Monday, June 06, 2005

French "Non" Round-up - Update

More reaction:

Claire Berlinski, writing from Istanbul for the Washington Post - It's History That's Tearing the E.U. Apart :
Deep down, the ordinary Frenchman doesn't believe that Turks, or Eastern Europeans for that matter, cherish the values he holds most dear. Nor do the French much trust that the Germans and the British have French interests at heart. Given European history -- and given what I see around me -- I can't say I blame them.

Over the past few weeks, the pro-Europe talking heads on French television have been busy poking fun at French fears of the "proverbial Polish plumber" who is ready to steal jobs from the locals. But how the pundits can argue that he is only proverbial is beyond me. If you want to test the theory, try living in a Paris apartment that needs repainting, as mine did a few weeks ago. Get estimates. French workmen will propose to do the job for 10,000 euros. The Polish painter? He can do it for 800 euros. Tomorrow. He doesn't ask for health insurance or social security, either. And this in a country where there is already 10 percent unemployment.

If I were a French house painter or plumber, I would have voted non, too...

In all the millions of words recently written in opinion pieces in France, uttered by French television pundits and spoken by French politicians, no one has said the most obvious ones: To hell with Europe. That's right, to hell with Europe -- to hell with integration; to hell with the super-state; to hell with playing a role like the United States' on the international stage. No one has said, "It's a nutty idea. It will never work. It would put us in contact with people we've hated for thousands of years."

Intellectuals and public figures in France, from left to right, explain their votes by first expressing boundless devotion to the ideal of Europe itself: The people's vote against the constitution, they say, reflects only a tactical readjustment in the great vision. The fantasy of Europe has adopted so prominent a role in the consciousness of French intellectuals that no one will speak plainly of it. No one is prepared to express what the majority of French voters really feel.

But ask a French farmer or factory worker. You'll hear it: To hell with Europe.

David Brooks in the NY Times commenting on the economics behind the rejection - Fear and Rejection:
Forgive me for making a blunt and obvious point, but events in Western Europe are slowly discrediting large swaths of American liberalism.

Most of the policy ideas advocated by American liberals have already been enacted in Europe: generous welfare measures, ample labor protections, highly progressive tax rates, single-payer health care systems, zoning restrictions to limit big retailers, and cradle-to-grave middle-class subsidies supporting everything from child care to pension security. And yet far from thriving, continental Europe has endured a lost decade of relative decline.

Western Europeans seem to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Election results, whether in North Rhine-Westphalia or across France and the Netherlands, reveal electorates who have lost faith in their leaders, who are anxious about declining quality of life, who feel extraordinarily vulnerable to foreign competition - from the Chinese, the Americans, the Turks, even the Polish plumbers...

The Western European standard of living is about a third lower than the American standard of living, and it's sliding. European output per capita is less than that of 46 of the 50 American states and about on par with Arkansas. There is little prospect of robust growth returning any time soon...

The core fact is that the European model is foundering under the fact that billions of people are willing to work harder than the Europeans are. Europeans clearly love their way of life, but don't know how to sustain it.

This Polish plumber pops up a lot. More economic analysis of France from Anne Dumas in The Washington Post - What's American and Envied by France?:
It's not exactly haute culture , but these days this is a vital topic here in France, where the unemployment rate has been stuck between 9 and 10 percent for a quarter of a century and where not a single enterprise founded here in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today's 25 largest U.S. companies didn't exist four decades ago. That's why France is looking to the United States for lessons. And it's why it was meant as a compliment when the French media dubbed the former finance minister, newly appointed interior minister and potential president Nicolas Sarkozy "the American."

For years, France has been pouring bad old economic policy into new bottles. "France has not solved the crises of the 20th century, including rampant unemployment, and it has to face the challenges of the next one: globalization and a new kind of world terrorism. The country has lost 2 million industrial jobs in the last 25 years," explains Nicolas Baverez, a talented historian, lawyer and op-ed writer, who wrote a book on the decline of France. Although the situation is dire, France lingers in what is matter-of-factly branded "French immobilism."