Thursday, 9 June 2016

The French elite see their privileges endangered by Brexit

Call it choreographed, or call it a pas de deux, but two of the French elite are now making moves against a vote for Brexit. They have joined in Cross-Channel Project Fear.

First, on Monday Pascal Lamy, the Frenchman who was director-general of the World Trade Organisation from 2005-2013, started the warnings – or more precisely, the threats – in an interview on Newsnight.

He warned how tough the EU countries would make it for British trade if the UK voted for Brexit. He said Britain had nothing with which to bargain if it tried to negotiate its own trade deals with the rest of the world.

Before you consider the value – or motivation -- of the threats, pause and consider who was doing the threatening.

Lamy is a former European Commissioner, former advisor to Jacques Delors when Delors was economics and finance minister, and former advisor to socialist Pierre Mauroy when Mauroy was prime minister.

Delors took Lamy with him to be his chef de cabinet when he was made president of the European Commission in 1984.

During this time, Lamy became known as the Beast of Berlaymont, according to Jan-Derk Eppink, a Dutchman who was a top eurocrat at the time, because of his habit of ordering around even the most important fonctionnaires, telling them ‘precisely what to do – or else.’

That attitude can hardly be surprising. It’s how they breed ‘em at Science Po in Paris and at ÉNA, the two institutions from which the top administrators of the French civil service and top political leaders are drawn, and at which Lamy was educated.

(One reason, besides his tiny stature and foreign name, that Nicolas Sarkozy is snarky is that he was not educated at either Science Po or ÉNA,  the école nationale d’administration, merely the University of Paris at Nanterre, which is okay for la grande bourgeoisie but not for the administrative gratin.)

Unlike Sarko, this background moved Lamy straight in to be one of the 5,000-member elite who run France. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard mentioned this elite just a few days ago in the Telegraph.


In a piece on how spreading euroscepticism is altering the political geography of France, Evans-Pritchard says: ‘A clear majority is opposed to “ever closer union” and wants powers returned to the French parliament, a finding that sits badly with the insistence by President Francois Hollande that “more Europe” is the answer to the EU’s woes.’ (Hollande is of course another ÉNA graduate.)

Evans-Pritchard then quotes Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London: ‘It is a protest against the elites. There are 5000 people in charge of everything in France. They are all linked by school and marriage, and they are tight.’

How tight? Here is the other partner in this week’s pas de deux, Elisabeth Guigou. She joined in Lamy's threats, reported in Politico.eu today. The Brussels-based journal started its story with ‘a senior EU diplomat’ saying a painless Brexit ‘is impossible if we want to keep the rest of the EU present.’


The diplomat said Paris will push to make sure consequences of Brexit are felt ‘swiftly and severely to avoid emboldening anti-EU forces elsewhere in the bloc.’

Actually, you can bet that the ‘anti-EU forces’ Paris is most worried about are not those elsewhere in the bloc, but the ones in France: ‘The need to send a message is all the more pressing for the French political elite,’ says Politico, ‘with the anti-EU National Front positioned to make a strong showing in the country’s 2017 presidential election.’

Which is where Elisabeth Guigou starts in to join Lamy in the Cross-Channel Project Fear.
She is one of that 5,000-strong elite whose control of the political geography of France – and its privileges, its appointments to highly-paid posts which are beyond democratic reach, its offices in gilded Parisian hotels particuliers which once housed the elite of the Bourbon regime, most of all its network of powerful contracts --  is under threat by the Eurosceptic forces.

If the Brexit virus spreads, Guigou and the other 4,999 like her are dead.

She is the Socialist head of the foreign affairs committee in the National Assembly and told Politico: ‘Our president was right when he said that Brexit would have serious consequences…We will need to fight the centrifugal [political] forces, to show that we can draw conclusions from Britain’s decision.’

‘Britain will have to exit from all treaties with the EU.’ she said, ‘I think that process should go as quickly as possible, and it must not dominate the EU’s whole agenda.’

Guigou reached her position as one of the 5,000, you will not be surprised to hear, as a graduate of Science Po (this time at Aix) and in Paris at ÉNA. She was minister for European Affairs during the push for the Maastricht Treaty, then she was elected to the European Parliament. She was then involved in negotiations for the Amsterdam treaty.

She now also sits on the board of the Jacques Delors foundation known as Notre Europe. And who is president emeritus of the foundation and member of the board of trustees? Pascal Lamy, of course. 

They are tight, this 5,000.

All of which is one reason that the idea pushed by the official Leave group that the EU would be keen to keep open easy trade between a post-Brexit UK and the remaining bloc of 27 is wishful thinking; or at least, Anglo-Saxon thinking.

And that is exactly how the French elite do not think. More, it is exactly the kind of thinking which the French elite exist to suppress.

Sure, a quick, easy agreement for trade to go on much as before after Brexit is what would be good for businesses and employment in the EU. But the elite in Brussels and their separated-at-birth twins in Paris are not interested in business or employment.

They are interested in keeping intact the power structures on which they have built their lives and privileges.

Which is why they intend to punish Britain if it leaves. It is not about their revenge, it is about their own survival.

The demands they will make during the Article 50 negotiations will have nothing to do with justice or reason or good business. By rejecting the EEA-EFTA option as a staging post out of the EU, the Leave campaign have left Britain open to this kind of economic attack by the elites after Brexit.

The demands of the EU, driven by the French, will be framed with just one purpose. That will be to frighten eurosceptic voters – the Danes, the Dutch, the Finns, the Italians, and increasingly the French – to teach them that the pain and punishment of leaving would be worse that the pain of staying.

And without the protection being in EEA-EFTA could provide, Britain will be bare-breasted  before a firing squad.
If you doubt the French think like that, remember it was a Frenchman, Voltaire, who created Candide. He put the fictional Candide in Portsmouth harbour to witness the real execution of the British Admiral Byng.

Reason for the brutality against an Englishman? Voltaire understood. It was just pour encourager les autres.

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