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Two rival European blocs are forming


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The Pro-American "Atlanticists", led by Britain, and include the Scandinavian countries and the Eastern European states, such as Poland, who joined the EU last year, and the anti-American nations who want to create a superstate to counterweight the US, led by France and Germany and include most of the Southern and Western European nations, except Britain.

Walker's World:France's No-Europe's future

by Martin Walker

France's decisive rejection of the draft constitution for the European

Union creates "a difficult context to defend our interests in Europe,"

said a distinctly chastened President Jacques Chirac when the verdict

came in.

But Chirac noted that Europe goes on. Early and overheated remarks,

like the contribution from former Italian premier (and former EU

Commission President) Romano Prodi that a French "no" would mean "the

end of Europe" were simply empty rhetoric. Even if all the other

referendums are cancelled, the EU will continue to operate as it has

for the past four years, under the terms of the Treaty of Nice.

Indeed, the most likely result of the French "no" is that the leaders

of the 25 countries that make up the EU will decide to drop for the

foreseeable future any ambitious plans for a constitution, now they

have learned what a dangerously grandiose word this can be. Instead,

they will continue to decide and modify the EU's operating system

though a series of treaties between the sovereign nation states, just

as they have since the first Treaty of Rome in 1957.

But treaties and constitutions are simply forms. What is now at issue

is Europe's substance, and whether its 25 members can rally around some

new or revised vision of what Europe should be, or whether this is the

point at which the EU starts to disintegrate, or even to split between

hard-core federalists and more relaxed free traders who stay connected

mainly for the benefits of the single market.

All this remains to be played for, and for once, this referendum

process gives European voters themselves a chance to speak, or at least

to cast their verdicts on this grand European project that their

governments and elites have crafted for them. So it could be useful to

continue with the referendum process in the Netherlands, and then in

the Czech Republic and Denmark and Poland and Britain, to try and

discern what the European people think.

The French verdict is very hard to read. The French Left campaigned

against the "ultra-liberal' free market and free trading system of the

Anglo-Saxons in which the rigors of globalization force Europeans to

trim their generous welfare states in order to compete with Chinese

factory workers and Polish plumbers. The French Right campaigned

against a Europe that was eroding the national sovereignty of France

and allowing too many Muslims and Turks into traditionally Christian

Europe, and their presence would force down wages and make the welfare

state unaffordable. It is at this point that the arguments of Left and

Right began to merge.

But the hard Left and hard Right in France between them attract less

than 35 percent of the vote. This anti-EU referendum won 55 percent of

the vote, and much of the remainder of the vote seemed to be a protest

against Chirac himself and his unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre

Raffarin, and a protest against the dismal economy with its 10-percent

unemployment, including 22-percent unemployment for those under the age

of 25.

The current British opinion poll suggest that if the French were voting

"no" because the constitution was too "Anglo-Saxon", the Brits fear it

is not Anglo-Saxon enough, and their own healthy and high-employment

economy would suffer from EU rules and regulation and higher taxes. The

Danes and Swedes, and the new member states from Central and Eastern

Europe, tend to think the same way.

Those competing French and British positions on the future of Europe's

economic and welfare and social system are matched by their very

different positions on Europe's role in the world. The French

government wants to build Europe as "a counterweight" to the dominance

of the United States -- and if blocking the United States over Iraq or

lifting the arms embargo against China so that it can get high-tech

weaponry will help cut the arrogant Americans down to size, Chirac will

jump at the chance.

The British, by contrast, think that the extraordinarily successful

track record of the Atlantic Alliance in World War Two and Cold War

means it should be preserved, and any talk of a European

"counterweight" is folly. The British are Atlanticists, determined to

keep the American alliance, and so are the Eastern Europeans.

The Atlanticists argue that arguments about trade and commercial

rivalries between the United States and Europe, and the rows over the

competition between Airbus and Boeing are pretty thin when the two

economies are joined at the hip by so much mutual investment. The

annual $600 billion in direct trade between the EU and United States is

dwarfed by the business that European-owned companies do in the United

States. and vice versa.

So the most intriguing feature of this French "no" is whether its ends

or intensifies this divergence between the British view of Europe as a

free-trading, free market, low-tax and pro-U.S. open society, and the

competing French -- or at least Chirac's -- vision of a protectionist,

social market, high tax and anti-American Fortress Europe.

This French concept of Europe can count on the support of Belgium and

Luxembourg, and of the current leftist government of Spain, and maybe

Italy, if Prodi replaces the conservative and pro-American Silvio

Berlusconi at the next election. The great advantage of this

federalizing tendency is the existence of the euro currency, which

locks all its members into a common interest rate and monetary policy,

and thus into an economic strategy that could prove hard to dismantle.

The British view of Europe is largely shared by the Danes and Swedes,

Poles and Czechs and the three Baltic states. The Dutch and Portuguese

will be torn, but lean to the Atlanticist view.

The great question is Germany, which has for most of the past 40 years

tried to have it both ways, being a loyal member of NATO and the

Atlantic Alliance, while also being France's partner in building Europe

and steering it in a federalist direction. The traditional German elite

has seen Europe as the answer to most economic and political questions.

As the novelist Thomas Mann put it, having tried and failed at such

dreadful cost to crate a Germanized Europe, how much better to build a

Europeanized Germany.

Were Gerhard Schroeder to remain chancellor, then Germany would

probably take the French direction, if it came down to a choice -- and

Germany has proved very nimble at avoiding such a decision. If the

Christian Democrats and the center-right coalition win the election,

now expected in September, Germany might well decide to take the

British path -- and whichever way Germany went, Finland and Austria are

likely to follow.

So the aftermath of this French "no" could see the emergence of a

two-speed Europe, a federalizing core led by France with a common

military and foreign policy, and an outer ring led by Britain who are

only there for the free trade and the market access and utilitarian

matters like common safety standards and financial regulations (and will keep, thankfully, their sovereignties).

This would look very like the Europe of the 1960s, when the original

European Economic Community had six members, France, Germany Italy,

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg; and EFTA, the European Free

Trade Area, included Britain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden,

Finland and Austria.

But that would be too neat, and ignores the binding power of the euro.

And yet to put France at the center of a federalizing hard core of

Europe is to underplay the strong tug of French history and tradition

and cultural pride in the nation state, a factor that seems from the

exit polls to have played a significant role in the "no" vote.

The French voters seem to have been saying very much what other

countries tell opinion pollsters, that they are all for the idea of

"Europe," but they don't much like this bureaucratic, Brussels-based

version that their elites have built. They want something different,

more democratic, closer to them and their concerns, that produces jobs

and economic dynamism and social security and plays a decent and

respected role in the world, a Europe they can be proud of.

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France is on the edge of ahnilitatiing itself. With 10% unemployment and a government in turmoil.. They need to make big changes social and economically. The economy has not grown and the infux of foriegners has put a huge burder on thier society. The people are p***ed.

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