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Jacques Attali was the top aide to French president Francois Mitterand. He is now president of PlaNet Finance

By Jacques Attali

PARIS — The majority of the French people are pro-Europe. A No vote on the European Union constitution can only prevail if the supporters of the E.U. vote against their own convictions. Why would they do that? Is it still possible to make them change their minds?

If the sincere and honest French supporters of the European project prepare to vote against a text that only unifies the existing treaties by adding a political dimension, it is because they want, through this vote, to protest against previous decisions made without asking for their opinion.

Such previous decisions include the recent E.U. expansion, decided in a rush; the ultra-restrictive fiscal policies of the Central European Bank; and the absence of a constituent assembly. All these criticisms are extremely valid — and I share them.

But they have nothing to do with the question being asked: Do you prefer the Treaty of Nice (the much-criticized treaty meant to prepare the way for E.U. enlargement that went into effect Feb. 1, 2003) or the Treaty of Brussels (the agreement on June 18, 2004, on this E.U. constitution)? Answering that question by voting No to another question would be to embody one of my favorite definitions of stupidity:“A fool is someone who says no because he forgot the question.”

To make sure the voters fall into this trap, supporters of a No vote are forced to claim that it will be possible, once a No vote has won, to renegotiate the plan of the Treaty of Brussels with the other 24 signatories. That’s an intellectual scam: Such a renegotiation will never happen.

If the No vote wins, the Treaty of Nice will stay in effect for a very long time, and France will be isolated. First, because no one among the countries that have already ratified the constitution will want to reopen this negotiation, and, second, because even assuming the other countries are ready to listen, the France of a No vote will be totally unable to offer a basis for renegotiation. Will it be the No of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the far right) or of Laurent Fabius (the left)? If a No vote wins, the Treaty of Nice, absolutely inapplicable, will turn the Union forever into a monetary zone open to all winds and politically paralyzed. The French No will mark the beginning of the end of the European project.

On the other hand, if a Yes vote wins, France will, and must, immediately put on the table the plan of a fuller treaty that would take into account everything this debate has brought to the surface, allowing Europe to progressively acquire the tools for a common social policy, a real democratic identity and a better distinction between what is constitutional and what is the expression of a majority choice.

In other words, plan B comes after plan A, not in its place. And those who claim otherwise are liars. In fact, never since I have been able to vote have I heard so many lies uttered by politicians. One day they will be punished for having expressed so many untruths, with incredible nerve and an immense contempt for the voters. They will be punished for mistaking them for reality TV spectators. And if they are not punished, it will mean that democracy is dead in France.

(c) 2005, Global Viewpoint
Distributed by Tribune Media ServiceS, INC. (Distributed 5/24/05)