On Saturday Le Figaro (Paris) published a populist critique exhibiting many of the anxieties and resentments evoked by the opponents of the European Constitution, upon which the French will vote in an important referendum on May 29. -- Marie-France Garaud and millions of other French voters fear that the Constitution is an elite project effecting the total engagement of the Union in a frenzied globalization, to the principal benefit of large corporations. -- Marie-France Garaud, 71, is herself a member of the elite she castigates in this article. -- She left a career in law to become involved in politics of a Gaullist stripe in the administration of President Georges Pompidou, and was an early supporter of Jacques Chirac, but later broke with him. -- Marie-France Garaud ran for president in 1981 and received 1.33% of the vote in the first round of voting. -- She remarks in passing that French diplomacy gave [the French] one of the rare reasons they've had to feel proud in the past few years during the Iraqi conflict. ...
[Translated from Le Figaro (Paris)]
Debates & Opinions
THE BLINDNESS OF THE ELITES
By Marie-France Garaud
Le Figaro (Paris)
May 21, 2005
There is something fascinating about the obviousness of the gap that has opened in Europe and especially in France between citizens and élites. It hasnt been hard to see the signs of this, since theyve been around a long time. The debate on the treaty-Constitution makes them dazzlingly clear in the way it constantly fails to connect the questions on the one side and the answers on the other.
The government men [sic], in Paris as much as in Brussels, a long time ago prepared the answers to the questions that ordinary citizens were supposed to have. And now these latter dont want to know anything: theyre not asking the right questions, theyre stubbornly repeating their own questions instead. First off, the one they think at once: Why a Constitution? Then, naturally, the ones that concern them: What will be the direct or induced consequences for me if its adopted? Good sense couldnt behave more naturally.
The answers dont have the same simplicity.
First of all, its fitting for those who set themselves up as guides for innocent souls not to cause citizens to feel too far from home and therefore to put to one side the idea, provisionally wrong, according to which the adoption of the Constitution would signify the creation of a European state. Its usual, of course, to associate the existence of a Constitution with the existence of a State, but they swear to us that its not so in this case and that our Constitution, to which its authors seem to have assigned the role of surrogate mother, is not ready to give birth.
So what is it good for in the meantime? This time, the answer is ready, nice and neat, though not, perhaps, clear: to strengthen Europe. In a stormy world, a larger and more diverse Europe should be stronger and more powerful.... But a priori this seems to suffer from a bothersome contradiction, since everyone learns in childhood that the most disparate teams are the least efficient. Still, the citizen is willing to be nobly indulgent and agrees to hope, asking, next: How?
So-called middle-class French persons (since they're the ones who count, steeped for two and a half centuries now, though not always with full consciousness of the fact, in a State founded upon a clear separation of powers) are struggling to understand, insofar as they're making an effort, how a system in which are set forth in confused hierarchies three executives and three legislators, not counting the annexes, can really be strong and powerful. They vaguely accept the idea that the president of a European Council that is hard to keep separate in their mind from a simple Council will give Europe a face. On the other hand they don't quite see why it would be necessary to be encumbered with a Union foreign ministry when French diplomacy gave him one of the rare reasons they've had to feel proud in the past few years during the Iraqi conflict. But what they're sure of, since they've experienced it, is that the European standards come to them from the Commission, that changing their names and calling rules laws and directives framing laws (lois-cadres) will not substantially change their nature and will not improve the situation, no, just the opposite -- and the efficiency of our European deputies, by definition elected by a minority, seems to participate in a quite illusory democratization.
Whence their anxiety: will the Constitution change things that affect him? The slightly scornful astonishment of quite a few politicians and a considerable proportion of the media class faced with what they consider a rather vulgar self-obsession says a lot about their ignorance of the difficulties faced by many French people, both young and not so young.
The answer that the supporters of the constitutional treaty give is just as predictable: No. Industrial politics, health plans, public services, all those domains youre asking about, all that has nothing to do with the Constitution!
But thats not true... Not true to the point of leaving one incredulous, since by application of the treaty the Union can intervene in practically all those domains, either because theyre a matter for exclusive or shared competence (and we know that the Court of Justice, the supreme judge of this apportionment, rarely gives preference to States), or, for the rest, because it decides to undertake a supportive, coordinative, or complementary action, in the area, for example, of public health, industry, culture, tourism, professional education, etc.
And its very especially not true in what concerns the problems of growth and employment that constantly recur, for reasons that are well-known to those willing to step outside the closed circles of the nomenklatura, in the worried questions of so many French people.
Twelve years ago, though, a promised land of prosperity because of the euro was made to shimmer before these same people -- but apparently thats a thing of the past, and now its commonly admitted that the monetary policies of this zone have nothing to do with the increasing difficulties we find there.
But theres worse. The Constitution, in Article III-314, about which the texts sycophants carefully say nothing, holds that the Union contributes, in the common interest, to the progressive suppression of restrictions on international exchanges and direct foreign investments, as well as to the reduction of customs and other barriers. It thus sets aside all possibility of those indirect protections of which our American, Japanese, and other partners avail themselves so often and, for them, so efficaciously. It takes a certain boldness or a lot of blindness not to admit that by thus reaffirming the total engagement of the Union in a frenzied globalization -- which has been denounced for years now by men as eminent as Maurice Allais -- were turning the French and their companies over to devastating competition.
It is false naïveté -- but how revealing! -- to genially advise voters: Read the first fifty articles of the treaty then the Charter of Fundamental Rights, you can skip the rest... That sums it up: condescension, of course, but also and perhaps above all the hidden intention to keep from the French what there is in this rest that concerns them directly. The experts, whether in Brussels or in Luxembourg, will decide things for them, and the only real object of the vote theyre asking of us is the consecration of an oligarchy that is very remote from the peoples whose fate it claims the right to determine.
--Marie-France Garaud is a former European deputy and coauthor of Oser dire non (Le Rocher) (To Dare to Say No).
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/