Europe: A constitution of further cuts and attacks

Amid an increasing crisis the rulers of EU countries are attempting to agree on a constitution. The proposal of this so called convention was presented on Friday 14 June. Its aim is further integration of economic policy, foreign affairs and military cooperation.

All 105 representatives from the whole of the EU voted in favour of the draft proposal from the former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, including Kenneth Kvist from the Left Party (former Communist Party) of Sweden. This proposal will now be reworked at the summit in Thessaloniki in Greece 20 June. This will be followed by a governmental conference, starting in October and lasting until next spring. It’s easy to predict that much of the draft constitution will be rewritten as a result of an intense power struggle.

From the end of the 1990s the summits of governmental heads and presidents (the European Council) has taken the lead within the EU. It is the European Council which decides on new projects (euro, enlargement) and targets (deregulation and privatisation programmes), while the EU Commission in Brussels has become more of an agency following up decisions. It was the Council which decided on the so called stability pact, but it is the Commission which monitors the budget deficits, threatens countries which break the regulations with fines etc.

D’Estaing and the convention have continued in this direction. The Council will get a full time president, with a two and a half year mandate. This will replace the present rotating presidency, where for example the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is president for the second half of 2003.

Coordinated economic attacks

For workers and maybe particularly pensioners the most important part of the new proposal is that economic policies within the eurozone should be further coordinated. The aim of the different European ruling classes is to use the proposals of coordinated Europe-wide economic policies – in reality vicious attacks on living standards of the majority – in order to force the working class in their own countries to accept these measures. This has already been shown in France and Germany. However, the ability of the ruling class in any European to implement such attacks depends on the success of the working class in defeating them rather than on whether legislation or common economic policy agreements between EU governments are in place.

The central bank of the EU, the ECB, predicts economic growth of only 0.7 per cent this year, down from 1.4 per cent in previous prognosis. The ECB boss, Wim Duisenberg, pointed to pensions as a cost which had to be reduced. This is the kind of ’coordination’ the draft constitution envisages.

Also "employment policies" are to be coordinated more. This means more temporary, insecure jobs, particularly hitting women and young workers. Both employment and economic policy, as well as trade issues, are handled by the Commission. The European Parliament gets a certain role in law-making, but mainly remains a highly paid talk-show.

The euro and labour markets are issues upon which the governments and the EU Commission so far agree. Tougher battles have been going on in the 15 months of the convention regarding the division of power within the EU. Governments of smaller EU states have been named both "European brakes" and "conservative fronts" by politicians and papers in France and Germany.

The proposals of the convention represent compromises in order to reach consensus. All governments are apparently supporting the idea of a new president and a new foreign minister of the EU. But the struggle over who it should be remains.

The exact power of the new EU president depends on the respective governments. At the moment the EU is experiencing "a period of deep splits within the enlarged EU family", commented a Swedish EU expert, Rolf Gustavsson. These splits during the spring have spread from the position on the US war to economic issues and agricultural policies. Therefore, the new president could end up as powerless as the present president of the Commission, Romano Prodi.

"More efficient"

The aim of the ruling classes of Europe as far as the new EU constitution is to make the EU "more efficient" when the member states increase to 25. From 2009 it proposes only 15 full Commissioners, rotated between the member states.

Another proposal is that consensus decisions will not be needed on certain issues. It will be enough with a qualified majority (a majority of states with more than 60 per cent of the population). But this abolition of a de facto veto for all member states still leaves open which issues should be concerned.

The Maastricht treaty of 1991 had as a stated aim a common foreign policy as part of the treaty. The deep split over the war on Iraq shattered any illusions in a common position on really decisive foreign issues. Now, the governments of Sweden and Britain are demanding that the right of veto should remain on foreign policy, security and military issues. The same governments are also opposed to a common tax policy. The Spanish and the French governments are opposing other parts of the draft. Madrid want to keeps its voting strength as a "big country" and Paris is fighting for its right to veto over film and cultural issues.

In Britain, the Sun screams that the Blair government’s "yes" to the draft is the "worst betrayal in our history". It is true that the constitution is aims to have EU laws which have predominance over those passed by national parliaments. And there are threats of sanctions against those who do not follow the new laws. Yet, this criticism from the nationalist right is a debate over which methods the ruling class should use to suppress and exploit the working class, through national or EU means. Workers and socialists opposing the constitution and the EU have a completely different position – we are not defending the present system.

In Sweden, the right wing editorials of Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet praised the draft as a "good result" and "nice work". They hope that a new constitution will increase the legitimacy of the EU and bring about further downwards convergence for workers and the public sector.

The constitution in itself does not decide the future of the EU. The decisive factors are the economic and political crisis of capitalism, and its contradictions, within the EU and towards other imperialist power blocks, as well as the struggle of the working class.

This does not mean that the issues are without importance. An EU constitution can never represent workers, pensioners, immigrants, women, youth and other oppressed layers in society. Socialists and workers must oppose all attempts to secure and legitimise the EU project of big business and the rich. Against the draft constitution and the jostling for power of the ruling classes we put forward a workers’ alternative, a socialist federation of Europe.

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June 2003