Democracy Arsenal

November 09, 2005


Europe is Simmering
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Well, I will say one thing for Dick Cheney -- he keeps it discreet.  Imagine your country mired in crisis and having the news screen full of senior officials, very senior officials, bickering over approaches in public.

That's what they're getting in France -- from cars burning in the suburbs to toupees burning in central Paris.

There is much to say about the disturbances in France, what they do or don't say about multiculturalism, what they do or don't mean about Islam, assimilation, and the value of US vs. European models of pluralism.  The New York Times in all its "select" wisdom won't let me link to it, but the two op-ed pieces by French commentators today are excellent, thoughtful contributions.  A few quotes from Oliver Roy, one of the world's pre-eminent observers of political Islam:

Many see the violence as religiously motivated, the inevitable result of unchecked immigration from Muslim countries; for others the rioters are simply acting out of vengeance at being denied their cultural heritage or a fair share in French society.  But the reality is that there is nothing particularly Muslim, or even French, about the violence.  Rather, we are witnessing the temporary rising up of one small part of a Western underclass culture that reaches from Paris to London to Los Angeles and beyond.

Read through that again...

But the French youths are not fighting to be recognized as a minority group either ethnic or religious; they want to be accepted as full citizens.  They have believed in the French model (individual integration through citizenship) but feel cheated because of their social and economic exclusion.  Hence they destroy what they see as the tools of failed social promotion: schools, social welfare offices, gymnasiums.

A fantastic gloss on a quote in the Washington Post over the weekend; the rioters, an older Muslim man said, are "destroying their kindergartens."

Now, before you get too smug about Europe, think a little bit about the violence that raced through New Orleans after Katrina (although, I know, the media overstated it).  This is just a grim, grim diagnosis of how we have allowed an indigestible lump of poverty and hopelessness to grow up in our midst.

Almost 15 years ago I spent an unlikely night in a Paris bainlieu.  My host was a junior French diplomat who had moved back to the capital and found his means very limited.  He picked me up at the train station, we got into the Metro and got out into a vista of high-rises and Arab faces.  It wasn't the Paris of my school trips, but it didn't seem to faze him.  I politely said nothing.  Later, we took the Metro back to Paris, this time with a sea of immigrant teenagers whose surprise at seeing us in their midst only grew as we switched back and forth between English and French.

Finally one of them said to my friend, "yo, where'd you get her?"

"In Vienna," he answered, as if that explained everything.  Finally, we struck up a conversation.  The kids were within five years of our age, but as my friend explained his career path -- university, learning languages, the diplomatic service, a posting in Vienna where, yes, there were women from all over, it was clear that he might as well have arrived from Mars.  Although he was himself the child of hardscrabble immigrants -- French repatriated from Algeria -- their lives had no points of commonality beyond the train we all sat in.  They couldn't imagine any of his options being opened to them.

I could go on forever about the broader implications of all this.  Instead, I think it's time for those of us who focus on foreign affairs to start thinking, again, about the implications of a Europe that is AWOL from its accustomed role in world affairs.  Last week I promised to track and post on Europe's reaction to the news that the US has outsourced its prisons to Central Europe.  But another diplomat friend gently chided me:

Europe is too busy looking inward to care, he said, and reminded me that, while Paris burns, Spain is wrenching itself around the problem of Catalan autonomy, the Dutch are having a parliamentary wrangle over why they went to Iraq and whether they should up their ante in Afghanistan; Italy is in the throes of yet another corruption scandal as its government continues a long (by Italian standards) slow decline.  Germany, remember, still doesn't officially have a government.

Progressives have gotten into the nice but lazy habit of figuring the Europeans will help us over the humps we can't quite get over ourselves: international pressure and money for Iraq, troops for Afghanistan, a new approach for Iran, aid money for Africa and Asia, greasing a final status deal for Kosovo, etc. etc.  Then there's the whole matter of trade policy, where the planets must align creativity and flexibility in both Europe and the U.S.


I'm not saying Europe will disappear; but if you are a progressive thinker hatching plans that require Europe to stick its neck out, take the lead, or change its own policies dramatically, better start re-thinking.

November 08, 2005


Remembering Dayton
Posted by Derek Chollet

The discussion here and elsewhere on the future of humanitarian intervention, muscular Wilsonianism, and the use of force serves as a reminder of the role that the 1990s debate about Bosnia played in shaping much of the current thinking – and rethinking – about these questions.  Which also gives reason to remember an important anniversary: 10 years ago today, American negotiators were holed up behind a high-barbed wire fence on a secluded Air Force Base outside Dayton, Ohio, in the midst of an intense effort to end the Bosnian war.  The story of how the U.S. got to this point – three years of dithering and indecision as Bosnia bled, followed by five months of diplomacy to end the war capped by the Dayton Peace Accords – is an important one to draw lessons from.

I try to tell this story – and draw some lessons for today – in a new book I have written about the Dayton peace process (shameless, I know).  Let me take this chance to develop briefly some ideas about why I think Dayton mattered – and what this means for today.

Dayton’s core accomplishment is what it did for Bosnia: it ended a war and gave hope to millions who suffered immense hardship.  But it did more than that.  Dayton brought to an end one of the most difficult periods in the history of U.S.-European relations, helping define a new purpose for the Transatlantic Alliance and organizations like NATO, and ultimately, restored the credibility of the United States in the world. 

The Dayton agreement was also a turning point for American foreign policy.  The course the U.S. chose fit within a well-established American diplomatic tradition: a policy that challenged the status quo and reflected an all-or-nothing approach driven less by concerns about niceties or allied consensus than by getting something done.

This mattered for America’s global standing; it mattered for President Bill Clinton personally.  After years of disappointment in foreign policy – from their inability to solve Bosnia, to the “black hawk down” disaster in Somalia, the chaos of Haiti, and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – Clinton and his team emerged from Dayton with greater command, confidence, and global respect.  In less than six months during 1995, Clinton had taken charge of the Transatlantic Alliance, pushed NATO to use overwhelming military force, risked America’s prestige on a bold diplomatic gamble, and placed 20,000 American military men and women on the ground in a dangerous environment to enforce the agreement.

The Bosnia experience has taught many lessons, but the most important one is this: when it comes to solving global problems, American leadership remains indispensable.  America’s failure to lead during the early 1990’s contributed to the international community’s inability to solve the Bosnia’s crisis; but its bold action in 1995 stopped the war. 

And here’s what progressives today need to remember: this approach included allies, but in the end it was largely unilateral, rejecting the United Nations and keeping our friends at long-arms-length (during the negotiations in Dayton, the Europeans were largely reduced to being spectators).  The United States acted first and consulted later.  And it was not only truly maximalist in means, but in ends: rather than simply seek a cease-fire between the parties (as most Europeans wanted), the United States sought to create the contours of a new Bosnian democratic state.

Perhaps it is fitting that the best description of this comes from the top European involved in these negotiations, Sweden’s former Prime Minister, Carl Bildt.  The “simple and fundamental fact” of the history made in Dayton, Bildt recalls, is that the “United States was the only player who possessed the ability to employ power as a political instrument and, when forced into action, was also willing to do so.”  This lesson from Dayton is sometimes easy to overlook today, ten years later, when many around the world are questioning the purpose of U.S. leadership, chafing at the exercise of American power, or claiming that American assertiveness is something new. 

October 18, 2005

Europe, Iraq

The New German Government and Iraq
Posted by Derek Chollet

Last week, Germany’s two major parties on the right (CDU) and left (SPD) agreed on a “grand coalition” to lead the country in an unusual power-sharing arrangement: the CDU’s leader, Angela Merkel, will become the new Chancellor, yet the SPD will retain the majority of the government ministries (8 to the CDU’s 6), including such crucial ministries as foreign, finance, and justice.  The SPD announced their choices for ministries last week, and Merkel unveiled her choices yesterday.  So Germany’s new government appears set.

With Germany in need of deep reforms (just to name a few challenges: it has a stagnant economy, aging population, crumbling education system, and serious immigration problems), this arrangement seems closer to a recipe for gridlock than dramatic change.  And after spending a few days in Berlin last week listening to German government officials and thinkers (I was there at a conference hosted by the SPD’s think tank, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung), it’s clear to me that no one really knows what the government agenda is going to look like – and that there is going to be a lot of debate about what kinds of changes Germany’s voters actually want.

The conventional wisdom is that with Merkel in power, Germany’s relationship with the U.S. will be smoother – her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, famously stoked anti-Americanism during his last election in 2002, and goes out of his way to remind people that Germany made the right call on Iraq.  Merkel has already met with Bush, and it was no secret that official Washington was rooting for her.  But while the tone might be better, few expect the substance of Germany’s policy towards important issues to change much.

This is especially true with Iraq – which is, not surprisingly, one of the starker contrasts I found between the debates in Berlin and Washington.  In Germany, the Iraq debate is still only about the past – why things went so wrong, why the U.S.-German relationship became so spoiled, and how we have to fix it.  The Germans don’t seem to have really clued into the dominant discussion here, which is how we are going to get out.

This is especially troubling because how we get out matters to them. German leaders are quick to say that what happens in Iraq is clearly in all of our interests – after all, Iraq is a lot closer to Europe than the U.S. – and they point out that they are providing modest help, such as debt relief and training.  But they know that it’s not much.  And even though they agree that Iraq’s future matters for them, they don’t seem to have much of an opinion about what to do about it – whether or when troops should leave, or how they could do more to ensure an outcome that is in their interests too.  It's  a combination of complacency and denial.

It seems to me that the Germans have leverage that they are not using.  Merkel could come to the U.S. say publicly something like: “we’ve disagreed about the war, but now we all need a solution in Iraq, and we’re willing to think of creative ways to help you – which of course helps us.”  That would certainly influence the debate here. Yet by refusing to engage on this issue, they are doing little to give the Bush team any reason to change its policies.

But more frustrating to me is that the U.S. is not using the leverage it has to encourage our European friends to do more.  They agree that it is in all our interests for Iraq to succeed, but we’re not really asking much of them, or including them in any discussion about Iraq’s future.  Even the conference I attended – whose purpose was to promote Transatlantic cooperation – failed to do this, focusing instead on other issues like immigration, China and India, and Turkey and the EU.  The American debate about when to withdraw is itself leverage – if the European’s believe that we about to get out, they will be forced to assess how this will impact their interests (right now, they seem to believe the Bush rhetoric that we will stay forever).

Of course, using leverage does not mean that it will succeed.  Maybe it is just naïve to think that the Bush team will be swayed by anything another country says or does, even a friendly leader like Merkel.  And it may simply be that, for reasons of both politics and competing priorities, countries like Germany simply can’t do more in Iraq, even if the outcome there -- good or bad -- matters a lot to them.  But it seems worth a try.   

October 04, 2005


Russia: Back on the Front Burner
Posted by Derek Chollet

Former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance used to say that one of the hardest things about managing American diplomacy was that, just when you think you are on top of things, “at any moment in the day at least two-thirds of the people around the world are awake and some of them are making mischief.”  With American foreign policy consumed by the war on terror and Iraq, as well as showdowns with North Korea and Iran, it is very difficult to respond to larger trends.  As Suzanne points out  below, policy wonks and deep thinkers are trying to get their heads around challenges like the rise of China and the greater diplomatic and economic role of India.  I predict that another issue we will be talking and worrying about a lot more in the coming months and years will be one of American foreign policy’s oldest chestnuts: Russia.

Russia has receded from the front burner of U.S. diplomacy – there are lots of reasons for this, among them 9-11, Putin’s self-professed “cooperation” in the war on terror, Russia’s oil-fueled economic rebound, Bush’s close embrace of Putin (looking into his soul and all that), and his efforts to restore “order” in the Russian state and society.

Yet in the coming years, what happens inside Russia and in the states on its periphery will impact just about every major strategic issue we face: the threat from Islamic jihadists, energy security, the future of democracy, China, Central Asia, nuclear proliferation, pandemics like HIV/AIDS, just to name a few.  And Russia's internal stability will continue to be a real concern -- especially with a 2008 leadership transition approaching, when constitutionally Putin cannot run for reelection as President but few think that he will disappear from power.

There’s a strong case to be made that things have gotten worse in Russia, not better.  A few weeks ago I was in Moscow and had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of people.  Few argued that Russia was a democracy – in fact the consensus is that Russia is a “bureaucratic authoritarian” regime.  The key difference was whether people thought that that was good or bad, or whether it was anyone’s fault (meaning, that the lack of democracy was just the way Russia is). 

On the one hand, Putin’s defenders talked about the importance of the “order” that has been established and how many of the rollbacks of democracy (such as crackdown on independent sources of power, especially in the media, as well as appointing rather than electing regional governors, etc.) should be compared with how Western countries do things, which in some cases is not all that different.  Yet on the other hand, it is clear that the lack of openness and access to television suppresses political opposition – and that the trend line in Russia in terms of democracy is heading in the wrong direction.

Visiting Moscow, and seeing the enormous economic growth that is happening there, it appears that ordinary Russian citizens do have individual freedom – there is a growing middle class consumer culture – as long as they don’t challenge the state.  Some argued that there is a growing disconnect between the Russian people at the Kremlin leadership: that ordinary Russians are ready for rule of law and democracy but that the political elites are not.

From the perspective of American interests, there’s a lot to be worried about here.  The stakes are huge.  Yet America’s policy toward Russia has been on auto-pilot – as Fred Hiatt pointed out yesterday in the Washington Post, the Administration has a “fairly coherent strategy regarding Russia's slide from democracy: Ignore it. The National Security Council apparatus in the White House believes that what happens inside Russia is irrelevant to the United States; that the United States can't do much to influence domestic events in any case; and that dwelling on Putin's authoritarianism would compromise other U.S. interests in bilateral relations.”

This head-in-the-sand approach is going to become increasingly unsustainable.  As the contradictions pile up, it will be very hard to look the other way.  Next summer, Putin will host the G-8 leaders at their annual summit in St. Petersburg. This will be the first time Russia will host the annual G-8 summit meeting as a full member, and thousands of journalists and other activists will be there.  That means that not only will Putin come under pressure to explain himself, but the seven other leaders of the world’s major democracies will have to justify why they are standing there and not criticizing their host for his rollback of basic freedoms.  Remember that when the G-8 began in 1975 – then as the G-6 – the leaders affirmed their individual responsibilities “for the government of an open, democratic society, dedicated to individual liberty and social advancement.”  But this is not the direction Russia has headed under Putin.  So it will make for an interesting photo-op.

September 19, 2005


What if they had an election and no one won?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So says Der Spiegel.

A good, short survey of where the various coalition possibilities stand this morning is here.  To do it any more precisely I would need a chart. 

There are some fascinating echoes of recent events in other countries we know and love. At one point, pollsters were projecting that Social Democratic leader and current Chancellor Schroeder would have three more seats than his conservative opponents.  Didn't pan out.  Chancellor Schroeder's almost-victory-claiming performance has some commentators calling him brilliant, others crazy.   My question:  when will we have screaming Schroeder dolls?  And check here to learn how complex things get if no government has been formed by October 18, when Schroeder's term officially ends.  (Not so bad, the electoral college...)

Heather, you're being flip again:  Why does this matter?  Craig Whitney reminds that Germany exports more than any other nation and is a central player in the EU.  But that's understating the case:  Germany is a central player on the cast of issues where politics and economic meet.  Will the EU get off the dime on agricultural reforms and push past the US on trade liberalization?  If Germany provides the momentum.  Other issues where Germany plays the impetus-or-spoiler role range from Iran-nukes to UNSC reform (if that remains relevant) to maintaining forward motion in the Balkans.

But there's another, broader reason.  Malaise.  (An aside:  Jimmy Carter never said it.  The word was in pollster Pat Caddell's memo to him.)  This divided vote, with a strong protest component against broadly-unspecified change and reform, is in many ways a continuation of the anti-EU treaty protest votes we saw in the Netherlands and France earlier this year.  Some of the more panicky-toned commentary that came out before the election reflected the fear on the one hand that Germany and Europe are stalled, have lost momentum; and that on the other hand, the German and European way of life and standard of living are under threat.

Lots of bad answers to this have emerged, but no good ones.  And I would argue (as I sit in the state tied for highest unemployment rate in the country, 40 miles from the poorest big city in the country) that the hyping of fears about terrorism in the US overlays a rather similar concern.  What to do about globalization -- how to regain both the reality and the popular sensation that we own it, not the reverse?

Some Germans think that a "grand coalition" of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats might provide space for new answers, and new leaders, to emerge -- that, along with significant social unrest, is the legacy of Germany's only previous "grand coalition," in the late 1960s.  But can that still happen?  And what's the analogy for countries without the possibility of coalition politics?

August 30, 2005


Meanwhile in Germany
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While the pot bubbles in Iraq, we check back on the September 18 German elections. A few weeks ago, the sky was falling in German politics.  The Financial Times’ Berlin bureau chief saw the possibility of Germany “slipping into the fully-fledged political crisis that it has been edging towards, unnoticed, for the past two decades.”

And current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder raised the specter of civil unrest if a conservative coalition gains power and enacts significant economic reforms.

Why?  Angst about Schroeder's apparent inability to convince Germans of the necessity of economic reforms and sacrifice (labor market flexibility uber alles, apparently), and the emergence of a new potential kingmaker/spoiler party, Die Linke (the leftists), a union of the East German communist successor Party of Democratic Socialism and a splinter group from Schroeder's SPD.  Up to this week, polls were showing half of voters undecided, allowing a political analyst's paradise of speculation and matchmaking. 

Now, though, the latest polls suggest that the undecided are making up their minds in Germany, and, with the election less than three weeks off, breaking for conservative challenger Angela Merkel, her Christian Democrats and their expected junior partner the Free Democrats.

This after weeks of agonizing about all sorts of scrambled possibilities as undecideds stood close to 50 percent:

Would the governing Social Democrats under Schroeder slip back into power with the same anti-US rhetoric that brought Schroeder a surprise victory last time, this time focused on US designs on Iran instead of Iraq?

(Looks like not – Schroeder is picking up undecideds at a much slower rate than Merkel.)

Would the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats fail to clear 50 percent, requiring a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats? (Imagine W. offering Joe Lieberman the vice presidency in 2000 and you get the idea of the angst behind this.) Free Democrat parliamentarian Werner Hoyer said that such a coalition would be “reason to emigrate.”

Others are calmer.  An American analyst argues that Germany’s previous CDU/CSU-SPD Grand Coalition, of 1966-1969, was the necessary confidence-builder that paved the way for the long and successful reigns of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt; that it strengthened the center-right FPD and paved the way for the emergence of the Greens. Janes also argues that the period set Germany up for a decade of economic prosperity and laid the foundations of Germany’s Ostpolitik, the engagement with the East that helped undermine the foundations of the Berlin Wall. The Grand Coalition period, though, can also be seen as the (re) birth of right- and left-wing extremist movements. A fertile time for good and ill, in short.

I sense from the coverage that the levels of hysteria about the results that we were seeing a few weeks ago are ratcheting down. Chief among reasons is the slippage of Die Linke (the Leftists). While it surged earlier in the summer, the latest polls suggest it could miss the 5 % threshold to enter parliament at all.

So what does it all mean?  The question of whether Germany is "ready" for a woman Chancellor is of interest for various reasons. 

Then there's the question of what Merkel can do on the economy and will do with Germany abroad.  She is likely to make further efforts to rebuild ties with the US, but there will be limits on what she will want to offer while her top priority is difficult and unpopular reforms at home.  Some imagine her taking up the banner of European leadership in the post-Eu referendum vacuum, but this too seems unlikely given the challenges she will face at home, at least right away.  A CDU administration is likely to produce some significant shifts within the EU, not least on trade policy; the French will find themselves more isolated.  Would the EU then be able to move more strongly to put the US in a corner on agricultural liberalization and other trade issues?  An interesting question.

Lastly, even though the furor has died down a bit, significant changes are afoot in Germany.  Manfred Guellner, head of Germany's Forsa polling group, put it this way – the institutional system that has given Germany so many decades of stability “has reached its limits.”

Two weeks ago I ran into a former US Ambassador to Germany, a man never at a loss for words.  What's going to happen?  I asked.

"I don't know" he said.  "But fasten your seatbelts.  The post-Cold War order is breaking up.  And really, why shouldn't it?"

May 30, 2005


The telephone is ringing...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My ten cents on Suzanne's post-referendum questions:

Will this amplify pro-US voices?  No.  It will distract pro-and anti- US voices alike by refocusing everyone internally, on questions like how do you salvage the chunks of the constitution that concern the EU's fundamental operating mechanisms.  So the problem will be getting anyone to answer, pro- or anti-, when we call.   

Then, too, this will weaken the governing parties in France and (after Wednesday, in all probability) the Netherlands.  The Dutch government has been quite pro-US, and it's not likely that a Socialist-led French government would be less inclined to play games at US expense than Chirac.  So that is not a plus for us.

Moreover, parties scrambling for position in those countries, plus the elections coming this fall in Germany, will provide endless temptation to play on popular hostility to the US.  So as long as the US is perceived as the source or cause for much of the existential globalization angst that I mentioned in my last post, this does nothing good for pro-US voices.

Are we better off with a single number to call?  Suzanne, you may have your own views about this from your time at the UN.  But my experience working with the EU at the OSCE, and then on the Balkans, is that the US loses more than we gain when the EU is disunited and thrashing -- because the thrashing itself gets in the way of getting anything done.  The ideal situation for us is one where we can work individual states early and influence the decision the EU makes -- and then have all the EU members committed to something that is either favorable to the US or at least less harmful.  Of course, that assumes a lot of forethought and coordination on our part.

It's also worth remembering that EU unity constrains negative urges as well as positive ones; as long as Europeans themselves want the ever-closer union, I believe the US should be quietly supportive.  Where the US should never let itself get (and Condoleezza Rice's Constitution endorsement last week came close) is seeming to endorse Euro-elites' ambitions when the citizenry is not ready to follow -- there's very little in that for us.

I also think that the "non" and "nee" votes matter less for Europe's foreign policy than one might at first think.  Opposition to the establishment of a permanent EU foreign minister and a desire to be more or less oppositional to the US were not high among the reasons for voting no.  Those developments toward integration are likely to continue apace -- and, as everyone who's had to deal with them knows, the reality is something less than an impregnable wall of foreign policy unity.

Which brings me to China.  This is a lose for China in one sense -- lifting the arms embargo is not going to be top of anyone's list for a while.  For sure China is exploiting confusion or inattention anywhere it can.  But on trade issues, and in terms of develoing relationships to counterbalance the US, China too needs someone to answer the phone. 

Where China is a clear winner is in the drift of European economies, and their difficulty in rebuilding competitiveness.  If these votes represent, as some have argued, continued angst and opposition to the economic changes necessary to compete, then that's a win for China.  But not because of the constitution or even the EU per se.



EU Constitution - Que Sera Sera
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There will be weeks and months of analysis over what's happening in Europe and why. 

By and large the progressive and modernizing forces in Europe were behind integration and the Constitution, and for good reason:  the Union has helped bring struggling European economies to prosperity and has proven a powerful liberalizing force throughout Eastern Europe and now approaching the borders of the Soviet Union and the Arab world.  It has strengthened Europe's role as a player on the world stage which, by and large, has meant another loud voice in support of values similar to our own.

The opposition movement ginned up the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen and was in some ways frightening.  I know less about this than Heather and Derek, but would love thoughts from them and others on a few issues:

Will this amplify pro-U.S. voices in the EU? One of Chirac's major fears with a no vote was lessening French influence in the EU.  This presumably means a larger role for Britain and the new members, all of which tend to be more in sync with U.S. policies.  Although the French no was a victory for the forces of insularity, these countries tend to be more outward looking. 

Though we've long sought it, are we really better off with a "single number to call" in Europe - I believe Kissinger coined the demand for a single number to dial for a coherent European foreign policy.  But solidly unified European positions are great only insofar as we agree with them.  When we disagree, or when a position is still under formation, it may be easier for the U.S. to have influence when its acknowledged that the Union's position is the sum of its parts.  That way, by lobbying individual countries, we can influence the whole.  It's a slow and painful process, but easier than bumping our head up against a wall.  A rock-solid, totally cohesive European policy-making regime would presumably be more resistant to U.S. influence.  A looser regime may be easier to work with.

China card - My guess is that in the coming months China tries to take advantage of confusion in the EU to extend and solidify their trade relationships and influence in their own region and in Latin America.   My guess is Beijing views this as a clear win.

May 29, 2005


Posted by Heather Hurlburt

A resounding "non" from the French for the EU Constitution today.  We will have days of commentary about how much this was "an opportunity to say up yours to the government" (as a European diplomat said to me), "about the economy" (a German scholar of organizational behavior), about immigration and Turkey, the EU's democratic deficit, and so on.

I'll say "all of the above" and stay out of that discussion, because I think there's a larger lesson here for progressives.  In a democracy, when governing elites let themselves get too separated from the people they represent -- or allow the perception of separation to go unrepaired -- the people will eventually figure out a way to bite back in a tender place.

In a funny way, the EU Constitution seems to have become for the French and the Dutch (and the Brits and perhaps some others as well) the same bogeyman that the Republicans have managed to make the dread multilateralism here at home -- representative of all that larger forces are trying to cram down your throat in the name of modernity, globalization, the 21st century.

Why do the French think that the Constitution would threaten their social policy with dread Anglo-Saxon liberalism while the British think it would bring on too much Continental socialism? (This wonderful insight came from the Brookings discussion that Derek referenced a few days ago.)  Because those are the external bogeys each fears.  If the EU Constitution didn't exist, it would have had to be invented to express the angst of the moment.

What are we afraid of here?  Globalized terrorism, a changing economy where whole categories of job and the secure lives that went with them are vanishing, a future which is fast-moving and cosmopolitan, where jobs and diseases and the new neighbors next door come from places you can hardly spell.

All reasonable fears.  But progressives are stuck in the "there's no easy answers" stage, ceding the field to conservatives who have easy answers, if not good ones:  close the borders, cut off debate,  subpoena your library books and test our kids silly on a few skills while choking off funding for the rest.

Question is, will the Europeans figure out a better response?  The early indications don't look good -- all the considerable creative energy is likely to go toward figuring out clever treaty fixes.

So whatever this vote ends up meaning for the European project, and US-EU relations, and big issues we care about, etc. etc. -- and even if you think, as I do, that few tears need be shed over the constitution itself -- it should serve as another wakeup call, as if more were needed, that this new century is unsettling to people everywhere, and people are responding by refusing to buy in to new constructs policymakers come up with, however manifestly sensible they may seem to their creators.  Think about it as a disconnect between technology and end-user.

May 28, 2005


Oh Non!
Posted by Derek Chollet

Just to echo what Heather wrote yesterday regarding tomorrow’s vote in France on the EU constitution, to be followed by the vote in the Netherlands: for those who believe in a strong EU, it will not be a good week.  Having spent the past week in the Persian Gulf and UK (hence my extended absence), all anyone is talking about is how the French will vote “no” and expect the Netherlands to follow suit.  France’s leaders pretty much gave up hope a few days ago. 

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen after these votes derail the EU constitution, other than that this will set off a bonanza of business for European wonks and think tankers – for a good start, see this recent discussion among some American European specialists.  Another certainty is that we will be entering a phase of internal Euro-hand-wringing and navel-gazing that will make strong U.S.-European cooperation on a variety of important issues a lot more difficult.

Oddly enough, one person who is secretly happy about all of this is British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has committed to holding a British referendum on the constitution sometime in the next few years.  The EU constitution is even more unpopular in Britain, and most consider a British “yes” even more improbable.  One of Blair’s fears was that all other countries would have approved the constitution and that the fate of the treaty would hinge entirely on Britain.  With a French no, he’s off the hook.  And in July, Britain takes over its six-month presidency of the EU (a rotation that the EU constitution would end), which gives Blair a chance to lead the effort to pick up the pieces from this mess – which is one way to work his way back from the Continental beating he has taken over Iraq. 

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