2004 January 29 Thursday
French Leaders Show Foresight Supporting Anti-Democratic Forces

Just when I start to develop considerable sympathy for the French their leaders just have to go doing something to remind me how far American and French interests have diverged. Jaakko Haapasaloof Rye Beer has a link to a report of French efforts to resume European Union arms sales to China.

On Monday French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin urged his EU counterparts meeting in Brussels to lift the embargo that, he said, "dates back more than 15 years and no longer corresponds with the political reality of the contemporary world."

Europe is divided on this issue.

France and Germany are the leading proponents of dropping the arms ban, while the Netherlands, Scandinavian nations, the European Parliament and human rights groups oppose to such a step.

The French do not see democracy in Taiwan as something that is worth preserving.

"France's constant position for years now has been to support a single China," said Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

"When we said what we did, in no way were we intending to interfere in anyone's affairs. We simply stated again our wish that nothing should divide or complicate relations in the region. That is the wish and interest of all states in the region and indeed the whole international community," he said.

The Brussels bureaucrats would probably be wise at this time to reject this attempt by the French to lift the EU arms sales embargo to China. The friction it would cause in trans-Atlantic relations would be considerable since if Europe started arming a future US enemy (not that the US wants to call China an enemy) it would be hard for the US to think of the European countries as allies. The US response might widen a rift in the EU between the less and more democratic countries. Until an EU constitution is passed that pretty well cements all members states permanently in the Union it would be unwise to make any moves that would threaten that goal.

However, the French are looking down the chess board more moves and correctly recognize the need for the European Union to make common cause with anti-democratic regimes on at least some issues. After all, the EU is not exactly a paragon of democracy and clearly needs to maintain what is widely called its "democracy deficit" because of the very nature of the EU as a combination of very different nations, cultures, and speakers of many different languages brought together by political elites. The more democratic nations such as Sweden serve as democratic obstacles to further European integration. It is no accident that Tony Blair doesn't want the British people to directly vote on the next EU constitution revision since the British people would probably reject it if the decision was left up to them.

In fact, the EU is probably going to need to make its "democracy deficit" even larger because the need to stay anti-democratic at the EU level in Brussels is eventually going to have to be supplemented by a decrease in the democratic character of the various member states as the Muslim portions of the populations of some European states increases and the sense of a set of common shared values and interests declines. There are already warning signs flashing on this demographic trend with the French debate on Muslim headscarves and the widespread importation of Muslim spouses (the same phenomenon happening in Norway as well - see first update in that post).

Immigration is beginning to be recognized as a major obstacle to the continued maintenance of a consensus of shared values and interests in Europe. See this Februrary 2004 essay from Prospect Magazine where David Goodhart examines whether Britain is becoming too diverse. (also find the same article here)

It was the Conservative politician David Willetts who drew my attention to the "progressive dilemma." Speaking at a roundtable on welfare reform (Prospect, March 1998), he said: "The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties which they themselves could face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask, 'Why should I pay for them when they are doing things I wouldn't do?' This is America versus Sweden. You can have a Swedish welfare state provided that you are a homogeneous society with intensely shared values. In the US you have a very diverse, individualistic society where people feel fewer obligations to fellow citizens. Progressives want diversity but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests."

Europeans are not going to be able to maintain the EU project or the welfare state or even the liberal character of their societies unless they make their states less democratic. So far the political leaders in Europe have repeatedly shown a willingness to defeat the will of the various European peoples in order to continue to shift power up to the European Union. It should not, therefore, be particularly surprising when the top leaders in France make a bold argument for selling arms to China even though those arms would be used to intimidate and perhaps even attack the much more democratic Taiwan. Democracy clearly can not be as highly valued in Europe as it is in the United States if Europe is to become increasingly governed by a central government even as each European state becomes less homogeneous and less European.

Update: Do you think I'm exaggerating the EU's need for a democracy deficit in order to make the whole European multi-national state project happen? See a related post on the Anti-Idotarian Rottweiler blog about the problem that Danish direct referenda are seen to pose for the expansion of EU power. Watch out for proposals to add a clause to the draft EU constitution to strike out the right of member states to hold binding popular referenda on issues regarding the European Union. That would be the logical next step to deal with popular opposition to the EU in Europe.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 January 29 03:41 PM  Europe and America


Comments
The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum said at February 1, 2004 10:32 PM:

Feh! "Conservative" on that continent never meant what it's come to mean here (As Von Hayek pointed out, we're the ones who should be calling ourselves "Liberals"), but rather a longing for the days when monarchs were real monarchs, aristocrats were real aristocrats and commoners knew their place or died in Ye Olde Mediaval Torture Chamber. Monarchists doing what monarchists do best is what I call it. I suspect, that, if no outside political forces ever intervene, that within 120 years from now you'll have a Western Europe that's remade itself completely into the image of 18th century China. No surprises on the arms sales either. I seem to recall that DeGaulle had deliberately given knowledge of the Bomb to China so as far as I'm concerned that's like old times too.

Randy McDonald said at February 3, 2004 6:19 AM:

I seem to recall that DeGaulle had deliberately given knowledge of the Bomb to China so as far as I'm concerned that's like old times too.

The Chinese bomb program was an indigenous effort, with some Soviet aid at the start.

Wes said at February 5, 2004 2:33 AM:

Re: David Goodhart's quote of David Willetts-- a fantastic assertion that I've long suspected, but never really been able to formulate so articulately. Willetts is probably right here; for the kinds of entitlement and social safety-net systems of the West to be viable long-term, there has to be a sort of tacit, taken-for-granted, implicit cultural understanding among a nation's citizens so that there's a general perception of (roughly) comparable contributions to and withdrawals from the common pot. I dunno if such an assumption is valid for the US, UK, and France, which now have such a profusion of cultures and basic philosophies of government and society that such a generous social welfare system may be unsustainable over the long term.

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