The EU Constitution, the Chunnel — Two Bad Ideas From France

The military historian Anthony Beevor (author of this and this) has a good op-ed in today’s New York Times. Beevor notes that Blair is facing the biggest political challenge of his life with a referendum on the EU Constitution, with 70% of the electorate opposed to it:

The decision over the Constitution is probably the most important Britain has faced since World War II. I will vote against it for several reasons. Most important, a genuinely democratic constitution, like that of the United States, defines the limits of power of the state over the individual. Yet the draft European Constitution is almost entirely about amassing power for a superstate. It is antidemocratic, dangerous and throughly out of date.

Beevor also has strong and sensible criticism of the Brussels regime:

And above all, a European superstate is out of date at a time when globalization demands flexibility. No wonder German and French industries are terrified of their inability to compete with the Asian economies. Perhaps the most depressing characteristic of the Brussels Mentality is its urge to meddle. It is a prime example of what I call the first law of bureau-dynamics. The desire to regulate becomes self-perpetuating, because bureaucrats who are not seeking to introduce further controls are clearly not doing their job.

Strikes me as odd that the New York Times would publish a criticism of bureaucratic meddling. How un-progressive. But there it is.

On the same page there is a good critique of the “Chunnel”, which is now ten years old but has little reason to celebrate. The thing has been losing lots of money. The author attributes this to the failure of Britain and France to “forge closer links.” But this metaphorical language doesn’t really capture what he describes more aptly in the rest of the article. There are plenty of “links” between the countries. Air and sea travel work fine. There was no need for an immense infrastructure project built at taxpayer expense to satisfy a non-existent demand for rail travel. The French excel at these types of grandiose grandes projets. (Sylvain, did I spell that right?) These vast, expensive schemes are not meant to serve any vulgar end like economic efficiency or utility, but rather are meant to be overt symbols of the overarching wisdom and power of the French state.

The EU itself is a similar thing, but on the largest possible scale. The EU is not about what it actually, concretely is and does. It is about what it symbolizes. It is a gigantic piece of performance art. You are supposed to squint at it and imagine that there is an “idea of Europe” which is the essence, the deeper reality, behind the surface of a fantastically expensive, intrusive, initiative-strangling, unaccountable bureaucracy.

Let’s hope the Brits (and anybody else who is voting on it) wake up and reject this monstrosity while they still can.

8 thoughts on “The EU Constitution, the Chunnel — Two Bad Ideas From France”

  1. I am visiting Paris and am struck at how state-centered even businessmen are. The state is supposed to do everything here. The US joke, “I’m from the govt and I’m here to help you” would get no traction here.

    One fellow told me: The problem with Americans is they give voice to people (i.e. The People) who should have no say in the running of the country. They should leave that to those who know best.

    He also said (a propos a recent trip through Red America where he noticed all these fat, happy cowboys and cowgirls) There are too many uncultured rich in America. Those without the right education should not be PERMITTED to get rich.

    He was not joking.

  2. The Europeans just don’t understand America and what makes it great. As jn’s annecdote shows, most even despise the very essence of what makes America great (and conversely what makes Europe NOT great). That is why they are such failures at everything, they can’t even shamelessly copy America’s ideal of Constitutional Republican Democracy without screwing it up.

    We need to enforce our trademark on the word “Constitution” so that the honorable title cannot be degraded by putting it on their Eurotrash rule book. I don’t want the beuruecrats who crafted this monstrosity to be mentioned on the same plane as Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, Adams, Henry, etc.,etc.,etc. I don’t want our admitedly battered and somewhat ignored document to be insulted by being mentioned in the same sentence with that Fascist manifesto and monument to the ideal of supreme government power.


  3. “There was no need for an immense infrastructure project built at taxpayer expense to satisfy a non-existent demand for rail travel.”
    Not a single franc, penny or euro of tax money (French or British) has been invested in the tunnel. It’s a rule that has been imposed by Ms. Tatcher at the beginning of the tunnel construction.

    extract from
    Investors have called for state help from both the UK and France – something both governments have so far refused to do.
    French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien has argued that an Anglo-French treaty forbids state subsidies.

    — karibu —

  4. karibu, that is the general claim that has been made but it does not stand up to scrutiny for very long when every single train and most of the equipment used to do the work, the rails etc were provided either by state-controlled companies, or businesses where the state is a majority shareholder.

    For starters, the entire French rail system is nationalised. There is no way some private contractor can build rails and connect them to the state network just because he wants to. Never mind that you can’t dig tunnels to your heart’s content, even if you own the land on top of it – and a great deal of it is actually below firm land.

    It all boils down to what you define as “subsidies”. Officially, Airbus is now a private company. No subsidies, they say. Except that as a ‘GIE’ (Economic Interest Group), it pays no income tax. Of course, the BBC is the last source I’d expect to be able to tell the difference.

    As for Mr de Robien’s comment, it is typically French. Should some barely used yet expensive piece of the public infrastructure in a remote corner of the country need repairs, budgets will be busted and taxes raised for all if need be.

    But if the fastest Paris-London corridor needs some dough, we can’t do that. Because, you see, we respect treaties. Like the Growth and Stability Pact…

    That’s what France means by signing treaties : the following applies to everybody else. Especially if it costs money.

  5. While admiring central Brussels recently I remarked how astonishingly derelict it had been for the country’s citizens and its leadership to manage to lose the entire country at least twice in the last century. I was amazed at the reluctance to view this as a shortcoming in any way.

    The only response I got was an unconcerned observation that Belgium was a small country surrounded by larger ones, a fatalistic assumption that things do go wrong and there is nothing one either can or ought to do to prevent them.

    My conclusion was that the new European failures of the last century were less surprising than I had thought, and that the European failures of this century could easily rival them.

    Part of the problem I think is that European elites see themselves as so culturally entrenched or superior that they assume that they or their children will emerge at the top of whatever order succeeds the defeat of their current regimes.

  6. “My conclusion was that the new European failures of the last century were less surprising than I had thought, and that the European failures of this century could easily rival them.”

    should of course have read:

    “My conclusion was that the European failures of the last century were less surprising than I had thought, and that the new European failures of this century could easily rival them.”

  7. Karibu, I was going to say, “oh, I must have misread the article … .” But, I’ll just say, “what Sylvain said.”

    JN, thanks for that comment. It captures the French mindset perfectly.

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