14 July, funeral of the République

Article published on July 14, 2005
Article published on July 14, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

For the French this year, Bastille Day smells of rotten camembert. For the first time on the banks of the Seine, the French are asking themselves, “what is there to celebrate?”

Bien sûr, “it’s the taking part that counts”. But Paris’s recent loss of the 2012 Olympics bid hurt, bringing even the usually reserved Le Monde to talk of “poisse” (rotten luck). Yes, because the snub by the Olympic committee followed close on the heels of the debacle of the 29 May referendum, in which 55% of the French rejected the European constitution. Or, more precisely, rejected the extension of EU membership to Eastern Europe, an imagined invasion of “Polish plumbers”, and, in general, the opening up of France to a supposedly hostile outside world.

From Le Pen to the Islamic veil

But the “decline” of the French Republic is revealed not only by such recent, stinging headlines. It has also been manifested in the 2002 presidential elections, which saw the extreme right-winger Jean-Marie Le Pen get through to the final round; in 2003, when all France gained was diplomatic isolation and humiliation as a result of its opposition to the invasion of Iraq; and in 2004, when the it alienated its 5 million Muslims by prohibiting schoolgirls from wearing the Islamic veil. It is a country that is suffering more than any other from the inevitable crisis of the nation state. It is paradoxical, perhaps, that it was the French that invented the nation state on14 July 1789, which is celebrated today with “tourist-friendly” military parades and fireworks. A nation state that the French could now bury. Because this year, the celebrations bear more resemblance to a funeral.

Not only France

But this 14 July should also be the funeral of every other European nation state. Of an Italy declared officially in recession. Of a Germany in which unemployment nears 5 million. Of a Britain struck, like Spain, by terrorists who make a mockery of national borders. And this is the crux. All today’s political challenges are transnational in scope: from immigration to terrorism; from unemployment to economic growth. And they must be faced as such. Given this, the European Union can, and must, represent not only an institutional forum but also a way of thinking, so as to find adequate solutions to today’s problems. Could we prevent other terrorist attacks if we had a “European CIA”? Since the Schengen agreement has now given us common borders, why not also have a coordinated policy on immigration? And inflation, unemployment, economic stagnation: how can these be combated at a national level when most of us share the same currency?

So many questions, but only one answer. We must go beyond the national model, a model which France's failures teach us we should bury, rather than simply resign ourselves to its decline.