Grenoble, France: Two days ago the French held a referendum on the European constitution, and they rejected it 55% to 45%. The French vote has sent the Western European political class into a tizzy. French president Jacque Chirac sacked his prime minister, and in Germany, it will probably accelerate the downfall of Jacques Chirac’s most slavish follower, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The ratification process for the European Constitution doomed it from the start. For the Constitution to come into effect, all 25 members of the European Union must approve it, and the probability that 25 countries will agree on anything is close to zero. By contrast, changes to the U.S. Constitution require ratification by three-fourths of the states, still a high standard, but one that it is possible to achieve.
French law does not require a referendum to ratify an international agreement. French referendums are called by the president as a political maneuver and are non-binding. A French president calls a referendum only when he is certain that the electorate will approve his point of view and thereby demonstrate his popularity. Jacques Chirac is the second president since the Second World War to lose a referendum. The first was Charles de Gaulle. The fact that Chirac thought that he could win a referendum shows how out of touch he is with the French people, who generally regard him as a buffoon.
If the rejection of the Constitution is an indirect slap in the face for President Jacques Chirac, it is also a slap in the face for Chirac’s most ardent supporter, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has taken advantage of Chirac’s popularity among the Germans to enhance his own image. Each time Chirac made a statement against the United States in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Schroeder was there to support him. Admiration for Chirac’s defiance of the United States was high in Germany, a country that admires strong, insolent leaders, and Schroeder basked in Chirac’s reflected glory. Since Hitler, it is considered bad form to be a patriotic German, so Germans have redirected their nationalistic impulses to the European Union and to its would-be leader, Jacques Chirac. By now, however, it should be plain to all but the most ardent Euro-nationalists that Schroeder and many of his countrymen have been licking the feet of an emperor who had no clothes.
In France, the president is a strong figure who wields great power. The French Prime Minister is a secondary figure who serves at the president’s pleasure and who the president can send packing at any time. Jacques Chirac has attempted to make Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin the scapegoat for the defeat and has sacked him. He has been replaced by Dominique de Villepin, a supercilious boot-licker who is has never held elected office. Villepin’s haughtiness neither endears him to the French population nor to their elected leaders nor to diplomats from other countries who have had to endure his arrogance. To many French people, Chirac’s choice of Villepin is proof that Chirac is “losing it.” Most French feel that it is Chirac who should resign.
It will be interesting to follow the developments in France and in the European Union during the next few weeks. The European Union intends to continue the ratification process, even though the Constitution is dead. But, useless activity is what Europeans have come to expect from their international government. It keeps the bureaucrats employed.
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