Monday, June 13, 2005

My E.U. vacation

What I learned reading the European constitution on a French beach in the Caribbean:


The French referendum on the E.U. constitution was a story that demanded to be viewed and understood from a thoroughly European perspective, so I went on vacation. Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, is a full-fledged departement of France. Here the European Union could be contemplated as the socio-politico-economic masterwork of a civilization, an edifice of human hope. And never mind that previous attempts to unify Europe by Hitler, Napoleon, and Attila the Hun didn't work out, it had been a cold, rainy spring in New England.

At passport control there were two lines. One official sat complacently in a booth doing nothing until all the E.U. citizens had been processed at another booth by a second official who, in turn, sat complacently doing nothing until the first official had finished. When, at last, the first official examined a non-E.U. passport he walked across the aisle to the second official's booth, borrowed the visa stamp, walked back, stamped the passport, and returned the stamp to his colleague. He did the same thing for each subsequent passport. At Customs, on the other hand, there were no officials.

All around the island billboards read "OUI" or "NON." They were equal in number and identical in color and typography. The fairness doctrine debates of America must have hit home in the E.U. Obviously rigorous, uniform rules on campaign media had been instituted. I mentally composed several indignant paragraphs about how John McCain will be advocating this soon in the United States before I noticed the billboards were advertising a cell phone company. Say "NON" to service charges, "OUI" to free minutes.

Real pro and con referendum posters had to be looked for. They were on special hoardings outside of schools and municipal offices where pasting up of expressions of free speech was officially sanctioned. Campaign rhetoric had a certain subtle, European sophistication. At least I guess so. The slogan on one "Oui" poster was "L'Europe--a besoin de notre."

According to the dictionary I bought for high school French, this translates as "The Europe--to, at, in, on, by or for need, want or necessity of ours." Continue here (The Weekly Standard, 13 June 2005).