Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Arrogant European Elites

The recent rejection of the European Union constitution by voters in both France and the Netherlands raises some fundamental questions about politics and political culture in Europe. Max Boot offers some observations in the Los Angeles Times:
So why are the guardians of the new Europe so hated? Words such as arrogance and elitism come to mind. Although the EU has its own parliament, there is a well-founded fear throughout the continent that decisions are being made by unelected mandarins. The populations of the 25 EU member states may not agree on what should be done. What unites them is a desire to determine their own destinies, which is impossible as long as Brussels is calling the shots.

Nothing symbolizes the disconnect between the people and their rulers more than the European Union constitution, a 300-page monstrosity drafted by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and heartily endorsed by current French President Jacques Chirac. This was supposed to be another step toward creation of a European state with its own president and foreign minister. For Gaullists like Giscard and Chirac, it was also part of a cherished ambition to build a great power in competition with les Anglo-Saxons. The skepticism of Poles and Britons to this project was well-known, but ultimately it was undone by the yawning indifference of the French themselves.

The lives of ordinary French people are not dominated by dreams of lost glory; they simply want a decent job and public services that work. It was telling that only professionals and senior executives — i.e., France’s top occupational rung — voted for the constitution last week. Everyone else opted for “non.”
Glenn Reynolds suggests deeper problems in Europe:
Europe’s problem is that it wants two inconsistent things. Some Europeans — the ruling classes, basically — care about prestige, and want Europe to be a superpower that can compete with the United States, returning to Europe some of the world-dominating glory that it lost in the 20th Century’s world wars. Others — the working classes, basically — want the kind of easy life, low workload, and overarching social safety net, developed when Europe was an American protectorate, whose enormous and growing cost makes any sort of superpower status a pipedream. To be a superpower like America, Europe would have to become more like America in other ways: Harder-working, more capitalistic, less cushioned. After decades of being told that Europe’s superiority was to be found in generous welfare benefits and short work-weeks, Europeans chose those over their leaders’ geopolitical ambitions.
While both elites and ordinary Europeans want different things, both can find plenty of basis for anti-Americanism. The elites envy American power, and the masses have been propagandized to see America as a heartless hyper-capitalist state. Both have some learning to do.

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