It wasn’t exactly the French Revolution, but French voters’ decision Sunday to reject the European Union constitution is as revolutionary an action as one might find in Europe these days. It’s all for the good, as we see it, even though the reasons for the rejection weren’t entirely laudable.
A coalition of the political fringes, left and right, combined to reject the constitution, while French elites of the center-left and center-right embraced adoption of the lengthy, convoluted document, which was long on bureaucratese and short on political inspiration.
The American Constitution, which inspired not only our new nation but continues to inspire people the world over, was dedicated to the pithy, easily grasped idea that individuals are born with certain unalienable rights, and that the government would be limited to a few defined functions, most notably protecting individual, God-given rights.
Now that’s something worth fighting for, or at least worth supporting in a vote. The European Union constitution is what columnist George Will calls “an incoherent jumble of policies” governing minor legislative actions and making promises of rights — not the unalienable “negative” rights Thomas Jefferson promised, but the modern, “positive” welfare-state rights.
Many French voters were angry at attempts to shift sovereignty from Paris to Brussels, where yet another layer of unaccountable bureaucrats would control their lives. Others of those surveyed were concerned mostly about losing their cushy, government-provided benefits. Still others worried about immigration from the East, whereby low-skill Poles and Turks would take their union jobs.
The French vote puts the kibosh on this constitution, which had been in the works for 2 1/2 years. Every nation had to approve it for the document to go into effect.
The EU had promised from its earliest days to be solely an economic union, which made some sense. But critics who said it would devolve into a political union were proved correct. Consider it in these terms: What if the North American Free Trade Agreement morphed into a political union between Canada, the United States and Mexico, with a new government run by bureaucrats headquartered, say, in Montreal? Americans would no doubt reject such a development idea and certainly can understand why the French are troubled by something similar.