The Corner

Remembering France’s ‘Non’

Writing in CapX, Dan Hannan:

Exactly ten years ago, the people of France voted, by 55 to 45 per cent, to reject the European Constitution. Their “Non” was followed, three days later, by an even more emphatic Dutch “Nee”: 62 to 38 per cent.

Across Europe, democrats let out a sigh of relief. It seemed that the federalist project had been definitively halted. For half a century, European integration had been pursued by the élites — by diplomats and bureaucrats and lobbyists and bankers and politicians. Now, ordinary voters had finally been given their say, and they could hardly have made themselves clearer.

Ten years on, what has happened? Every single measure — every single mea­sure — proposed by the European Constitution has been implemented: a European President, an EU foreign minister and diplomatic corps, legal personality and treaty-making powers for the EU, a “passerelle” clause to allow further integration without needing new treaties, more majority voting, fewer national vetoes, the whole hog — totus porcus.

The people had spoken. The people were to be ignored. Post-democracy is what it is.

Perhaps, it’s worth remembering what Jean-Claude Juncker, then the prime minister of mighty Luxembourg, now the president of the EU Commission, had to say at the time:

If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.

This, incidentally, is the same Juncker who recently “jokingly” greeted Viktor Orban, Hungary’s democratically-elected (but not uncontroversial) prime minister, as “dictator.” Chutzpah much?

Writing in The Guardian, Natalie Nougayrède, previously executive editor and managing editor of Le Monde, recalls how the French referendum went “horribly wrong” and advises David Cameron to learn some lessons from it ahead of the UK’s upcoming (2016 or, more likely, 2017) referendum on membership of the EU:

There is one more concrete lesson Cameron can learn from France. In 2005, French citizens were not so much presented with a choice as with a puzzle. Instead of keeping things short and simple, voters were handed a huge bulk of literature: a 191-page booklet, containing no fewer than 448 articles, 36 protocols and 50 declarations.

The intention was that votes should be cast in a highly informed manner. The result was utter confusion. Some voters felt threatened: if these documents were so complex that they could only be understood by experts, they thought, the government surely had something to hide. So how Cameron manages to present the results of his renegotiation strategy with the EU will be crucial. Dwelling on the technicalities of opt-outs and protocols may carry more risk than benefit.

Because “short and simple” is all voters can manage.

As an example, I presume, of what Nougayrède means by that, she earlier notes this:

I believe Cameron made a strong case for membership in his January 2013 Bloomberg speech, in which he first put forward his rationale for a referendum: addressing those who want to see Britain follow the example of Norway — a country which is part of the single market but has stayed outside the EU — he stressed that Norway “has no say in setting the rules” in the EU, “it just has to implement its directives”. Norway pays for being part of a club, but cannot influence what it does. It’s an argument that could sway many hesitant voters.

It’s also a lie.

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