France’s third mistake ?

Article published on April 14, 2005
Article published on April 14, 2005
On 29 May, France will have the opportunity to make an historical mistake if, as some surveys indicate, it decides to vote ‘no’ to the European constitution

Historically, for many citizens of Europe and the rest of the world, France has represented many positive things: the Enlightenment philosophers, the French Revolution, democratic republicanism and antifascist resistance, not to mention the French language and its wealth of literature. France is also a founder and pioneer of the European Union.

More recently, France represented the European people in the United Nations Security Council when it took an emphatic stance against the United States’ initiated war in Iraq. Also noteworthy is the French position regarding the culture of public services and the fact that many French intellectuals are fighting for an alternative globalisation, which would be fairer and more caring, respectful of cultural diversity and committed to the environment. In this sense, according to a survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre, of all the countries in the world, France is the most positively valued by citizens of other nations.

Incongruent ‘no’

In contrast with this, France also has people in positions of power who tend toward the extreme right-wing (Le Pen) and others who tend towards the extreme left-wing (the Revolutionary Communist League), as well as other major forces led by the GaullistsCharles Pasqua and Philippe Séguin. These political forces are in a strong position to defeat the European constitution in the coming referendum. If it is still possible to have a ‘multi-polar’ world - such a popular expression in France - it is only possible through the European Union. If anyone believes that France will continue to have any influence on its own, they are either naive or a cynic. Only through Europe can France maintain its old Gaullist dreams of grandeur opposite the mighty United States. At the same time, it is only through the European Union that the possibilities of articulating a democratic and social response to globalisation arise. Hence the incongruence of France’s old Gaullist nationalism or radical right-wing, and the anti-globalisation extreme-left.

In June 1940, an incredulous France witnessed the total destruction of its armies, as the Nazis advanced. Under these circumstances, Winston Churchill made one of his memorable speeches before the House of Commons in which France was offered a symbolic lifeline: “a union of common citizenship” with the UK. This proposition, originally formulated by the high-ranking French civil-servant Jean Monnet, would have involved integrating the French and British nations into a single state with a combined parliament in order to continue the fight against the Nazis side by side, withdrawing to the British Isles if necessary. However, the French government ignored his valiant proposition and, being incapable of taking the decision to move overseas, French Prime Minister Reynaud resigned, leaving the path clear for Pétain and his Nazi puppet state.

In August 1953, the National Assembly voted against the European Defence Community Treaty (EDC), which had already been ratified by the Federal Republic of Germany and the Benelux countries. The aim of the EDC, which is still considered revolutionary today, involved dissolving national armies and creating a single European military force, a setup which would bring old rivals together, the Germans and the French.

This was France’s second mistake. France and Europe have recovered from the first. We are paying the price for the second, even now: the current European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) has a predominantly intergovernmental and flaccid structure. Let’s hope that on 29 May 2005, France will not let itself be seduced by the nationalist reflex that has been so dangerous in the past and that the European Constitution will be approved, in both Europe’s and France’s best interests.

('Study of a Figure Outdoors: Woman with a Parasol, facing left', Monet (Image courtesy of (cc) wikimedia )