When Yes Means No

Most commentators routinely assume that a Yes vote in the May 29 French referendum on the proposed European Union Constitution would be good for Europe and the EU. But there is reason to doubt the conventional wisdom.

The French referendum will determine the political fate of French President Jacques Chirac – not France’s commitment to Europe, which is fixed and immutable. If the French vote No, M. Chirac is finished. If they vote Yes, he is re-empowered.

Europe clearly would be better off with Chirac weakened than strengthened, even if it means a temporary slowing of the pace of integration.

Chirac practices the politics of “scapegoatism” and excuses. According to Chirac, France’s exports are lagging not because France is losing its international competitiveness – although it is, especially to Germany – but because of the strong euro. Likewise, France’s economic growth is waning not because France has failed to undertake necessary structural reforms, but because European interest rates are too high.