Workers will have to resist neo-liberal agenda
French and Dutch voters defeated the 2004 draft European Union (EU) constitution when they voted No to it in 2005. These votes revealed massive distrust towards EU politicians and institutions and shocked the EU member governments.
However, with sheer hypocrisy, the European capitalist governments preach about democracy, then when European people express their will it is ignored. Just before those 2005 referendums, Luxembourg’s prime minister summarised this attitude by saying: "If it’s a Yes, we will say ’on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ’we continue’."
Continuing they are. At last week’s EU summit, they hauled the constitution out of deep freeze and repackaged it as a "reform treaty" to make it appear as something different.
A recent Financial Times (London) /Harris poll on whether there should be a public vote on the new treaty was answered Yes by 75% of Spaniards, 71% of Germans, 69% of Britons, 68% of Italians and 64% of French. But to avoid calling referendums, the treaty is being called a "simplified" version of the original, is no longer called a ’constitution’ and has been stripped of some of the overt appearances of European identity, such as a flag, motto and anthem.
The main features of the 2004 draft, though, remain. There will be a full-time European Council president, a foreign policy chief, fewer national vetoes in the decision-making process and the EU will have "legal personality".
Decisions in the now 27-strong EU will be made using a "double majority" voting system involving the agreement of 55% of states ’representing’ 65% of the EU population.
This means a re-weighting of countries’ voting power that so enraged the Polish leaders that they strongly opposed it. They only backed down when they forced an agreement that it would not be imposed fully until 2017 and after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the whole treaty would be sealed without Poland if necessary.
Tony Blair (backed by Gordon Brown) agreed to lose the right of veto in many policy areas, but scandalously insisted on Britain still being exempted from some EU laws, including on fundamental social and workplace rights and on criminal law.
New French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, sprung a "coup" by achieving the removal of the EU core objective of "free and undistorted competition", a central clause that had existed over the EU’s entire 50 years. Sarkozy wants to give French workers the idea that he is removing the neo-liberal content of the treaty and is giving protection to French industry and jobs.
In reality, though, he is going to pursue a brutal neo-liberal agenda in France. His stance amounted to demagogic posturing aimed at a French audience together with preparedness to defend the interests of French big business, and European business to some extent too.
He got away with his manoeuvre because the most ardent EU neo-liberalists know that the goal of unfettered trade is still mentioned in 13 other places in EU legislation.
However, this did not prevent an outcry from many capitalist representatives. One leading anti-trust lawyer described the change as a "catastrophe". Other top lawyers argue – probably correctly – that the change will make it harder to stop protectionism, state aid and cartels.
John Cridland of the CBI, the UK bosses’ organisation, complained: "It is not just a cosmetic change – it represents a long-term threat to free competition and will strengthen the hand of protectionists within the EU in the years ahead".
For the ruling classes, this goes against one of the main purposes of the EU, to have a single market in order to strengthen European companies against those of non-European world powers. They also want the advantages of having a common border and they want the EU to be a weapon against the working class and therefore be an aid to privatisation, welfare cuts, deregulation etc.
For a socialist Europe
As always at these summits, national interests came constantly into play. The hostile bartering culminated in a huge row in the final early-hours session, before ’agreement’ was declared.
While hurling around recriminations, they also all want to appear to occupy the moral high ground. For instance Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, complained about the "lack of common European spirit" and said: "Allow me to be embittered by the spectacle I find before me".
Most of the 490 million people in the EU are kept out of the debate and machinations going on. In any case, as Financial Times writer Gideon Rachman commented, the Reform Treaty is "almost impossible to read or understand".
The EU leaders’ intention is now to get it rubber stamped by the member states’ parliaments, to avoid referendums that might scupper it (though Ireland and Denmark are considering referendums on the basis that they think they can get a Yes vote). In particular, the Dutch, French and British governments are desperate to avoid referendums.
In Britain, some leading Tories have already attacked Gordon Brown for unwillingness to hold a referendum, but if he holds one, it could well be a No vote. Polls suggest that about a third of UK voters support exiting the EU altogether, and a further third ’don’t know’.
In one British poll, 55% of people either had not heard of the EU constitution or only knew of its name, nevertheless when asked if they supported having a full-time EU president, only 14% said Yes. Only 10% support EU law over-riding British law (as it does on many issues).
British people should have the opportunity to vote against this latest anti-working class treaty, together with Blair and Brown’s stance against adopting basic workers’ rights on working hours etc. Working-class people throughout Europe are right to be suspicious of the EU leaders’ intentions.
No support should be given to any of the projects of the capitalist EU, nor to the pro-capitalist euro-sceptics who promote a more nationalist agenda.
Workers want jobs and living standards to be protected and improved, but neither free trade nor protectionism is the answer.
The only answer is to fight for a socialist Europe. The European working class, acting together, will need to achieve a situation where all treaties will be fully and democratically debated and designed to serve the interests of an overwhelming majority of Europe’s 728 million people, rather than the interests of the capitalist elites.