French voters go to the polls this weekend to vote on the European Union constitution, with polls so far suggesting that the “no’s” will narrowly win and shaft the wretched project, although one should never, ever under-estimate the ability of the political establishment to scare voters into saying “oui”. My hope, needless to say, is that the French vote against the constitution and throw a great big spanner in the works and prevent the creation of what will be, explicitly, a European superstate.
It is pointless at this vantage point to guess exactly what will be the impact on British political life if the French do nix the constitution. My rough guess is that Blair will secretly breath a deep sigh of relief, as will the Tories. I also think that the United States will also be glad about a no vote, although I am just guessing.
As Anatole Kaletsky writes in the Times today, the chronic underperformance of the euro zone economy is at the heart of much of that disenchantment (although other issues are important too).
Here’s a key graf:
The relative economic decline of “old” Europe since the early 1990s – especially of Germany and Italy, but also of the Netherlands and France – has been a disaster almost unparalleled in modern history. While Britain and Japan certainly suffered some massive economic dislocations, in the early 1980s and the mid-1990s respectively, they never experienced the same sort of permanent transformation from thriving full-employment economies to stagnant societies where mass unemployment and falling living standards are accepted as permanent facts of life. In Britain, unemployment more than doubled from 1980 to 1984, but conditions then quickly improved. By the late 1980s it was enjoying a boom, the economy was growing by 4 per cent and unemployment had halved. In continental Europe, by contrast, unemployment has been stuck between 8 and 11 per cent since 1991 and growth has reached 3 per cent only once in those 14 years.
He has a point, although I am struck by the fact that in France, much of the hostility to the constitution is coming not from pro-free marketeers, as is the case in many respects in Britain, but from those who fear that the process will open up France’s high regulated, high-tax economy to the icy winds of laissez faire. The ironies abound.
Of course, the fact of mere voters saying no to the EU juggernaut is unlikely to deflect the mixed assortment of deluded idealists, crooks, place-seekers and sundry camp-followers from trying to advance their aims. But a delicious irony would it be if the land of Bonaparte, de Gaulle and Asterix puts a major block in their path.