- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

It isn’t on the ballot, but global capitalism is on trial as France prepares for a make-or-break vote tomorrow on a proposed sweeping new constitution for the 25-nation European Union.

The final public opinion polls continue to show French voters defying President Jacques Chirac by rejecting the treaty, amid rising fears that the constitution would shred the country’s generous welfare state and introduce harsh “Anglo-Saxon” free markets and unchecked globalization.

“That’s why you are seeing most of the opposition now coming not from the right, but from the left,” said Philip Gordon, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe.

Mr. Chirac, who originally saw the referendum as a way to cement France’s traditional dominance of EU policy, now is fighting a furious last-ditch effort to save the constitution.

Even if France approves the pact tomorrow, polls suggest that voters in the Netherlands will vote “no” on Tuesday.

The 448-article constitution was drafted to improve the EU’s internal operations as it expands into Central and Eastern Europe and make the bloc a bigger player on the world stage.

It would create the posts of EU president and a foreign minister. It must be ratified by all 25 members to take effect.

Constitution supporters got some good news yesterday when Germany became the ninth country to adopt the pact.

After the vote yesterday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was in Toulouse, France — home of the giant European Airbus consortium — stumping to a “yes” vote, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was doing the same in northern France.

Mr. Chirac’s center-right government, the leaders of the opposition Socialist Party and virtually all of the main French press outlets support the constitution.

Mr. Chirac made a rare, televised national appeal for a “yes” vote Thursday evening and the “no” camp’s six- to 10-percentage point lead may have shrunk in the final days, pollsters say.

Opposition to the constitution has come from across the French political spectrum, from far-right nationalists such as Jean-Marie Le Pen to the far-left Trotskyite party.

Their complaints range from fear of immigration and loss of national sovereignty to the constitution’s own complexity and dissatisfaction with Mr. Chicac’s domestic record.

An unlikely star of the anti-constitution campaign has been the so-called “plumber from Poland” — a figure symbolizing the influx of low-wage labor from new EU members and the dangers of unfettered markets and what Europeans call “liberal” U.S.-style capitalism.

Celebrated anti-globalization campaigner Jose Bove, a leading “no” voice, said, “Two hundred years ago, they burned down the Bastille as a royalist prison. Now we have a chance to tear down this neo-liberal prison.”

The capitalist backlash isn’t confined to France.

Mr. Schroeder faces a tough re-election vote in September after market-oriented reforms he backed failed to revive Germany’s economy or make a dent in the country’s 12 percent unemployment rate.

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