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A great victory against neo-liberalism

Nicola Bullard

 

I just returned from the Bastille where, in spite of the rain, thousands of Parisians are gathering to celebrate the resounding victory of the "no" vote on the referendum on the proposed European Constitution. This is a great victory against neo-liberalism.

With the highest turnout in a national referendum since the 1962 Evian agreement to end the French occupation of Algeria, more than 70 per cent of France's 42 million voters went to the polls on Sunday. The final result - 55 % for the "no" - will precipitate a political crisis in the two major French parties, the Socialist Party and President Chirac's UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire). The Socialist Party was split over the vote, with the leadership adopting an aggressive campaign for the "yes" but with a sizeable faction of high profile members campaigning for the "no", including former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius who used the referendum to re-start his fading political career.

Rising UMP star and the main challenger to President Chirac, Nicholas Sarkozy, was also an passionate campaigner for the "yes". Chirac, Sarkozy, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande and former prime minister Lioned Jospin will all be faced with challenges from within their own parties following this massive defeat. The Socialist Party is likely to experience a major crisis and possible split: at the least there will be a shift to the left and the party will be forced to abandon its support for neo-liberal policies. Prime Minister Raffarin, though, is likely to be the first victim of the political crisis: polls show that everyone -- those who voted "yes", those who voted no and even those who abstained  -- want him to go.

The campaign on the referendum has been characterised by vague promises of a better future and threats of chaos from the "yes" campaign. The "no" campaign was far more complex: the extreme right wing National Front was for the "no", as were all the leftist parties, the Communist Party, the CGT (the Communist trade union confederation) and the social movements, such as ATTAC and the Confederation Paysanne lead by Jose Bove.

The key campaign message of the left was that a vote for the "no" was not a vote against Europe, but a vote against a financial Europe and for a social Europe. The victory of the "no" vote signals a major blow for the neo-liberal model represented by the draft European constitution, which, for example, guaranteed the right o the the free movement of capital but not the right to work.

In the final count, the "no" won by a clear 2 million votes, 55% from the left (from the Socialist Party and left) and 45% from the right (including the UMP, the UDF and the National Front). Seventy five per cent of industrial workers and 66% of employees, voted "no".

Although commentators, especially those in favour of the constitution, will argue that the vote in France is a vote against Chirac and the state of the economy, the reality is that this vote is a resounding vote against the neo-liberal project.


 

May 2005

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