When the German Constitutional Court nodded with a stern smile on the ESM bailout fund and the Fiscal Union treaty, the world, or at least the politicians at the top, breathed a sigh of relief. Those two treaties, designed to keep the Eurozone duct-taped together, transfer budgetary sovereignty from elected national parliaments to unelected bureaucrats in the bowels of the European government. The Court attached a laundry list of limits and conditions, and after months of verbal warfare, the revolt of the Germans was over.
But suddenly, steam is billowing once again from the rusty pipes of the Eurozone. This time in France, where the Fiscal Union treaty has been silenced to death.
The only time the Fiscal Union treaty bubbled up was during the presidential campaign when François Hollande vowed to “renegotiate” the text that President Nicolas Sarkozy had already signed. Hollande won the election. The dust settled. And then, not a word. He hasn’t explained the treaty to his compatriots, hasn’t outlined the sovereignty transfer to unelected bureaucrats, hasn’t indicated which parts he’d renegotiate. Nothing. Nor has he renegotiated one iota. Even during his speech last Sunday, he didn’t mention it. It no longer existed. Yet, on October 2, parliament is scheduled to ratify the exact treaty that Sarkozy had signed.
“European coup d’état and rape of democracy,” howled Marine Le Pen, president of the rightwing National Front, and third in the presidential election, at a press conference on Friday. She’d be “the tip of the spear” against the treaty, she said and called for a referendum. Referendum, a dreadful word in the French political lexicon. No politician would ever forget the debacle of 2005. In parliament, the European Constitution passed with 93% of the votes. But in the subsequent referendum, the people, who loved their sovereignty and wanted to hang on to it, killed it by a margin of 55% to 45%.
She accused the two big parties—Hollande’s Socialists and Sarkozy’s UMP—of “perfect collusion” on the large topics that determine France’s “destiny as free nation.” With this treaty, the EU would become “the worst enemy of France and of all nations that aspire to prosperity and liberty.”
And the refusal by the Socialists and the UMP to debate the treaty? Well too bad, she said, “we will debate it with the people.” According to the polls, a clear majority demanded a referendum. National sovereignty and democracy were at stake. The treaty would put France “under budgetary guardianship”; and the policies of the nation would be guided by “dogmatic choices of the European Commissioners.” And so, she said, “the whole democratic edifice, which is already widely cracked, is threatened with collapse.”
She’s a bit out there. But the rebellion on the far right is coagulating with a rebellion on the left. They’re hoping to pull another 2005. Opposition to government by unelected European bureaucrats transcends party lines. The referendum in 2005 divided the Socialists (in the opposition at the time). Hollande led the YES side, and ironically, current Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius led the victorious NO side. But Fabius, expediently, has changed sides.
Yet Hollande is in trouble. In a poll taken after his nationally televised spiel on Sunday—the one that was supposed to turn around his presidency—53% of the French didn’t think he’d be able to deal with the country’s problems, 57% didn’t think he could improve the situation, and 58% didn’t think he’d be able to make a dent into unemployment. An equal opportunity disaster: among workers, confidence dropped 21 points; among managers and professionals, 12 points; among leftwing sympathizers, 15 points; and among rightwing sympathizers 21 points. From one month to the next! And now the confidence barometer of small and medium-sized businesses—the ones that are supposed to create most of the jobs—crashed 12 points in September to 84, the lowest level since its launch in 1992. It was at 129 in April during the campaign. Practically a defenestration.
The French are frustrated. If they were handed a referendum, they’d kill the Fiscal Union treaty. But in parliament, the treaty has rock-solid support from the UMP, which had negotiated it, and from Socialists who have circled their wagons around Hollande. Enough to ratify it. Hence Hollande’s silence. He doesn’t need to persuade the people.
Unless there’s a referendum. Opposition to the treaty is mounting. Even the fringes of the Socialists oppose it. So do the Greens, the Communists, the Front of the Left, of which firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon is co-president. He called for a referendum, just like Marine Le Pen. They butted heads during the election for third place, but now his big battle is no longer Le Pen, he said, but the Fiscal Union treaty that would “condemn Europe to austerity for life.”
An uphill battle. No referendum is scheduled. And without that common cause, it will be tough to mobilize the masses in three weeks to oppose a parliamentary vote on a topic that the rulers are still trying to silence to death. But Le Pen and Mélenchon are at least forcing the topic into the open. A petition drive for a referendum is next. And just maybe, they’ll succeed in keeping the unelected bureaucrats at bay—though it would require a miracle.
The referendum in 2005 was an unforgettable lesson for European politicians: don’t let the riffraff decide. Such matters are best handled by the elite—politicians, bankers, and unelected bureaucrats.