Jewish World Review June 2, 2005 / 24 Iyar 5765

Paul Greenberg

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The more Europe changes . . . | The more Europe changes, the more divided it remains. First the French rejected the proposed European constitution and encyclopedia (it was almost 500 pages long) by a decisive 55 to 45 percent of the vote. The Dutch did the same within days — by an even greater margin. The outcome should not have surprised: Any constitution with 448 articles was bound to collapse of its own weight.

Who could tell what was in that fine print? It was impossible to know just what the voters were being asked to endorse, especially after the continent's political class had "explained" it.

Europe's politicians and pundits were all a-twitter over the results, or rather non-results, of these elections, but it's hard to see what all the fuss was about. A little perspective, please:

By now the French have gone through a revolution that ended in a dictatorship, five republics, three monarchies, a couple of empires, an occupation or two, a fascist puppet state, assorted reigns of terror and numerous constitutional revisions and rejections. (Did I skip anything?)

After all those twists and turns, it's hard to think of a democratic vote against a flimsy product of the eurocracy in Brussels as a . . . CRISIS! But a continent that produced opera isn't much given to understatement.

The attempt to scare French voters into voting Oui made a Non irresistible. So where is this great disaster that Jacques Chirac and widely distrusted company prophesied if the masses refused to follow their lead? The sun rose the next morning, and nobody was deprived of his coffee and croissant.

After this "crucial" election, Europeans are still both united and divided — but mainly irritated and confused — by a wispy web of treaties and trade agreements subject to constant interpretation and negotiation. Call it the soft authoritarianism of bureaucracy. The dissatisfaction it breeds was bound to show sooner or later. But a crisis, this isn't.

The politicians and pundits may be issuing cries of alarm, but the Europeans refuse to be alarmed. Relieved might be a better description of the popular mood. Or even elated, if the post-election rallies of the opposition were any indication. This time the people showed up their elite, instead of their elite showing them how to vote.

It must have felt good, for there are few elites more elitist than the French variety. It's not just at the United Nations that French leadership is insufferable.

Remember Dominique de Villepin, the diplomat with all the airs of the self-published "poet" he is? He's now going to be the next French premier, capping his inconsequential careers at both the foreign and interior ministries. How perfectly French. The man is the very image of refined futility. Nothing seems to succeed in France like . . . nothing.

Much of the post-election analysis seems all about how the extremes of left and right united against the European Union's proposed constitution, but it may not have been so simple. The center also seems to have rejected it.

In France, not just the fearful old but the defiant young seem to have rebelled against their elite's instructions. While the Socialist Party's hierarchy campaigned for the constitution, one report had 56 percent of its rank-and-file voting against it. The gap between Europe's people and its pols becomes unmistakable.

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In case anybody missed the point, the Dutch then delivered the coup de grace to a constitution that for all practical purposes was already dead.

Europe remains as it has been: divided. Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism can hold a continent together only so long.

It's been clear for some time what Old Europe is against, but what's it for? All the rhetoric about the desire for a new all-European identity keeps running into the same old European reality: Nobody's heart beats quicker at the sight of the E.U.'s flag of 12 gold stars circling on a blue field, not the way Brits are stirred by the Union Jack or Frenchmen by the Marseillaise. The European Union is no union. How could it be with 20 official languages?

The moral of the story: A constitution does not a people make. It usually works the other way around. Americans were Americans long before we were formally united by a constitution, and its aim, lest we forget, was to create a more perfect Union.

But even if Europeans do eventually adopt some kind of free-trade agreement gussied up as a constitution, complete with an anthem and a foreign minister in name, they will still remain respectively French, Dutch, German, Italian, British, et European al.

Divided they stand, or rather slouch.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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