Monday, June 06, 2005

Tearing the E.U. Apart

WaPo reported Move from austere Paris to this anarchic city as I have done this summer, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that the idea of integrating Turkey into the European Union is and always has been ludicrous. Turkey is not Europe, and it is certainly not France... I say this because every Turk to whom I've spoken wants nothing more than the chance to become part of the predicted flood of cheap, unskilled labor that would almost certainly destabilize the economies and social orders of the Northern European welfare states if Europe and its periphery were to be glued together and all the borders thrown open....Deep down, the ordinary Frenchman doesn't believe that Turks, or Eastern Europeans for that matter, cherish the values he holds most dear.

And he would be right. Turks and Eastern Europeans want to be able to improve their own lot; Frenchmen want the socialist state to improve their lot
Nor do the French much trust that the Germans and the British have French interests at heart.
And Germans and British realize that France does not care about German or British interests.
Given European history -- and given what I see around me -- I can't say I blame them. Over the past few weeks, the pro-Europe talking heads on French television have been busy poking fun at French fears of the "proverbial Polish plumber" who is ready to steal jobs from the locals. But how the pundits can argue that he is only proverbial is beyond me. If you want to test the theory, try living in a Paris apartment that needs repainting, as mine did a few weeks ago. Get estimates. French workmen will propose to do the job for 10,000 euros. The Polish painter? He can do it for 800 euros. Tomorrow. He doesn't ask for health insurance or social security, either. And this in a country where there is already 10 percent unemployment. If I were a French house painter or plumber, I would have voted non, too.
And this is exactly why the current Euro Constitution does not have a chance. This one might have a chance, because it allows each state to remain in control of what happens in their state.
Paul @PowerLine blogged Claire Berlinski in the Washington Post provides a more general and, I think, useful perspective on what the vote was about -- the unwillingness of French and Dutch voters "to cede any more of their national identity to the fantasy of a unified Europe." I agree. As much as I would like to see market reforms in France, if French voters want socialism they are entitled to have it. But let it be "socialism in one country," not a more liberal form of statism imposed top-down on an imaginary state, essentially all of Europe, including the nations of the "new Europe."

It might also be worth noting that, whatever the French voters had in mind, the defeat they inflicted on the old political order could hasten the rise of younger leaders who are more comfortable with free markets. Indeed, immediately after the election, Chirac shuffled his ministers to the benefit of Nicolas Sarkozy who has been sympathetic to lower taxes, flexible labor markets, and more freedom for innovation and enterprise. Similarly, in Germany recent local elections have boosted the prospects of German opposition leader Angela Merkel, a proponent of market reform.

Europe is in sharp and perhaps irreversible decline. Last week's votes won't change this dynamic much, but the willingness of French and Dutch voters to say "no" to the political elites who have so poorly served them is a positive sign.

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