My neighbours all voted against the constitution, but this was a nationalist "No-to-Europe" rather than the pro-European "No" of the Socialists. Meanwhile, Paris has not yet acknowledged defeatby Tim King / July 23, 2005 / Leave a comment
The mood in France profonde has changed in the few weeks since the referendum. Irritated by Brussels’s endless pettifogging rules, which seem aimed precisely at each of my neighbours, as well as by Paris’s general indifference to the death of the countryside, the people around here voted, massively, against. This was a nationalist No-to-Europe, rather than the more creative, pro-European No of the centre-left Socialists. There was immediately a sense of power and revenge: all those regulations on hunting, farming, hygiene would go. “We’re not a people who can be told what to do,” explained a member of a local council quietly. “When they even tell hunters what they have to wear…” In an effort to prevent them shooting each other, Brussels imposed fluorescent orange kepis on all hunters. As they came out of the polling booth on 29th May, my local hunt made a victory pyre of theirs.
But already heady exultation has changed to anxiety. Neither Brussels nor Paris has done anything to acknowledge “defeat”; President Chirac has simply reshuffled his cards and diverted attention by attacking Britain. The Socialists, that is the majority of those who voted against the constitution, are preparing a series of strikes for social Europe. Their battle-cry during the campaign, social Europe, is what, if anything, unites a now deeply troubled and divided country: France will not give ground on its hard-won and generous social protection, must indeed impose her model on the rest of Europe. Otherwise other countries will be at an unfair advantage. “It’s no good if one country is hobbled by one tax system and another isn’t,” an elderly Socialist tells me. “We must have the same conditions. We want Europe to be equal, with no disloyal competition.” So run the slogans: competition between member states is disloyal, whether it’s Poles competing for jobs in France, eastern Europe tempting French companies with lower costs, or British companies undercutting on international contracts. All create unemployment in France and must be stopped.
Unemployment is seen in Paris as the principal cause of the No vote. Although both Britain and Denmark have reduced unemployment in recent years, neither is a good model for the French. Britain under Blair is synonymous with l’horreur néolibérale; his success in lowering unemployment and raising living standards is not even discussed here. The most commonly voiced assumption is that he does it by cheating, with fixed-term…