The French and Dutch people have cast their vote.
They have elected, by surprisingly large margin, not to accept
the European Constitution.
From the beginning of the European project, France and Holland
have been at the heart of pushing for greater integration.
A 55 per cent vote against the adoption of the constitution
has come as a blow to France’s political establishment
and will present a major challenge to Europe’s politicos
generally, as they seek to discern where to take Europe next.
The constitution was intended to bring a greater clarity and
agreement regarding the values on which European societies
are based and to outline a vision for Europe’s future
role in the world.
In the end, it has so far at least produced disharmony and
confusion. And this is not because people have disagreed with
its core statements.
Most people have not even read it - and that should tell us
Much of the French “non” vote has been attributed
to a concern that the constitution was moving Europe too far
toward an economic free-market, capitalist block.
The concern was that not enough was being done to protect
mainland Europe’s protective trade institutions and
much vaunted welfare state.
I fail to see how a document which is more than 300 pages
in length could be described as favouring a laissez-faire
approach to anything!
The sheer size of the constitution should give us some idea
of which way the wind blows for its major architects.
They want to solve every problem, on paper, before anyone
This, for me, is a reflection of the real challenge facing
European societies today. They are so over-regulated that
they stifle creative endeavour, risk-taking, decision-making
and forward movement. Over the years I have lived in Europe,
I have worked with many young adult people in a number of
It has been nothing short of heart-breaking to watch, at times,
as some of the most creative of them have lost their edge
as they have moved into their mid- to late-20s or early-30s.
Their passion to establish new businesses and service organisations
has all too often been quenched because of a perception that
it’s just too difficult and too costly to bring change.
In the end, it’s safer to stay within the cosy confines
of the status quo.
Social democracy is a good experiment which has simply gone
Part of the problem is that too many people across Europe
are employed directly or indirectly by the public sector.
The social democratic model is purportedly based on the notion
that society should protect its weakest members. That is a
laudable ideal, but this is not the way social democracy is
working in most parts of Europe.
The primary benefit of social democracy is in fact the protection
of the right of the middle classes to enjoy a comfortable
lifestyle from cradle-to-grave, with a secure job, all provided
not by personal enterprise but by state regulation.
The problem is not the middle-class itself. It represents
the major part of most European populations - at least, that’s
true of the long-established European states - and its prosperity
is not necessarily bad thing.
It’s hard to offer help to poorer parts of the world,
if you can’t feed your own. Europe is able to offer
help, as it so often does so generously, because it occupies
a position of economic strength.
The problem is the safety-first, I-deserve-this, protectionist
mentality which underwrites social democracy. 'Don’t
rock the boat,’ it says. ‘We don’t want
you to challenge the status quo; we like things just as they
are. If you’re interested in change, do it somewhere
Political correctness, which is so rife throughout Europe,
is just another expression of this same ultra-protectionist
attitude. It says: if everyone is grey on all the issues,
there will be no bright colours left to challenge the rest
Political correctness kills reformers before they are born.
The most visible expression of a protectionist mentality in
society is burgeoning bureaucracy. Administration will always
expand to feed the number of people working within it.
Governments favour large bureaucracies because they provide
high rates of employment.
They also help governments to extend their reach into people’s
lives. Governments, by their very nature, grow. When a nation
has reached the limit of its geographical expansion, the only
way for the political establishment to grow is to increase
its influence over the people it already governs.
What we really need in Europe is not a 300-page constitution.
What we need is a return to vibrant, forward-looking, risk-taking
thinking which is not preoccupied with codifying or institutionalising
the status quo, but finding new ways to build on proven values.
We have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the end all
the Second World War in Europe. Surely, this is an ideal time
to recall some of the values which underwrote the victory
Europe is free today because so many people of that generation
adopted a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to changing the future,
rather than drifting along with the comfortable tide or protecting
the status quo.
So many of them took an attitude of self-sacrifice, rather
than myopic, consumerist, self-interest which maintains the
In Europe, what we should be saying ‘non’ to is
an attitude which says that the rest of the world owes us
In Europe, we have an opportunity to become a voice of freedom
and creative enterprise in the world – with social responsibility.
We must roll up our sleeves again and set out to build better
communities, rather than just enjoying a comfortable personal
Fletcher is the founder and director of Next Wave International,
a Christian mission to contemporary cultures
with a special focus on Europe.
with permission from www.nextwaveonline.com.
Copyright Mal Fletcher 2005.
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