Our long and stable period of peace has led us Europeans to believe that we're living in the best of all possible worlds. Wrong! Those annoying, naysaying French might just screw everything up again, and all of Europe is wondering why. Well, Europe would know if Europe lived in France!
The reason this time is the famous European Union constitution, and the French referendum on it that the no vote is going to win. Or, perhaps, lose but only by an eyelash, which almost amounts to the same thing as winning. A slender victory will be a relief to leaders supporting the document but not much comfort, since they'll be forced to recognize that the opposition largely grew from unhappiness with their performance. In any case, the referendum won't be the victorious plebiscite President Jacques Chirac was counting on to make his mark on history unless he intended it to be a skid mark. I dare say, if President Chirac wants to secure his place in posterity, he'd be better off spray-painting graffiti in the Elysée toilet stalls than relying on the French public. After a decade in office, his popularity ratings are a dismal 39%, and the latest polls show around 50% of people will vote no on the constitution. So what's behind all the negative vibes?
First of all, the constitution itself. No one has read it, nor do they intend to. That's already a kind of warm-up rejection ahead of polling day. I received an e-mail version of the text all 364 pages of it, plus another 460 in annexes. Come on, I'm not going to read that! Is that irresponsible of me? Sure, but I haven't finished the works of Aristotle yet, and I'm not going to put that on hold to slog through a bunch of legalese by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Meanwhile, for the lazy or plain disinterested and often both there are "digests" condensing the constitution's main points into a mere six pages. Pretty cool, eh? Except I want to know who wrote these synopses, retaining and excising which parts of the constitution, and for what subjective reasons? If I can't be bothered to read the whole tome for my own good, I have trouble believing anyone would want to digest it for me without having ulterior motives.
The only option left to the majority of French voters like me is to trust the politicians. But we're not going to do that, either. Why?
Because we don't believe them anymore, and that loss of trust is total. It explains why the French are prepared to reject a document they haven't even read, simply because President Chirac and other pols have urged them to embrace it. Just how great is our scorn? Well, if Chirac or his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin a man who appointed himself chief of the yes campaign despite approval ratings of 21% were to ask if we wanted to win a lottery jackpot of 35 million, we'd answer no. How can you trust Chirac when he delivers antiglobalization speeches bordering on leftist delirium when he's abroad and reigns over policies dismantling social protection programs and public services at home? Why believe Raffarin when he calls the constitution "an opportunity for France" after his promises to cut unemployment have, in fact, been
followed by monthly increases in the jobless population?
Some 2,500 years ago, in The Art of War, the Chinese warrior-sage Sun Tzu wrote: "When a general is morally weak and his authority has lost its rigor, when his orders and directives lack wisdom, then his army becomes disoriented, and chaos is born." If France indeed votes no it won't only be the constitution that gets rejected, but the country's leaders and the chaos they've created as well. That's no doubt undisciplined of us as well as unfortunate for the constitution. But what's worse is that these big shots have mistaken a tornado of exasperation for a breeze of discontent. Until they reorient themselves back to voters, we'll just have to keep on screwing things up.