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02/06/2005

Γιατί οι Γάλλοι είπαν οχι.Ανάλυση

Μιά ανάλυση του Fraser Nelson ston Scotsman.Blow to premier's vision of a very British Europe

ANALYSIS

Fraser Nelson


JACK Straw's face said it all. The Foreign Secretary had expected France to reject the European Union constitution - but its "Non" was fundamental. This was not just a rebuttal of the treaty, but of Britain's vision of Europe. The scenes of celebration chilled British policymakers. The economic reform that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been preaching to Europe for years was being denounced in the streets as "ultra-liberalism" and capitalism run wild.

Some of the No celebrations looked like the 1968 student protests: red flags were being flown to hail a victory of workers and students. This is not something that the Prime Minister will be able to negotiate his way out of.

Mr Straw understood this all too clearly. France does not want Britain's low regulation, its flexible markets or its open competition. It blames such policies for its 10 per cent unemployment: it does not want more.

The No was from young people, who are tilting French politics in a left-wing direction. There is a rich mix with anti-globalisation. The phrase "Anglo-Saxon" - the common insult to attack the treaty - usually translates as British-American.

So the French No was not just to the constitution but also to what they regard as an alien anti-protectionist free trade culture.

Jacques Chirac himself ended up borrowing the No campaign's language, declaring that "neo-liberalism is the new communism". By this, Mr Chirac means the sort of market economics that has made America the world's strongest country, rescued Britain from 40 years of decline and brought prosperity from New Zealand to Singapore.

To Britain, it is uncontroversial. But to to the French, neo-liberalism is the force that threatens to bring Turks to France to steal local jobs. It means cheap New World wines threatening its vineyards with lower costs but higher standards. It means unemployment. And to recover from its economic decline, the young French No camp wants more protectionism and higher tariffs, to repel invaders such as Estonia and Poland, new European Union members.

This is a treble blow to Mr Blair. First, it shows that France will not be persuaded into his way of economic thinking: its people are viscerally opposed.

But economic reform is, embarrassingly, the chosen theme of Britain's six- month presidency of the EU, which starts in July. Mr Chirac now has no mandate to proceed an inch further down this road.

Secondly, the French No has drawn a line in the sand for its future presidents: no-one can very well sign up to UK-style economic reform now the people have so spectacularly rejected it. Mr Chirac has been put on notice by his people, who have said it is not for him to cut deals with London.

Finally, the French result has put paid to the idea of any single economic structure for Europe. It is hard to see how the single currency project - founded on the premise of economic consensus - can expand much further.

France and Germany may work closer together. The two may declare a desire to forge closer union, perhaps harmonise tax and regulations and start to raise tariffs rather than tear them down. Italy, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg may well join in.

European integration may take other forms. There remains potential for a common defence policy, such as missions to Africa and peacekeeping in Kosovo. There could be common foreign policy, such as arguing for the Kyoto climate change treaty.

This is also a moment of liberation. For years, Britain has been prescribing its own economic medicine to the eurozone - and, for years, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy have pretended to swallow.

Now, the French public has tested the medicine - and spat it out. In doing so, they have made a new declaration of economic independence: it will now proceed in a way Britain fundamentally disagrees with.

Time will tell which country is right. The EU, meanwhile, must find other ways to press ahead.

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