An Invitation to Run against the Single Currency: Chirac's Call for New Elections Has Put the Central Issue of Europe before the Voters
Elliott, Michael, Newsweek
Chirac's call for new elections has put the central issue' of Europe before the voters. Who benefits?
IT IS AN UNUSUAL POLITICIAN WHO, when his supporters control 80 percent of the seats in the national parliament, decides to call fresh elections long before he needs to. Especially when his government is unpopular. Jacques Chirac, the president of France, has done just that.
Why take such a gamble?
Because the French state is being restructured in preparation for the rigors of European Monetary Union, due to be introduced in 1999. To be in the first wave of countries to use the single currency, nations have to reduce their budget deficits to no more than 8 percent of GDP. Chirac's government has slashed subsidies and benefits; but France has an unemployment rate of nearly 18 percent, so this has been roundly hated. Now the president seeks a new mandate for yet more austerity, in elections whose first round will be in late May.
"We've got to let the people he heard again," said Chirac in an address last week, "so they eau state their position clearly."
Admirable: but what if the people reply to this invitation with some Gallic phrase unprintable in a family magazine? That would then prove that the gap between popular and elite sentiment on the future development of Europe had become dangerously large; reverberations would echo around the Continent. For the establishments of Germany, France, most of the other Continental nations-- and for a chunk of the British one, too-- "Europe" has become a fixation. Only ties that bind the countries of the European Union ever closer together, it is said, can stop Germany from dominating the Continent once more. The best available tie is a single currency. So it has become an article of faith that the new currency, or euro, must he introduced on schedule. All of which has a flaw: it's not certain that ordinary voters are on board.
In Britain, the issue has dominated the last weeks of the general-election campaign. John Major, the beleaguered prime minister, got a lift in the polls when he adopted a more Euro-skeptic line. Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party, went into rapid-response mode. "I am a British patriot," he said. "I will always put the interests of my country first."
Other Europeans have come to expect the British to wrap themselves in the Union Jack. But what if the Germans, champion Euro-fanatics, had a rethink about the future? …