France: No To Neo-Liberalism




F

rance’s
recent repudiation of the proposed European Union constitution is
a resounding reminder that the populace still possesses the power
to defy political elitism with all of its economic dogmas; neo-liberalism
being one of them. 


True,
there is a prevailing apprehension among the French regarding free
market, neo-liberal doctrines, which naturally leads to a decided
rejection of corporate globalization altogether, with its undoubted
infringement on the political sovereignty, economic independence,
and cultural uniqueness of every nation. 


But
one must also be reminded that it was France that earnestly promoted
some form of European unification or another, starting in 1951 with
the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, followed
by the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which in turn, evolved
into the Maastricht Treaty (formally the Treaty on European Union)
in 1992. 


Indeed,
France has remained at the forefront of efforts to mold Europe into
a truly effective polity. But the May 29, 2005 vote changed much,
despite France’s assurances that its commitment to Europe is
unmoved. 


Several
factors contributed to the growing doubts among the French, which
culminated into a solid vote against the constitution—signed
by European heads of governments on October 29, 2004—a primary
concern being the economics of the matter. On May 1, 2004, ten new
members, by and large East European countries, were taken into the
European fold. Many of these new members suffered shattered economies
and rushed to take advantage of the free flow of labor and other
economic perks that accompany EU membership. While the move was
good news for large businesses, ever eager to reduce overhead costs
by employing cheap laborers with meager benefits and little expectations,
it was a blow to an already struggling Western European job market. 


Traditionally,
the French economic system has been one of unconcealed governmental
protectionism coupled with socialist ideals regarding the welfare
of citizenry, leaving a comprehensible mark on various aspects of
French life. The unprecedented one-time expansion of the Union and
the proposed EU constitution a few months later was a move, as perceived
by many, toward unrestrained neo-liberal free market policy, the
antithesis of the aspirations of most French. 


But
neo-liberalism and globalization not only undercut France’s
economic distinctiveness; it also threatened the country’s
political prominence and efficacy. 


France
has long seen itself as the center of a free and independent Europe.
It has labored to demonstrate that Europe is no longer an instrument
in the U.S. foreign policy agenda, nor is it a middleperson between
the U.S. government and its foes, as Britain’s Tony Blair has
supposedly suggested. Thus, French President Jacques Chirac has
toiled to achieve, not simply a united Europe, but a self-determining
Europe. 


Initially,
the Bush administration sought to engineer a rift in the European
camp. Its efforts galvanized before and immediately after its invasion
of Iraq in March 2003. It envisaged an old Europe and a newer one,
with France at the helm of negligible countries, due to their strong
anti-war stance. 


But
that failed miserably, since France’s position revived confidence
in its government. Without question, it was the most critical and
far-reaching European stand against U.S. foreign policy since World
War II. 


Even
though the Bush administration has adopted a cautious position on
the unfolding European crisis, Washington has steadily supported
the expansion of the EU to include those eligible to become part
of the new Europe: mostly former communist nations heavily reliant
on U.S. aid. By bringing its allies into the fold—with the
probable joining of more allies including the ever-willing Romania—the
U.S. has aspired to dilute the influence of countries such as France
and Germany who, until now, refused to send troops to Iraq to subdue
the growing revolt. 


Strangely,
in a

Washington Times

article, “No United States of
Europe,” Allan Topol mockingly celebrates the French rejection
of the EU constitution “for now it’s no longer possible
that a United States of Europe would rival our own country economically
and even militarily.” This contemptuous and congratulatory
tone has dotted the coverage of much of the conservative mainstream
media in the U.S. 


But
what these commentators have failed to appreciate is that a French
“no” is not exactly a victory for the U.S. government
and its desire to be uncontested, particularly by a supra-national
organization. If considered correctly, it can be deduced that France’s
rejection is quite disconcerting for U.S. domination. For one, the
French populace has reclaimed democracy after it had been hijacked
(as in the U.S.) by government, big business, and corporate media.
Moreover, neo-liberalism has received its greatest blow as of yet,
far surpassing the anti-WTO uprisings in Seattle and elsewhere.
Finally, it proved that France remains a consequential member in
the determination of the future of Europe, a notion that is sure
to make U.S. neo-conservatives think twice before dismissing France’s
political prestige and regional import. 


But
most importantly, a Europe that is not united on the undermining
of the political sovereignty of its member states is likely to harden
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s most urgent task of dragging
Europe down with it into the costly Iraq calamity. While Europe
ponders very important matters about its future aspirations, identity,
and so forth, U.S. foreign policy is likely to stagnate in the perpetual
quagmire of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the desire to take on Iran. 


Following
talks with visiting EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero- Waldner, EU
High Representative Javier Solana and Luxembourg Foreign Minister
Jean Asselborn, Rice was blatant in making the link between its
need for Europe’s absolute support and its dangerous foreign
policy. “It is our view that a strong and united Europe that
is able to act as a global partner with the United States will only
serve to multiply the forces that are fighting for democracy and
freedom and for prosperity across the globe,” Rice preached.
“We have a big agenda ahead of us—whether it is in the
Middle East or in Iraq or in trying to deal with a potential nuclear
breakout in Iran. We have a lot ahead of us and we are going to
continue that agenda.” 


The
clarity of the U.S. agenda was met on May 29 with an equally clear
French response, redefining Europe’s priorities as unequivocally
European, not U.S.-defined, coupled with a resounding rejection
of neo-liberalism and political marginalization. Democracy has,
for now, delivered.







 





Ramzy Baroud
is a veteran Arab-American journalist and the author of the upcoming
book,



A Force to Be Reckoned With: Writings on the Second
Palestinian Uprising