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By Nathan Gardels

Facing the commitments of a constitution that would wed their fates to Polish plumbers and Turkish honor killings, the French and Dutch ran away from the future their paternal elites had charted out for them. Instead of saying I do, they said "No."

Is this rejection of an arranged marriage as great a disaster as it is said to be? More likely it announces proper anxiety over a step too far than it means a step backward. After all, Europeans will still be friends, not enemies. They aren’t about to go to war, least of all the French and pacifistic Germans. They will share the same currency, cross border cell phones and budget airlines as before. As a common public opinion, they will continue to oppose US unilateralism.

Certainly the no voters were right to doubt whether greater centralization in Brussels is the best way to go in an era of networked and distributed power. What does it add to what is already there when the trend of history is, in any case, toward devolution?

Like people everywhere, ordinary Europeans are incremental creatures with human scale horizons. They want to get used to each step forward before moving on. We all like to push the shock into the future as far as we can.

There has been just too much change too quickly for one generation what with all the fallen walls, reunifications, expansions, extinguished currencies, ethnic cleansings and murdered filmmakers. Where once there was Cold War, understandably now there is cold feet.

The larger issue looming over it all, however, is the sense of systemic blackmail globalization brings.

In the New York Times on Friday June 3, Tom Friedman scolds the Parisians from among the sacred cows and software engineers in Bangalore: If you don't shed your long lunches and welfare state you are finito, he tells them. Like the Indians, he says, you should give up your 35 hour week to work 35 hours a day!

Whoa! To be sure, Europe needs remodeling. Productivity and the slow food movement need to be reconciled. If you want the good life, you have to pay for it. But demolition is a reckless idea. Is it really necessary to swing the wrecking ball at the fruits of over a century of labor struggles in order to outsweat the wretched of the earth, albeit now aspiring, or stand up to the sole superpower?

It seems to me all the French and Dutch voters wanted to do was retain some grasp over their destiny-relative sovereignty-- and instill a more incremental pace of change. Is it such a crime to not want to surrender a good way of life entirely to anonymous forces, invisible hands or distant bureaucracies?

If Europe learned anything from the disasters of the 20th Century, it is that the middle way is the best course. Just as they chose social democracy over communism or cowboy capitalism, they’ll find a way to both savor their local goat cheese and pay for retirement without reverting to the primitive accumulation of a Wal Mart world order.

What's so wrong with that?
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