Jewish World Review May 31, 2005/ 22 Iyar, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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Puzzling out the meaning of no | Bureaucrats, like the politicians they supervise, always have trouble with plain speech. Words of a single syllable often confuse, confound and befuddle.

Both bureaucrats and politicians across Europe are suffering something awful this morning, trying to get their brains around the plainest of all single-syllable words.

"No" is a conversation stopper in any language. Now we'll see whether "no" can stop a constitution that a lot of voters, peasants and others regarded as the lesser breeds without the law, clearly and emphatically don't want.

France may or may not have turned its back on the idea of "Europe," as some have suggested in the panic of a shocking election night in Paris, but the French, masters of the subtle and the artfully obscure, have with a shout and a scream turned their back on the "Europe" devised and imposed by the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who want to organize and supervise every waking moment of a citizen's life.

Jacques Chirac has been humiliated as only Jacques Chirac deserves to be humiliated. The man who perfected contempt for George W. Bush as a continental art form can only wish he had some of George W.'s skill at persuading his countrymen to follow. George W. won his "referendum," and Jacques didn't. Who's entitled to laugh now?

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But the smashing of the European constitution holds meaning that goes well beyond humiliating a vain and arrogant politician. London's Daily Telegraph puts it succinctly this morning: "It is hard to think of a graver crisis of legitimacy for the EU. If even France, Europe's most loyal daughter, wants no more of the racket, then surely the time has come to go back to the drawing board. If Europe's leaders had an ounce — a gram, rather — of decency, they would accept the verdict and change direction. For this constitution did not merely propose some new extensions of EU power; it restated the entire acquis communautaire: the accumulated pile of EU jurisdiction."

But such is a vain hope, as the London skeptics know well. Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, the current president-nation in the EU's rotating presidential scheme, is typical of the leaders who are unable to translate "no" into pidgin even they can understand. Nearly half of the EU's 454 million citizens, he scoffs, inaccurately, have backed the charter, and "the European process does not come to a halt today." But nearly all of that half, as M. Juncker knows, have never had a say, one way or the other. Their parliaments ratified the constitution, and M. Chirac spent the weekend in considerable rue that he, in a fit of democratic excess, chose to put the vote in France to the people rather than to a vote of politicians in parliament.

Similar reaction, borne of inability to parse the meaning of "no," is the norm all across Europe. The prime minister of Estonia says ratification of the constitution should continue if Europeans know what's good for them. The foreign minister of Latvia looked up the meaning of "no" and is eager to share it: "I think we should really look at these signals [the French] are sending us. I would strongly urge our parliament to go ahead ... and vote this constitution through ... and hopefully it will open France's eyes that we need this constitution."

Wise men like M. Chirac would be more likely to prevail if they tried to open skeptical eyes with respectful argument rather than with a meat ax. Their task will be far more difficult now. The French want their cheeses, like the Germans their sausages, and they want to keep their six-week vacations, 35-hour work weeks and other appurtenances of an indolent socialist society, without having to work very hard in a world where a lot of people, not only in North America but all across Asia, are willing — eager, in fact — to work very hard. "Anglo-Saxon" or not, free markets work, and socialism doesn't. M. Chirac, like the early European visionaries like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and the circle of current European leaders, understands this. But he despairs of making persuasion work. Hence the scheme to put all the power in the hands of unelected schemers who devised an absurd constitution that runs to hundreds and hundreds of pages, setting out who gets to cut the cheese and how thin the slices must be.

Such a "constitution" can only be imposed, and anyone with a taste for freedom and the self-respect freedom imparts, instinctively rebels. The European elites insist they admire Jefferson and our Founding Fathers, but they clearly do not understand what happens when Jefferson's ideas are unleashed.

The people always understand what the elites don't. Can 54.88 percent of 50 million Frenchmen be wrong?

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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