When French voters rejected the draft European Union constitution drawn up by former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, his successor Jacques Chirac reverted to the cornerstone of French policy for the past 400 years: Blame it on “les Anglo-Saxons.” His people had rejected the constitution not because of its limits on French sovereignty, he decided, but because the constitution was too liberal, imposing free markets and other elements of the dreaded Anglo-American economic system on an unwilling French public. Ignoring that his country had just plunged the EU into a crisis, he immediately precipitated another one by attacking Tony Blair very publicly at the recent EU summit. The bell will sound for round two of the fight at the G8 summit today. This time, however, he will be throwing a few punches at President Bush as well.
The issue in question will be global warming. Jacques Chirac long ago hailed the Kyoto Protocol as “the first component of an authentic global governance.” By authentic, he presumably meant dirigiste, as its prescriptive demands for limitations on greenhouse-gas emissions that would artificially suppress the energy use that powers economic growth are certainly not Anglo-Saxon in intent. When Tony Blair announced that he would be making “climate change” a focus of the G8 summit in Scotland, Chirac could have been sure that Kyoto would be mentioned.
Yet it has not worked out that way. The U.S. Senate recognized early on in the process that Kyoto was not so much an environmental treaty as an economic one, on the basis that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck–whatever name others give to it. Now Tony Blair has realized that Kyoto is a dead duck. While Britain is striving mightily to live up to its commitments under the treaty, the rest of Europe isn’t. Nor, for that matter, is Canada. Or Japan. The only difference between these nations and America is that the U.S.A. is honest enough to say it isn’t going to comply.
Indeed, European ministers have been quietly shelving the idea of binding energy-reduction targets. On June 29, the EU Council of Ministers scrapped every binding element of a proposal to increase energy efficiency. The EU Commission had proposed a binding target of a 9 percent decrease on retail energy consumption by 2015. The parliament had increased that to 11.5 percent. Yet the Union’s energy ministers took out those provisions and replaced them with a nonbinding target of 6 percent reductions over a six-year period starting at some undisclosed date.
Faced with the president’s principled opposition to and the EU’s unprincipled disregard of the Kyoto agreements, Blair appears to have decided to concede defeat. According to British officials speaking off the record, the G8 communiqué on global warming will not include any reference to targets for emissions reduction or to Kyoto itself. Environmental groups will be horrified, and will presumably go through denial, anger, and depression before finally accepting that their Kyoto dream is dead.
Jacques Chirac, on the other hand, will see this as a perfect opportunity for a fight. He told French officials that he would hold out for a mention of Kyoto in the communiqué text and also a concession that the warming problem requires urgent corrective action (presumably of the sort Europe has been unwilling to take). Indeed, Chirac seems to believe that he can use Britain’s membership in the EU as a bargaining chip. A senior French figure told The Times of London on July 1, “[Mr. Blair] can fudge the issue by coming up with a compromise between ourselves and the Americans which suggests we agree when we don’t. And that will not fly. The other possibility is to say, without generating any crisis: ‘Britain, as a member of the EU, cannot say that we agree when we don’t.’ Blair has an opportunity to show that he is a good European and that, on a matter like climate change, he will not give up and have a compromise at any cost.”
This tactic is unlikely to work. Having attacked Tony Blair and Britain itself at the recent EU summit, Chirac has inadvertently driven Blair towards a Euro-skeptic position, something that has proved very popular in the U.K. As the Jacques attack was completely unprovoked, it is unlikely that the prime minister will be in conciliatory mood.
In fact, Chirac’s attacks at the EU summit and the G8 seem to have driven the Anglosphere allies closer together still. If the prime minister and president play this right, they will be seen as forward-looking, advancing an agenda and acting with global vision. (The British have now joined the Americans in conceding that the Chinese, Indians, and Brazilians must be involved, although somewhat eccentrically they are claiming credit for bringing the parties together.)
Chirac, on the other hand, should be seen as the reactionary, stuck in the past, advocating failed solutions while ignoring inconvenient facts. In that, at least, he is reflecting the views of the French people.
– Iain Murray is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.