Interview

‘THERE’S AN EERIE ECHO OF THE FAILURE OF MEECH LAKE’

KEITH SPICER

JOHN GEDDES June 13 2005
Interview

‘THERE’S AN EERIE ECHO OF THE FAILURE OF MEECH LAKE’

KEITH SPICER

JOHN GEDDES June 13 2005

‘THERE’S AN EERIE ECHO OF THE FAILURE OF MEECH LAKE’

Interview

THEMACLEAN'SINTERVIEW

KEITH SPICER

IN FRANCE and Holland last week, voters rejected a new European Union constitution, sending an angry message to their politicians and blocking the next stage of European integration. Among Canadians with a ringside seat was Keith Spicer, the former chairman of the CRTC. Spicer, who lives in Paris, is director of the Institute for Media, Peace and Security, a branch of the UN’s University for Peace. In 1990-91, he headed the Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future to study the collapse of the Meech Lake constitutional accord.

What’s the mood in Europe following the referendums in France and Holland?

It’s like an earthquake. The politicians are the Earth’s crust and the people are the

tectonic plates. We have incredible anger at the elites here. There’s an eerie echo of the failure of the Meech Lake accord on our own constitution.

Where do you see the parallels?

Same as in Meech Lake, the politicians here put legalisms before a shared dream. In both cases, there were secret meetings of leaders, which angered the people. Then came massive disavowal of elites—the politicians, the press, experts of all kinds.

What’s at the root of French discontent over EU expansion and integration?

Unemployment has been a cancer here for decades. It’s been over 10 per cent for years. For younger people, it really seems hopeless, so there’s great anger at President Jacques Chirac over the lack of jobs. A number of high-profile cases have seen factories moving to Eastern Europe.

Can’t they argue that a more dynamic Europe will help the French economy?

A major failure of Chirac and the centreright in general is that they didn’t dare sell Europe on its free-market vitality. They pander to what I call neo-Marxist fears—if business is happy with something, there must be something wrong with it. Many people say, ‘Well, we have to start with stategenerated jobs.’ It’s astounding: people actually think that jobs are created by the state. One problem is that French politics is packed with civil servants. They haven’t the slightest idea of how a free-market economy works. They couldn’t run a newspaper kiosk.

What about Holland?

Once again, a strongly anti-elite vote. And there is specific Dutch objection that their contributions per capita to the European Union are the highest. However, there is not the same unemployment problem. In fact, Holland has found a balance between economic stimulus and social protection.

Why feel uneasy about the EU then?

It’s a matter of identity and multiculturalism. Traditional Dutch are feeling overwhelmed by immigration, particularly Muslim immigration. Although Holland is renowned for its tolerance, it is not limitless.

Can the EU win back the people’s favour?

The EU is disconnected from people. I’ve never heard anyone from those massive glass buildings in Brussels get out and sell the EU. Very few people could name their European member of parliament. There’s nobody selling the dream. JOHN GEDDES