Saturday, June 19, 2004

Europe Gets A Constitution

The leaders of Europe's 25-member states have finally agreed on a constitution for the European Union, and it hasn't made France's Jacques Chirac too happy. The main problem, as far as Chirac was concerned, was Britain, which refused to give up some (though not all) of its vetoes in key areas like taxation, foreign affairs and defense. So upset was Chirac, that he let fly with one of his characteristic outbursts of gallic arrogance (remembering his advice to the East Europeans during the run-up to the Iraq War: "They missed an excellent opportunity to shut up."). Chirac publicly lambasted the British for stalling agreement on a constitution that would have made the EU in France's image, with Germany more or less dancing to Chirac's tune.

The British Conservatives and the UK Independence Party have accused Tony Blair of giving too many regardless, and I think there is something to their point. But what's interesting is that, in many respects, the negotiations and the effect of the constitution will be simply to put the lie to ideological fantasy of the centralized European Union. The reason being that Britain effectively did what she's done for centuries now; she used her smaller continental allies to prevent the larger European nations - in this case France and Germany - from dominating the continent. And in doing so, she appears as the defender of the East Europeans and other small western states.

What's interesting here is how little has really changed in Europe despite all the rhetoric. Britain, as is usually the case, knew, more or less, how to defend its interests. France, as is also usually the case, stuck its arrogant foot in its self-righteous mouth and confirmed its role as Europe's most pompous wind bag. And Germany took on its usual persona of confused giant, never really knowing what to do with its power and thus deferring to a less significant player like France while lumbering aimlessly around the European stage.

Of course, now the constitution will be put to the vote in numerous EU countries, most notably, in Britain. And judging by the results of the recent EU parliamentary elections, this could be a tough sell.


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