compiles previous treaties; (ii) allow for amendments to the constitution in the future, and the "possibility for countries like France, Germany, Spain who can go faster to do so".
Obviously, the French social movements will maintain their pressure regardless of the results of the May 29 vote. The question is whether that will be made much more difficult with the Constitution in place and the implications for social justice in Europe going forward.