European Affairs

European Leaders Should Stop Scapegoating EU     Print Email

L’ Europe n’est pas ce que vous Croyez [“Europe Is Not What You Think It Is”] Talks with Baudouin Bollaert
By Jacques Barrot
Foundation Robert Schuman, Albin Michel Press, 2007, 240 pages

Reviewed by Alexandra Chevalier

Jacques Barrot, a veteran center-right French politician who is vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner of Transport, sets out in his new book to tackle criticisms and misconceptions about the “European project” that have spread among his fellow French citizens. These grass-roots uncertainties surfaced brutally in the French “no” to the draft European Constitution in 2005, the year after he took up his post in Brussels. Barrot, who had been Minister for Employment and Social Affairs and then parliamentary leader of the Union for a Popular Movement, the majority party supporting the presidential aspirations of Nicolas Sarkozy, clearly feels a didactic mission to clear up the often wrong picture of the EU among its citizens, starting in his own country. His concern about the gap with the facts is evident in his blunt title: “Europe is Not What You Think It Is.”

What French people do think, Barrot explains, is that “Europe” is a distant entity disconnected from people’s daily lives. That is why in France, people like to refer to the entire European enterprise as “Brussels.” Dissecting these suspicions as they erupted in the constitutional debate, he takes up the controversy about the so-called “services directive” – usually dubbed “the Bolkestein” directive after Felix Bolkestein, a free-market Dutch politician-turned-commissioner in Brussels. It was aimed at opening up the service-sector market to cross-border competition – a change equated by many French voters with outsourcing and resulting job losses at home for the benefit of companies getting cheaper labor in some new EU member-states. Addressing the bogeyman of “outsourcing” in France, Barrot points out that only three percent of jobs lost in France are due to outsourcing. In fact, France as a country stands to gain. Like all Europeans, customers in France have benefited from price drops (and greater choice) brought about by the single market. More such advantages could be expected from a services-liberalizing directive and France, as the fourth-largest worldwide exporter of services, could also expect to gain exports (and jobs) from an initiative of this sort that facilitates access for French services to new consumer-pools. As a corollary, France would gain more its already-high inward flows of capital investment to expand exports (and create new jobs) in the services sector.

Barrot’s basic thesis is that France (and other European countries) cannot confront globalization separately and must unite their strengths to take on the multiple challenges posed by trade in the new global economy. Too often, he says, the “European project” is used as a scapegoat for the fears aroused by globalization and outsourcing: in fact, the EU has helped counter the worst aspects of globalization. He recalls that “the Commission imposed surtax on shoes made in China and Vietnam after demonstrating that these countries were practicing ‘dumping’ policies. Do you believe that a single state would have dared to do that?” France, under domestic pressure to protect its textile industry from Chinese competition, “was surely quite content to ‘hide’ behind the shield and competence of the Commission,” Barrot writes.

Barrot published his book ahead of the recent French presidential elections, clearly with an eye to avoiding an anti-European backlash in the campaign. Looking ahead now, he concludes with a challenge to France’s leaders: please, Barrot implores, let governments renounce the dual hypocrisy of using “Brussels” as the whipping boy for all bad news and of crediting Paris for any good news. Reshaping the reflexes of French opinion along these lines is the prerequisite, he says, for regaining trust and rekindling enthusiasm in France for the European project and for recovering momentum for it. In his campaign, Sarkozy continued the practice of scapegoating Brussels and the European Central Bank. He may feel that he can change his tone now that he is president of France.

Alexandra Chevalier is a Communications Intern at The European Institute.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 8, Issue number 2-3 in the Summer/Fall of 2007.

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