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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Battling over the EU Constitution

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Scott Simon muses on developments this week in the vote to ratify the European Union constitution.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Five years of enjoying being part of a French family may have given me a small understanding of why so many people in France and then the Netherlands this week rejected the proposed constitution of the European Union. French people don't like being lectured to, told that smoking is bad or that cheese should be pasteurized. Why would they abide even the possibility of being lectured to and regulated by a bureaucracy of Luxembourgers, Pols, Maltese, Portuguese and Slovenes? There was little music in the copy of the 380-page constitution that most French citizens received, no `in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty.' It read more like the world's longest refrigerator repair manual.

The vote against the constitution aroused a rare coalition of right and left, old and young. Older voters worried that the extensive social programs of Western Europe cannot be supported if they have to pay to absorb poorer countries like Poland, Latvia and Ireland. Younger voters worried that they'll never get the chance to take advantage of such programs. There are people on the far right, like Jean-Marie Le Pen's followers in France, who march in step with left-wing labor leaders who say that immigrants from Eastern Europe take French jobs, drive down salaries and dilute French language, culture and rights, like the 35-hour workweek. And there are people on the left, like the late Pim Fortuyn's supporters in Holland, who worry that many immigrants just don't agree with women's rights, gay rights and other human rights that have become so well-accepted in Western Europe.

Even now with the euro so strong, Europe doesn't seem to brim with confidence. Unemployment has hovered around 10 percent for more than a decade. The standard of living in Western Europe is about a third lower than in the United States. Even as Americans often envy Western Europe's generous state guarantees for health care and vacations, government after government, from the left and right, has had to retool or even cast off parts of those programs as Europe's population grows older, smaller and more heavily taxed.

Immigration into France is proportionately small compared to that of the United States, Canada or even London, which now has more immigrants than any city in the world. But French newspapers still abound with worries that their society is being engulfed by immigrants whose children are growing up speaking the English they hear in films, pop music and computer games. Americans can seem to have no sense of history. Europeans respect their history. But they don't yet have a sense of a shared destiny.

(Soundbite of "Why Does It Have To Be?")

Ms. EDITH PIAF: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: "Why Does It Have To Be?"(ph) by Piaf. Eighteen minutes past the hour.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small