French Vote on European Constitution

The French will be voting against neoliberalism today. “This No is a left-wing No, for another Europe, a Europe for the people and not for the market”, says Vladimir Cruells, artist and activist living in France. Olivier Hoedeman, a long time activist at the Corporate Europe Observatory based in Amsterdam describes the campaign in the Netherlands as “pretty miraculous”. “The rightwing no-campaign has been far weaker than we feared, all opinion polls predict a big majority against the constitution, which has made the political elite very nervous and commit mistakes and blunders in great numbers.”

That has been the case in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, Ireland and some other countries which have had referenda on the European Union (EU). The pattern is so similar from one country to another that if you told a story and changed the name of the country it wouldn’t matter. The pattern of people voting against neoliberalism and for democracy, about panicking establishments and public education favouring the critics is repeated. Everywhere it is the people against the elite, the elite against the people.

Pressured elite threatens; if you vote no there will be chaos, change of government, France will be isolated. The yes-side backed by big corporations along with mainstream media claim that the no-side are extremist, either right wing or left wing – but extremists they are! They point to the fact that the extreme right and the left will choose the bill saying Non this Sunday. When mainstream liberal and social democratic parties vote against refugees’ rights along with the extreme right that is not problematic. But when the extreme right and a big majority of the left both will vote Non, for totally different reasons, purposes and aims that is used to provide evidence that the extreme right and extreme left actually have a hidden agenda that is similar. Oddly enough references to nation states are often used by the various yes sides. In the referendum in Sweden 1994, to join or not to join the European Union the strongest argument was that “we” (the government and big business) were going to make the EU more like Sweden. Sweden was going to export the Swedish Model and make the Europeans more Swedish. In the referendum campaign in France, the French have been told that the European Constitution actually is the French, slightly enlarged. What is happening ministers and political leaders have said, is that Europe is becoming more like France.

Another phenomenon that seems to be trans-national is desperate elites using children and pointing to the future. In Sweden in the run up for the referendum we were told to vote yes for the younger generations. Thursday evening, president Chirac made a dramatic speech to the nation. It started with the French national anthem and the message was: don’t get it wrong say Yes. According to the president the issue is not left or right, in favour or against the government it is about “your children and the future”. Well, at least in Sweden the future voted against – a big majority of young people voted No to the monetary union.

All these people don’t getting it right is clearly upsetting and provocative for those that are in favour. Mainstream media journalists write sentimental and propagandistic articles in favour of the great European Union, in Sweden, in France and even in Canada. Left wing intellectuals as Habermas write passionate articles claiming that they know what the rest of the left has misunderstood; the EU is actually a left wing project that could be a counter power to the USA.

People seem to have another opinion. The polls show that the more the French know about the EU Constitution, the more they are opposed to it. At the end of 2004 the French yes campaign had a 38 percent lead in the polls, with 69 percent of voters in favour, and only 31 against. (Ipsos for Le Figaro, 2 December) However over the course of the campaign the number of people in favour of the Constitution has fallen dramatically and no campaigners now have a ten percent lead. The more you know the less you like it.

Today France will vote in a referendum about the European Constitution. That constitution was made by a commission that were appointed, and not voted for. They discussed and wrote the constitution in a semi-closed way, having open meetings to engage with the citizens, but without ever giving those citizens the possibility to have a say, to make amendments or to change anything in the draft. It is made up of several parts, and of course it contains positive paragraph something else would be impossible in such a long text. But none of them can balance the negative parts. Those parts have very little to do with nation states loosing power but rather people loosing power.

The constitution centralises even more power in the hand of the undemocratic and often neoliberal EU commission. The EU commission gets a fast track in trade issues, something the former trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, now head of the WTO strongly pushed for. The constitution clearly speaks about a military union and states that the nation states have to increase military expenses in their national budgets (without an end date which means that military expenses should grow eternally). The neoliberal economic policy is fixed in the treaty; it gives priority to the fight against inflation over unemployment – an economic dogma creating problems in the entire world. “I think we will win”, my friend tells me on the phone from France. And when he says we he refers to all of us that have been fighting democratic deficit and neoliberalism in the European Union for years. I had the same sense of we, when we won the referendum in Sweden 2003. Saying no to the monetary union was not a Swedish victory; it was a popular victory, that day in Sweden, years before in Denmark, and may in a few days be extended to the Netherlands that will vote on the European Constitution on the 1st June. The movement against an undemocratic and neoliberal European Union is a truly European movement.

An opinion poll presented three days ago, 26th may, shows that the no side in France is clearly ahead. The left no is reinforcing, in particular more and more socialist voters are against, while the leadership of the socialist party is in favour. 66 % of all left wing voters say they will vote No. The yes- side can count on the support from retired people, academic and professionals. No is in majority among working class and women. That was exactly the same in Sweden in the referendum on the monetary union. A clear majority, 56 percent voted no, in majority women, young people, working class, and people employed in the public sector. Only very few, very rich areas in city regions had a yes majority. 67% claimed in an opinion poll on election day that they were voting against the monetary union for democratic reasons.

Regardless whether the vote is on the Maastricht Treaty, the Economic and Monetary Union or the European Constitution, the debate is about neoliberal economic policy, privatisations, and lack of democracy. The biggest issue is democracy, people want more of it and that is the reason they vote no and they use what it left of it, to vote against the will of the establishments that decided to call for a referendum. The punishment is restricting democracy. In 1992 when the Danish voted against Maastricht treaty, a special treaty was negotiated for them that passed 1994. When the Irish voted against the Amsterdam treaty they were told that it was wrong – and they had to do it again. In Sweden when the monetary union was defeated we were told that was the last time – we voted on “European issues”. Sweden is one of the countries where a referendum on the constitution is not allowed. Even though there is a rule that says that if one country votes against the European Constitution it has to fall, all European leaders have said that they will ignore an eventual French No. The elites hate to lose, and they rarely do. Left wing victories are rare and worth celebrating. I hope we win today.

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