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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

French, Dutch votes good for U.S.

Peter A. Brown Orlando Sentinel

Ironically, while the populist rejection of a Europe-wide constitution will benefit U.S. interests, it was driven by fear on the Continent of becoming more like America.

In essence, the French and Dutch saw that document as an endorsement of an alien, market-driven, future-oriented way of life, albeit an existence we in the United States practice daily, and prosper from.

Their decision to kill the proposed constitution, which had almost unified support among European political, media and business elites, is a stark lesson that democracy is a bottom-up, not top-down, movement.

Rejection of the almost 450-page document that would have created a common foreign policy and given unelected “Eurocrats” power to override national laws almost inevitably will derail efforts to create a United States of Europe from 25 separate nations.

The notion that the Finns and the French, the English and the Estonians would ignore centuries of competition, and war, to approve a document that would join them at the hip ignored human nature. It wrongly assumed that nationalism was outdated and obsolete, and that parochial interests are human failings, not the competitive fuel that powers people and their politics.

Of course the EU will remain a serious global economic force, but without a constitution it will remain just that. It will not morph into a more powerful entity that its proponents envisioned to counterbalance, and perhaps challenge, the United States’ role as the world’s only superpower.

There are a host of reasons why the inevitable scaling back of the EU’s vision as a countervailing force to U.S. power is a good thing for the red, white and blue. It will make international affairs easier for Washington as the world’s lone superpower, and inevitably this verdict will make it more difficult for European nations to be economically competitive.

On the surface, one might think the populist unwillingness to embrace a more centralized approach to government is in step with the U.S. trend since Ronald Reagan’s election to roll back the size and clout of our federal government.

That analysis, however, misses the big picture.

Americans have much greater risk tolerance than Europeans, which might trace back to our ancestors. The European risk-takers migrated here, and Europe’s economic security-sensitive culture among those who remained often clashes with our opportunity-based way of life.

In recent years, the EU has sought to create a kinder, gentler way of life, without the rough edges that in the United States seem to be a necessary byproduct of prosperity and national security.

Some Europeans tried to create a continent where socialism softened the vagaries of a market economy, an instinctive opposition to military force tempered excessive nationalism and a secular ethic made judgmentalism a no-no.

The adverse votes on the constitution do not reflect unhappiness with that approach. In fact, the bizarre far-left/far-right coalition in both nations that rejected the document shows genuine concern such efforts would be undermined by a strengthened EU.

Those on the right worried the open borders that have accompanied expansion of the EU might lead to further immigration and dilution of European culture, especially if Turkey is approved for EU membership. Most recent immigrants to EU nations are Muslims, and their unwillingness to assimilate has created a serious backlash in many countries.

The left worried that a strengthened EU would just increase the ability of Eastern European workers, whose wage scales are much lower and productivity rates higher, to take French and Dutch jobs.

In France, unemployment is more than 10 percent, yet most want to protect the status quo because of the generous social and employment security benefits they enjoy.

They rightly feared that competition from the East would force a restructuring of the social contract, much like outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Asia has created economic uncertainty among many Americans. Yet even with these tensions, U.S. living standards are one-third higher than those in Europe.

Globalization is a fact of 21st-century life. It will force changes in European life as it has in the United States, regardless of the EU’s political clout.

By rejecting the constitution, both nations are acting like the little Dutch boy of yore, sticking his finger into the dike to hold back the flood.

We Americans ought to thank our European cousins.

They may think they are guaranteeing that life in Paris doesn’t become like Philadelphia or Phoenix.

In reality, though, they are just ensuring that their economic existence is more like Phnom Penh’s.