The French and Dutch Say No to the Free Market
June 2, 2005
Don't misconstrue the no votes from the people of France and Holland.They rejected the European constitution not because of the residues of primitive nationalism or the recrudescence of provincialism.
No, they've been among the leaders in the move beyond nationalism and toward European integration.
But it's the nature of that integration they soundly rejected.
And the defining characteristic of this integration is the worship of the free market.
For the last 13 years, the European Union has been governed by the Maastricht Treaty, which imposed a monetarist policy on every country and required crude cutbacks in the public sector. This led to "business failures, transfer of industries abroad, cutbacks in social services, reduced purchasing power, and mass unemployment," as Diana Johnstone has noted in an article posted on Counterpunch.
The drafters of the new constitution, apparently unfazed by the adverse reaction, insisted on prescribing more of the same medicine. Wrote Johnstone: "The principle objective of the Union, which conditions all others, is a ‘highly competitive market economy’ where ‘competition is free and undistorted.’ Experience shows that in practice, this means ‘undistorted’ by state intervention on behalf of social equality." And Johnstone quoted chapter and verse from the draft constitution. To wit, Article III-167: "Any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favoring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods shall, insofar as it affects trade between Member States, be incompatible with the internal market."
An editorial in L'Humanitè on May 30 put it succinctly: "Democracy has emerged the victor. Neoliberalism has been defeated."
But the mainstream media in the United States can't grasp the point and instead has to impute irrationality to the decision of the French and the Dutch.
The New York Times, the leading apologist for neoliberalism, put a "News Analysis" piece by Richard Bernstein on its front page on June 2 to scold the silly fools in France and Holland.
"If the political elites and most economists are right in saying that free-market reforms and more competition are essential for these nations to match their economic competition, then the ‘democratic intifada’ could rob the faltering core of Europe of the very means it needs to rejuvenate itself," Bernstein wrote.
But what if "the political elites and most economists" are wrong? That's a possibility that Bernstein doesn't even entertain. After that, he quoted four proponents of the constitution and the unfettered market—and not a single opponent.
What Bernstein and the mainstream media in the United States fail to comprehend is that the French and the Dutch appreciate social equality and value the protections that a sturdy welfare state has provided them.
The no vote, said the editorial in L'Humanitè, "is a call for building, as soon as possible, a Social Europe, a Europe based on solidarity, progress for all, a Europe that rejects the law of the jungle" and says no to a system "that benefits only those with the most capital."
The constitution would have left Europeans to the ravages of the market.
-- Matthew Rothschild