The persistent rejection of reforms empowering the European Union "does not result from citizens' poor comprehension of what European construction is; it expresses a fundamental disagreement with respect to the positions Europe has taken," according to Arnaud Parienty, a French secondary-school teacher writing on Monday in Alternatives Économiques in article translated by Leslie Thatcher on the Truthout web site.[1]  --  "[I]t's out of a concern to safeguard various unique national characteristics that they more or less legitimately consider to be threatened, but also and above all because Europe seems dangerous to them:  far from protecting against the shock of globalization and assuring stability and prosperity, Europe seems to be against those objectives."  --  "The tragic mistake of the high officials and elected officials who govern Europe is to choose not to take that disagreement into account." ...

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Opinion

WHY EUROPEANS CONTINUE TO SAY NO TO EUROPE
By Arnaud Parienty

Alternatives Économiques
June 30, 2008

http://www.truthout.org/article/why-europeans-continue-say-no-europe

Every time European citizens are asked whether they want to give more power to Europe, the answer is the same: "NO!" And every time, our élites explain that that's because of a lack of explanations, a failure of pedagogy. In other words, they believe they understand that this "no" results from what citizens have not understood. Apart from and beyond special group interests and specific local configurations, one may venture to offer another hypothesis.

Initially, the construction of Europe primarily responded to the concern to make war impossible in Europe in general and between France and Germany in particular. But once that historic mission was accomplished, what was Europe good for? With its leaders proposing to strengthen the institutional structure without explaining what these new powers would serve to do, it's not surprising they should have encountered a certain mistrust. Since the strategy pursued since the end of the 1950s consists of creating Europe by way of the economy, one must undoubtedly seek the key to the problem in economic issues.

The fundamental ambiguity of European construction resides in the answer to the following question: Is Europe a rampart against -- or a relay for -- untamed globalization? The globalization of the markets for goods, services, and capital leads to a generalized competition between economies and social systems that is the source of convergent worries: farmers fear a drop in prices, employees fear outsourcing, public services could be sacrificed on the altar of competition, etc. . . . These worries are legitimate. In spite of official protests, globalization creates losers, just as international opening always has, but on the gigantic scale of the movement underway.

In the face of this threat, citizens turn to politics. In France, the parade of social categories demanding protection from the State is permanent. But, by definition, globalization removes a great deal of the national level's relevance. Yet European institutions do not respond to citizens' expectations. Far from the "Fortress Europe" that other regions feared in the beginning of the 1980s -- leading to the creation of NATO in America and APEC in Asia -- the European Union seems more anxious today to accelerate market liberalization and the decline of the State than to protect European societies from the shock of globalization.

The attitude with respect to new Member States is, from this point of view, characteristic. When poor countries such as Ireland, Greece, and Portugal entered Europe in the past, the integration strategy consisted of helping these countries to achieve the Union's average level of development, thanks to Structural Funds. During the 2004 and 2006 enlargements, it was made clear to new entrants -- frequently very poor countries -- that they would have no rights to the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy before 2013 (that is, when the Policy will have been reformed to be less costly) and that the road to fiscal and social dumping is the only one open to them to resist the tremendous competition from Western Europe's high-performing industries. Poland reduced its tax on corporate income to 12 percent, which did not prevent four million Poles from leaving their country to look for work elsewhere, notably in the United Kingdom. French automobile manufacturers' production in Western European territory dropped by 700,000 units in six years and increased by 600,000 units during the same period in Eastern Europe and Turkey.

So, while Europe is the relevant level at which to obtain better regulation of globalization, it seems to want to accelerate globalization. Hence N. Sarkozy's accusations against P. Mendelson after the failure of the Irish referendum. In fact, while the forced-march "liberalization" of markets threatens jobs and salaries, why would citizens go and strengthen the powers of an entity -- Europe -- that seems to be a vector of that very phenomenon?

Skepticism with respect to the construction of Europe also results from the conduct of cyclical economic policy. We remember the OFCE calculations at the beginning of the 1990s that showed how maintaining the French Franc within the European Monetary System had cost France a million additional unemployed. History repeats itself, and any informed citizen may compare the dynamism of American economic policy to the ineffective rigidity that prevails in Europe. The threats of recession linked to the subprime crisis provoked a vigorous interest-rate reduction movement and liberalization of Fed policy, while the federal government fed the fires of budgetary policy (in an election year, it's true) in such a way that the anticipated recession has, for the moment, been avoided. In Europe, the opposite has occurred: the Commission is threatening countries which, like France, are being pushed by the economic slowdown to the three percent budgetary deficit limit, and European governments criticize the European Central Bank for its high interest rates. "Virtuous" countries criticize the laxity of those that do not respect the rules enacted together; the others criticize the absurdity of those rules; everyone is right, of course.

For the citizen, even one not altogether up on economic questions, the conclusion is clear: faced with a crisis, Europe is the level that prevents effective action. Undoubtedly, this conclusion is somewhat unfair: where would the French economy be without the Euro, with a currency under attack because of its deficits? Nonetheless, the conclusion remains obvious.

Consequently, if European citizens refuse to give more power to European institutions, it's out of a concern to safeguard various unique national characteristics that they more or less legitimately consider to be threatened, but also and above all because Europe seems dangerous to them: far from protecting against the shock of globalization and assuring stability and prosperity, Europe seems to be against those objectives. Consequently, this persistent rejection does not result from citizens' poor comprehension of what European construction is; it expresses a fundamental disagreement with respect to the positions Europe has taken. The tragic mistake of the high officials and elected officials who govern Europe is to choose not to take that disagreement into account.

--Arnaud Parienty, 49 years old, is a professor of economic and social sciences at the Lycée de Courbevoie (92). Author of works on taxation (Le Monde-Marabout), productivity (Armand Colin) and social protections (Gallimard-Le Monde), he has participated in the redaction of numerous high school and university textbooks at Èditions Nathan and collaborates regularly with "Alternatives Economiques." He was also a member, as an FSU [Fédération syndicale unitaire, a French teachers' union] representative, of the Orientation Council on Retirement and of the Council for Strategic Analysis's "long-term group on professions and qualifications."

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.