The situation in France is very perplexing, especially if you are British. The French people may well vote Non in the constitutional referendum next Sunday, which would be a development with incalculable consequences for the future of Europe. But the French will vote Non for reasons that make no sense at all in Britain. The British No campaign urges opposition to the constitution because it threatens too much central control. The French are voting Non in such large numbers because they fear the exact opposite — a weakening of the command state.
The British No campaign warns of a new wave of regulation that will damage British industry and commerce. But the French Non voters are convinced that they will give away cherished rights and immunities for workers if they sign up to the constitution.
Many French believe that this constitution is part of some wicked Anglo-Saxon plot to take over Europe and attack the inalienable right of the French working man to a 35-hour week, limitless holidays and to be generally bloody-minded and bone idle.
I arrived in France in time for one of the country’s numerous bank holidays, Whit Monday. This has just been abolished by the French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and needless to say the mood in the country was mutinous. Workers were pulled out on strike in defiance of this feeble attempt to impose a tiny measure of control on Gallic working practices. In a humiliating about-turn, the government instantly gave in and the French have got their Whit Monday break back again in time for next year. Basically the Non campaign represents a prodigious explosion of fury against modernity, all inchoately focused on the constitution. For the last half century it has been quite reasonable for Frenchmen to conclude that the EU was a guarantee of job security and future prosperity.