The French “Non!”: goat-cheese or anti-Semitism?

France has rejected the European Union’s constitution in a national referendum, in a blow to President Jacques Chirac and European integration. 56% voted against the treaty, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said, citing official results with 90% of ballots counted. The defeat, the first veto of an EU pact by a founding member, may kill the constitution, which requires the approval of all 25 nations. It may also end Chirac’s hopes of seeking re-election in 2007, after his failure to curb unemployment at a 5-year high. The result may set back plans by countries including Turkey and Croatia to join. The euro fell after the exit polls.

The constitution, signed by EU leaders in Rome in October, was the product of two-and-a-half years of negotiations led by former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing. It foresees an EU president and foreign minister, boosts the European Parliament’s power, and would increase the voting weight of France and Germany.

Treaty opponents, including former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, the Communist Party, anti-immigration leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and anti-globalization campaigner Jose Bove, played on concerns about French jobs and sovereignty resulting from the bloc’s expansion. Or thus is the gist of an account from Bloomberg, May 29.

News accounts of the vote invariably mention the vile Le Pen and the heroic Bove in the same breath, which we hope is abhorrant to Bove. Globophiles explicitly portray them as equally ugly, e.g. this gem from an editorial bemoaning the vote in The Australian:

There is something deeply disturbing about the French Left and Right’s ingrained aversion to so-called Anglo-Saxon “ultraliberalism” or free-market capitalism, scorned by many in both the oui and non camps in the referendum, from Chirac to the odious farmers union demagogue Jose Bove. As some academics and Wolfgang Munchau in a recent issue of The Spectator argue, this aversion is a variant of anti-Americanism and often closely related to anti-Semitism.

Gee, that’s funny. We thought Bove and his agrarian followers were concerned with preserving ancient methods of making goat cheese. In a May 23 BBC interview with agrarian “non” advocates in Auvergne, the populist yeomen (pictured with their goats and fresh cheese) note that the constitution’s proposed reforms to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) explicitly call for de-prioritizing food self-sufficiency and redirecting subsidies from small farmers to big agro-industry. Not a word about the Jews.

Le Pen, in turn, gripes (incorrectly) that the constitution’s ratification would mean Turkey’s admission to the EU and France being overrun by “non-European” immigrants–Turks, Roma from Romania and Bulgaria, and other “miserable native populations of the east.” (IHT, May 24) Despite these fears of the Gallic homeland being overrun, Le Pen has described the Nazi occupation of France as “not particularly inhumane” despite “some excesses.” These comments provoked a furor, but in a recent radio interview he refused to back down. “They say I’m too hard on the Arabs,” he said. “Now they say I’m not hard enough on the Germans. In our country people are not free to think. It’s scandalous that 60 years after the war, there’s no free expression on these subjects.” (Deutsche Welle, May 8) Not a word about preserving the proud class of small agrarian free-holders, and not a word about goat-cheese.

So this media conflation of principled and progressive populism with mere hateful scapegoating and xenophobia is a sleazy little trick. A little time with Google makes the moral and political distinction readily apparent: Legitimate fears of a world without goat-cheese, or twisted dreams of a world without Jews? A no-brainer. We hope.

  1. The wisdom of disunity
    In a post-vote assessment of the “non” campaign in the Moscow Times, “Saying ‘Oui’ to Democracy,” the astute Russian commentator Boris Kagarlitsky argues that it was precisely the refusal of the French left to bloc with the Le Pen crowd that won the day, outmaneuvering the Chirac propaganda:

    The media attempted to pound into people’s heads that anyone who was against the EU Constitution was in favor of nationalists, clerics and xenophobes.

    But the propaganda misfired. Leftists conducted their campaign against the constitution separately from the nationalists, and for precisely this reason they were able to win mass support for their cause… The socialist leaders who snuggled up to the official right-wing camp discredited themselves more with every passing day in the eyes of their own supporters.

    Predictably, this kind of political clarity is sorely lacking on our side of the Atlantic, where the notion of a “left” alliance with the xenophobes is only gaining ground. While Bove wisely avoided any appearance of a bloc with Le Pen, here Ralph Nader has been actively wooing followers of the vile Pat Buchanan. George Szamuely of the reactionary New York Press has even called for a Nader-Buchanan presidential ticket, in a commentary on-line at (one of the worst offendors in this kind of dangerous and muddled thinking).

    Kagarlitsky now predicts that Dutch voters will similarly reject the EU constitution. He also asserts that German voters would have done the same if they’d been afforded a referendum; instead the “issue was decided behind the closed doors of the parliament” in the Federal Republic. He concludes happily: “The French referendum is sending us back to square one, and the discussion of constitutional propositions for Europe will start anew. In other words, [the French voters] have put the substance back in the democratic process.”

    Those who don’t understand what makes Buchanan vile are invited to read our last post on the rascal before posting any ill-informed blather here. OK? And ditto Le Pen.