Sunday, June 05, 2005

French "Non" Round-up

George Will - A Reverberating French "non" -
Europe's elites, nearly unanimous in their desire to "pool" nations' sovereignties in EU institutions responsive only to those elites, warned that a French rejection might plunge Europe into bloody chaos akin to the dissolution of Yugoslavia -- perhaps even another Holocaust. Such synthetic hysteria revealed the elites' contempt for, and fear of, the European publics that the constitution was designed to further marginalize.

The so-called constitution is actually just an incoherent jumble of policies -- see above, and don't miss the protocol concerning the Sami people's reindeer husbandry -- for an incoherent jumble of vastly different nations. Supposedly, a single nation's rejection prevents the constitution from coming into effect. But some EU officials, with characteristic mendacity, hope to press on, get 24 ratifications, then force the French to keep revoting until they produce the politically correct answer. Fortunately, as this is written Tuesday morning, the Dutch seem about to render an even more emphatic "no" today.

French "no" voters were surly about their surly president, Jacques Chirac, who favors admitting Turkey to the EU. Worried about their sluggish economy, the French fret that after last year's eastward expansion of the EU by the admission of 10 low-wage countries, French jobs will move east and low-wage workers -- the dreaded "Polish plumber" -- will move to France. The cognitive dissonance of the French is striking: They wish to lead a Europe from which they are effectively insulated.

It is fine for people who are not French to admire from afar how "civilized" the French are in cherishing their "way of life" -- short workweeks, many weeks of vacations, laws "protecting" labor by making it difficult to fire people. But those laws, by making employers reluctant to hire, help explain France's double-digit unemployment.

Cast a cold eye on this way of life -- this amalgam of desires for increasing affluence and leisure and weight in the world -- and "civilized" looks like a euphemism for "childish." Children are unaware of the costs of things, and the incompatibility of many desires.

Gerard Baker in the London Times - European civilisation has sown the seeds of its own decline and fall -

These twin threats — the economic challenge of fiercely competitive globalisation and a political challenge to the culturally deracinated, splintering societies — are driving Europe into debilitating turmoil.

Interestingly, these threats converge again today in modern Turkey, an economically dynamic nation of 70 million Muslims, whose hopes of ending centuries of geographical ambivalence and joining the European club were dealt a final shattering blow this week. More important, though, it was these two forces, which lay directly behind respectively the French and Dutch “no” votes, that have intensified the mood of crisis.

In their different ways, the two referendums were surely symbolic events, marking the culmination of a decade or more of European disintegration and decline

It is probably no accident that this process began just as Europe reached the pinnacle of its achievements. Forty-five years after the Second World War, continental Western Europe could plausibly claim to have created a kind of postmodern nirvana — a half-continent-wide zone of unparalleled prosperity, cushioned by an apparently permanent peace among some of the most historically murderous peoples on Earth.

Under its expensive welfare programmes, paid for by a high level of productivity in traditional manufacturing industries, Europeans enjoyed a pampered life. With the Soviet threat gone, this accelerating prosperity further encouraged them to renounce the idea of war and military coercion, and they settled down to enjoy an assured future ascendancy.

By the beginning of the 1990s, with America in apparent decline, it seemed a reasonable bet that this extraordinary model of economic and political success would become an example to the world. But external and internal forces were already undermining this paradise.

In economics, the forces of globalisation unleashed by an emergent Asia and an information technology revolution were reviving the American eco-nomy and giving birth to new, dynamic competitors. This speed-of-light competitive world of the microchip and flexible capital markets would require nimbleness, and an end to the protections that seemed to have helped Europe to become the success story of the 1980s. The Anglo-Saxon economies, in response to their own economic crises of the 1970s, had prepared themselves for this new world with painful but necessary reforms.

But Europe looked inward, not outward. Instead of focusing on what was needed – American and British-style labour reforms, tax cuts and deregulation — Europe embarked on a quix- otic exercise. It sought to weld a dozen or more disparate countries into an unbreakable economic union, all settled snug and warm under the fraying comfort blanket of expensive welfare systems.

In the political field too, even at its zenith, Europe had been surrendering the tools that had given it peace and harmony. It owed its years of peace not to some solemn intra-European comity but to the hard steel of US firepower, primed to defend Europe from the Soviet Union. But by the early 1990s, having shed its bloody past, Europe had lost the moral will as well as the capacity to face down new threats at home and abroad to the freedoms it cherished. European governments cut defence budgets and embraced peace as a strategy. This malaise was clearly evident in the Balkans in the early 1990s, where murderous inter-ethnic strife was cheerfully tolerated for years.

When its American ally was attacked in September 2001, Europe gamely offered to reciprocate for US protection in the Cold War, but most European nations lacked the military resources to turn that promise into anything more than tokens.

Then in Iraq in 2003, confronted with a tyrant who had repeatedly thumbed his nose at the international system that Europe supposedly revered, it instinctively recoiled, and a softened-up intellectual elite turned on the Americans instead.

At home, the same moral relativism, bred by years of pampered prosperity, was creating its own destructive forces. Again, egged on by intellectual elites, Europeans were encouraged to despise the civilisation that had nurtured them. The nation state was pronounced a hateful anachronism that had to be replaced by a pan-European superstate. The West’s defining values of enlightened tolerance and freedom were not superior to anyone else’s. Crime was the fault of its own unfair societies.

Immigrants who came to its countries were not to be forced to live by its own rules but by theirs, even if that meant “honour” killings and jihad. The effort to produce tolerant, multicultural societies resulted in the paradox of radical liberal democracies such as the Netherlands enthusiastically nurturing forces at home that sought to destroy the freedoms in which they were being incubated.

This week, voters in France and the Netherlands sounded the alarm. Characteristically, while the Dutch seem to have got the message about the social costs of its ruinous ultra-liberalism, the French have got the wrong end of the stick and want to escape from globalisation behind high walls of social protection.

But the challenge is now upon Europe. The longer it puts off the inevitable reforms — economic, social and political — the harder it will get. And if it chooses to defer a real response for ever, the greatest civilisation in the history of the planet will simply continue to sink beneath the waves of its own economic irrelevance and moral ennui.


Victor David Hanson writing in the Washington Post - Death throes . . . :
The EU constitution -- and its promise of a new Europe -- supposedly offered a corrective to the Anglo-American strain of Western civilization. More government, higher taxes, richer entitlements, pacifism, statism and atheism would make a more humane and powerful new Continent of more than 400 million to outpace a retrograde United States.

Instead, Europe faces a declining population, unassimilated minorities, low growth, high unemployment and an inability to defend itself, militarily or morally. Somehow the directorate of the European Union has figured out how to have too few citizens while having too many of them out of work...

In fact, 2005 is a culmination of dying ideas. Despite the boasts and threats, almost every political alternative to Western liberalism over the last quarter-century is crashing or already in flames.