Our Man in Paris: Urge To Be
Just What Were the French Voting Against?
Sunday 29 May 2005 and received in Los Angeles on Friday, 3 June 2005 –
PARIS - There are problems with the European Constitution but they apply to all constitutions. In Europe's new one there are articles of a few simple words that should be easy to understand. For example, Article II-62.2 in the Fundamental Rights section says, "Nobody can be condemned to death or executed."
If ratified, this will apply to 450 million people living in the 25 member states of the European Union. I expect that clever legal minds will find ways to interpret the eight simple words above and convince a judge somewhere that the opposite is really meant, but until then I would vote for a constitution that bars the death penalty and hope for the best.
The most impassioned champions of the Constitution will freely admit that some of it is not perfect. Articles that may seem a bit vague are backed up with 'Declarations' that spell out the meaning more exactly, and past European Court decisions are added if they aid clarity.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in Article II-71.1. It says, "Everyone has the right to free expression, including the exchange of opinions, without interference by the authorities and without consideration of frontiers." This is a long one and the subject is complicated so we can expect that this will see its day in courts to come.
The debate around the Constitution has been somewhat obscure because very few people have read it. The opposition has used this ignorance shamelessly by citing dubious practices that are happening today, saying they will be totally uncontrolled in the future.
In other words, if the Constitution consists of apples, they are saying it lacks oranges. Or they are saying that because it is so economically 'liberal,' we will all have to go to Poland to work for the wages there. Or just as bad, Poles will invade France and work for Polish wages here. Some very smart people will insist that the Constitution guarantees this.
The Constitution offers the very protections that the opposition says it lacks. Behavior that can't be governed by a Constitution is a used as an example for why the Constitution is bad. You are not going to get to bed this week if you want to argue about it. The arguments against the Constitution are complicated while its Articles are simple.
The official campaign to educate the voters has been a colossal flop. The opposition has used this fact for its advantage. They can say anything and this is what they have been doing.
For example, they say the 'liberal' aspects of the Constitution will cause massive unemployment. It is hard to understand how it could be made worse that it already is, under the 'old' rules. Voting against the Constitution is like voting for continued unemployment, rather than for the future.
The French government's 'reform' plans, delocalizations, unemployment, low wages, globalization, are all problems of right now, of the present right-wing 'liberal' government. Many voters have been conned into believing that their present problems will worsen if the Constitution is ratified.
Voters tend to recall the past somewhat more easily than the future so even if the Constitution is about Europe, they are probably going to vote against the government.
Well, life is a gamble. The French can vote to maintain their miserable present and what they know, or they can cast a ballot for the unknown future.
As far as Europe is concerned, it has always been a risky business. This European Union thing stumbles along from crises to crises, from boiling pot to frying pan, but it has always managed to step back from brinks in the nick of time. Against all odds, formidable odds, impossible odds, the European Union exists. It has an urge to be.