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U.S. Quietly Hopes for 'Non,' While Beijing Plays the Sphinx

Both Washington and Beijing have reason to be interested in the outcome of the French referendum on the E.U. Constitution. The U.S. would prefer not to have an emergent European power to deal with, while Beijing just wants to know how many poles there will be in their anticipated multi-polar world of tomorrow.

By Jacques Amalric

May 26, 2005

Original Article (French)    

Let us not be mistaken: silence does not indicate indifference. Especially when Washington and Beijing are involved. The uncharacteristic absence of commentary in these two capitals does not indicate a lack of interest in the evolution of European construction. Particularly in the United States, where despite a few kind words from George W. Bush during his recent visit to the Union's headquarters in Brussels, there is no desire to see a European power emerge.

One need only remember Donald Rumsfeld’s sniggerings about “Old Europe” or peruse the writings of numerous neoconservatives who recommend that ill feeling be sown by any means throughout the Old Continent. That is to say, the scrapping of the constitutional treaty would not excessively bother a Bush Administration that is now a bit less arrogant after setbacks in Iraq and emerging doubts about the degree of loyalty the White House can expect, in the medium term, from the countries of “New Europe.” Even if nothing is said in Washington on Monday, from this point of view a French “no” would be good news for the United States, which is concerned about the emergence of, if not a counterweight to its own power, at least a European power seeking independence.

Beijing’s position is more ambivalent: though Chinese leaders acknowledge the existence of Europe as a commercial power, with they doubt, with good reason, its political gravitas, even though they pretend to acknowledge it when it is convenient for them in their conflictual relationship with the United States. A French “no” vote, followed by a few others, would only reinforce questions already raised concerning the eager but unfulfilled promise made by Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to have the European Union lift the embargo on the sale of arms to China, in place since the Tiananmen Square massacre (1). Officially in favor of a multipolar world, Chinese leaders would be secretly happy if the world of tomorrow had only two poles, the American one and the Chinese one. A political-strategic fact that Europe, prisoner of its strictly mercantile relationship with China is still incapable of taking into account.

A third country is also carefully following the French and Dutch debates: Turkey. The issue of its possible future membership in the Union has nothing at all to do with the constitutional treaty, but certain people on both sides of the debate have been unable to resist exploiting a fear, that is increasingly unfounded, about seeing how Turkish society is evolving (or not evolving). The “no” supporters also exploit the new members in Central and Eastern Europe, though the “left-wing no” is careful not to show sympathy for the popular classes of Poland or Slovakia, who certainly aren’t looking for pity.

The lines of discourse, which give an impression of the national preference, are similar to those that were heard not long ago about the entry into the European Union of Spain, Portugal and Greece. That they are still around is bothersome for those, like Jacques Chirac, who encouraged them at one time, and who were never concerned with European practice and pedagogy when they were in power, and who have often used Brussels as a punching bag, useful in internal politics but disastrous in this era of globalization.

Lionel Jospin, whose deep European convictions are surfacing a bit late, was correct on Tuesday night to stress the heterogeneity of the French “no” voters, which makes the radiant future promised by the “left-wing no” advocates laughable. He could have even insisted on what these advocates are neglecting to say: that eternal opponents of European construction will cast the majority of “no” votes on Sunday. They are a jumble of National Front voters, Philippe de Villiers’ flock, the Trotskyites following either Olivier Besancenot or Arlette Laguiller, the communist, whose deputies have never voted in favor of a European cause since 1957, a good number of Chevčnement’s supporters and the orphans of hardcore Gaullism some of whom paradoxically claim to be followers of Charles Pasqua. A true case of strange bedfellows, those nostalgic for “grandeur” and the inconsolable orphans of the revolution transformed into anti-Europe partisans. Yet another French exception that will be welcomed by those that the “no” advocates claim to be fighting.

(1) Read the article by Pierre Haski «De Chine, l'Union fait la force», Libération May 17.

— BBC NEWS VIDEO: French Vote No On E.U. Constitution, May 29, 00:02:04
— RADIO FRANCE AUDIO: France's Daily English News Program, 01:00:00

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