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France speaks: Sovereignty oui, EU constitution non

By W. James Antle III
web posted May 30, 2005

Viva La France! Praise for France on conservative websites has long been in short supply, but praise is certainly due today. President Jacques Chirac acknowledged in a televised address that the French people have rejected the European Union Constitution.

'No' vote supporters celebrate after France voted against the ratification of the European constitution in Paris' Place de la Bastille on May 29, 2005Before the results were announced, the columnist George Will described what French citizens were faced with: "The European Union, which has a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows, now seeks ratification of a constitution few have read."

At this writing, the polls suggest a similar result is likely in the Netherlands. Some 60 percent of the Dutch have indicated they will vote "no" in their own referendum on the EU constitution.

Why are these countries, both leading participants the European unification project for decades, now dragging their feet? To be sure, domestic politics with little relation to the EU play a prominent role. But the opposition also reflects a natural, patriotic desire to preserve one’s own country in the face of forces that would obviate its sovereignty.

Under this constitution, member states would give the EU jurisdiction over foreign policy, national defense, trade, immigration, energy policy, agriculture and a panoply of other issues intrinsically related to meaningful self-government. EU institutions are in many cases less democratic, more bureaucratic and less accountable than the governments constituted in the individual European states.

Why would countries with long, proud histories surrender control over their own affairs to bureaucrats in Brussels with little regard for their sentiments, traditions or customs? What kind of an arrogant political class would expect its citizenry to contemplate doing so?

The EU constitution contains a laundry list of "rights" to housing, income and social assistance that impose obligations on unwitting taxpayers. Its obliteration of borders concerns Europeans already grappling with the cultural tensions created by unassimilated mass immigration, especially of Muslims. While there are arguments for and against EU membership for Turkey, the fact that Chirac and other continental leaders advocate its admission has certainly made these concerns more pronounced.

The movement to gradually erase the historic nations of Europe and replace it with a vast superstate has implications for Americans as well – and not just the effect the creation of a miniature United Nations with guns in Europe will have on U.S. foreign policy. The ideology that drives Europeanization could in time threaten our own national sovereignty.

Robert Bartley was often quoted as saying the nation-state was "finished." The late Wall Street Journal editor objected to the quotation, but there is no question that many on the right shared the underlying sentiment: that the post-Cold War information economy would irrevocably bring the people of the world together, making national boundaries less relevant but also rendering state power less influential, the latter at least being a good thing.

Yet as globalization has proceeded, it has not unmistakably led to the retrenchment of the political class. Instead, some have pushed for new layers of government to regulate the more interconnected world. Supranational organizations have sprung up in order to claim new powers.

The Hudson Institute’s John Fonte has labeled the new ideology that has emerged transnational progressivism, and the EU is its embodiment. Many of its institutions are informed by a mindset that is post-democratic, post-national and post-liberal (some have also argued post-Christian, although the secularization of Europe has predated the advancement of the EU).

What does this portend for the United States? Fonte wrote, "[I]t is entirely possible that modernity… will witness not the final triumph of liberal democracy, but the emergence of a new transnational hybrid regime that is post-liberal democratic, and in the American context, post-Constitutional and post-American."

Standing in the way of such a regime is the simple but genuine patriotism throughout Europe, America and the world. Real nations must be bound together by shared experiences and values, by the "mystic cords of memory," not simply processes, procedures and pieces of paper.

"If you are trying to boil down citizenship to its philosophically respectable components," J.P. Zmirak wrote in The American Conservative, "and if ideology is all you are interested in, then it does not really matter where you were born. Or who your parents were. Or whom you love. Or the hymns you know by heart, the folk tales you treasure, the God you worship."

It does not matter to ideologues, perhaps. But, as the vote in France shows, it still matters to some people. Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Tony Blair may see a strengthened EU in their countries’ future. It remains to be seen whether the people who elected them, if allowed to express themselves, will agree with that verdict.

W. James Antle III is an assistant editor of The American Conservative and a senior editor for Enter Stage Right. The views expressed above represent his alone.


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