Eurosceptics are looking to the Paris mob to stop the single currency. They may have to look no further than the government. Douglas Johnson reveals the real reason why Jacques Delors did not run for presidentby Douglas Johnson / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
I would not have thought, said the old lady, that the transfer of Andr? Malraux’s remains to the Panth?on would have caused the barricades to go up. The barricades are down now, the lorries are rolling again, and we have all had another opportunity to consider the profound mystery that is France’s European policy.
Is France about to explode? The answer is no-at least not in the traditional manner of 1848 or even 1968. But it is not unreasonable to ask the question. Things are being stretched.
President Jacques Chirac spends much of his time in conclave with Chancellor Helmut Kohl urging faster European integration, while on the streets three out of four people are said to support militant lorry drivers who were at least in part striking against the effects of European integration. Few doubt that a clear majority would now vote against Maastricht.
The lorry strike illustrated how interdependent the main economies of Europe are becoming. An astonishing 85 per cent of Europe’s freight is now carried by road; if you block the roads in one country you soon create shortages in another. Blockades are against the spirit and the letter of EU law. But drivers from other countries caught in the dispute were surprised to find that French police took no action.
Yet the old principle still applies in France: if you are in trouble you turn to the state. And if an unpopular government was reluctant to use force to end a popular strike, it did at least intervene to provide some of the money to resolve it.
A government which is seeking to reduce public expenditure in order to meet the Maastricht criteria for membership of the single currency should not act in this way. The government has now established a precedent for other strikers which will further damage the country’s public finances.
So, in its cause, conduct and consequence, the lorry drivers’ strike had a European dimension. Was that not also the case during the near-general strike in November and December 1995? The government presumably feared that the lorry drivers’ strike would lead to a repeat of that episode. And certainly there were those who hoped it would. But one must not mythologise the events of 1995. It is true that the extent of the strikes was a surprise. When the government announced a freeze of public sector wages in September, it was…