Why The French Vote Was Bad For America
Why The French Vote Was
Bad For America
article was first published in The New
Republic Online, on June 01, 2005,
by Philip H.
Gordon, Director of the famous Washington D.C. based
Center on the United States and
Europe. Then, A French translation appeared in the French daily Le
Monde (1). It is here reproduced by courtesy of Mr Philip H. Gordon).
humiliating political defeat inflicted on French President Jacques Chirac on
Sunday—when 55 percent of voters rejected his appeals to support a new
constitution for the European Union—has left more than a few Americans beaming
with satisfaction. Even before the referendum, The Weekly Standard's William
Kristol speculated that a no vote could be a "liberating moment" for Europe.
After the ballots were counted, the American Enterprise Institute's Radek
Sikorski concluded that the result would be "quite good for transatlantic
relations," because it weakened "the most anti-U.S. politician in Europe."
at the sight of Chirac with mud on his face is understandable; he was, after
all, the leading opponent of the Iraq war and has long championed a Europe
capable of serving as a counterweight to U.S. power. But Americans should hold
their applause, which they may soon come to regret. That's because the eclectic
group of angry French leftists, populists, nationalists, and nostalgics who
opposed Chirac and the constitution had very different—in fact, precisely
opposite—reasons for doing so than the Americans who cheered them on. In other
words, if you didn't like French policies before Sunday, you're going to like
them even less now.
It should be
noted from the start that the major reason for recent American anger at
Chirac—his opposition to the Iraq war—had absolutely nothing to do with his
defeat. (If anything that remains one of his few redeeming qualities in the eyes
of many French.) Indeed, the quick choice of former Foreign Minister Dominique
de Villepin—who led France's anti-Iraq-war campaign at the United Nations—to
head the new government should quickly dispel any U.S. hopes that this aspect of
French foreign policy will now change. Nor should the recent political setbacks
to war opponents Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder be seen as a trend—war supporters
Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar, and Silvio Berlusconi have also suffered at the
polls in the last 15 months.
Far from a
statement about Chirac's foreign policies, the main message delivered by voters
on Sunday was about the economy. And it was certainly not, as many Americans
would have liked, that the French are fed up with excessive regulation,
protectionism, and high taxes. Rather, the French no camp seemed to be saying it
wanted more protection and regulation, not less. True, Chirac tried to defend
the constitution by claiming that it would protect the French from
"ultra-liberal Anglo-Saxon" economics. But voters did not believe him, and they
wanted an EU constitution that made their preferences explicit. Does anybody
really think that free-market reform and the defense of globalization will now
become priorities of the French government?
consider the impact of the vote on another key U.S. aim in Europe: the widening
of the EU to include America's friends and allies in Eastern Europe and,
eventually, Turkey. Whatever one thinks of Chirac's sometimes condescending
attitude toward so-called New Europe, he did see through EU enlargement to ten
countries last year and his views on Turkish membership—in the face of strong
opposition from within his own party—are downright progressive. Sunday's vote is
a huge setback to the prospect of the EU aiding the spread of democracy,
prosperity, and stability to the east. Indeed, many of those who voted against
the constitution did so because they do not want a wider Europe. As a result,
the promised accession talks with Turkey are now up in the air.
even a massive vote in favor of the constitution would not have solved Europe's
many problems or transformed the EU into a happily multicultural, pro-American
economic dynamo. But it would be a mistake not to notice that the rejection of
the constitution is a setback, rather than a triumph, for the United States and
the principles that currently undergird its foreign policy. "Vive la France!"
wrote Kristol, in celebrating the prospect that the constitution would go down
to defeat. I hope I am proven wrong, but I suspect that a few years from now,
neither Kristol nor most other Americans will look back fondly on the show of
political strength by French extremists—left and right—we have just witnessed.
When you find yourself cheering the triumph of nationalists, populists, and
communists, suspicion is in order.
2005, The Brookings Institution (2) and Philip Gordon.
views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and should not be
attributed to the staff, officers or trustees of the Brookings Institution.