From Socialist Voice, July 2005

EU house of cards in trouble

The outcome of the EU heads of state summit meeting reflects the confusion and divisions within the ruling elites. They had hoped that the proposed European Constitution would have had an easy passage, with little or no discussion within member-states. They have taken the people for granted for decades, hoping nobody would care. That has now changed.
    The British have attempted to take full advantage of the political turmoil and the decided political weakness of the French after the result of the referendum. Problems continue to pile up, with a case now being taken in the German Constitutional Court in relation to the European Court of Justice and its enhanced and superior role in relation to national courts. They are finding difficulties piling upon difficulties. The role of the Irish government is one of hiding behind the Commission and the bigger countries, hoping that the storm will blow over and that they can get back to the ratification of the constitution as quickly as possible. This will not happen.
    At the end of May the French people voted down the EU Constitution, and a few days later the people of the Netherlands repeated the message and voted No. More than 60 per cent of the voters rejected this flawed constitution in the Netherlands, in one of the highest turn-outs in recent polls. More Dutch people voted in the referendum than in the elections for the EU Parliament.
    The political and media establishment have been attempting to spin the line that the people of France and the Netherlands did not really understand the constitution. But surveys in France showed that one out of every ten people had read the proposed constitution, and books about it were in the top three places in the best-sellers list in France since Christmas.
    We can be sure that one in every ten Irish politicians (and the same would go for journalists, trade union officials and others) who continue to write and speak thousands of words in support of this flawed document have read it. But then they never let the truth get in the way of the current political agenda.
    The establishment media have attempted to characterise those who oppose this constitution as narrow nationalists, and have accused them of deliberately misleading the people in relation to the neo-liberalism, growing militarisation and shrinking democratic accountability contained within it. This by inference means that those who voted Yes were internationalist and broad-minded, understood inherent democratic principles, and supported the construction of a “peaceful” military force and socially desirable economic policies. If you voted the way they wanted you to vote, you understood and voted with knowledge and consciousness of the issues involved; if you voted No, it was because you are ignorant, ill-informed, a narrow nationalist, or just downright pig-headed and voted for malign reasons.
    In fact it is clear that the overwhelming majority of both the French and the Dutch people voted for perfectly sane, rational reasons. Both countries have a very well developed social infrastructure, in health, education, and social services. They are aware that over the last decade these important social provisions have come under severe and sustained attack from governments of various shades. All have implemented these retrograde policies while saying that changes had to be made because the rules of the European Union and its various treaties demanded it.
    This is absolutely correct. Treaties such as Maastricht, Amsterdam, the Single European Act and Nice have all provided the political framework within which the next and necessary new set of clothes, in the form of this constitution, could be draped. The majority of people throughout Europe have never been consulted or given the opportunity to express an opinion about the direction the European Union is taking.
    It has been pushed through national parliaments without a lot of debate or the wider public being informed about its content. The debate was confined to the elites of Europe. An example of this was the parliament of Lithuania—now proclaiming itself free and independent—passing the EU constitution without even having a Lithuanian translation to read: the majority just voted it through, without even having the opportunity or even the ability to read it.
    So how could anybody from the political establishment be taken seriously? When Séamus Brennan, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, was interviewed on the radio it was clear that he had not read the proposed constitution either and did not understand its provisions.
    The ruling of the French Constitutional Court was responsible for the French people having a vote at all on this constitution. It ruled that this document would give pre-eminence to the European Court of Justice over the French judicial system. The ECJ is one of the most federalist institutions constructed by the European Union. What the EU elites needed to achieve with this constitution was, with one big bang, to break free of all democratic accountability or having to seek approval for any future changes they might require. The granting of greater powers to the ECJ would increase the number of EU “laws” (directives), which are already claimed by the ECJ to be superior to national laws. It is important to note that at present this claim applies mainly to commercial and some social areas now included in part I of the proposed constitution, and that this claim—among others—has been rejected by the German Constitutional Court.
    They hope thereby to circumvent debate and democratic accountability. If the European Union should declare an interest in a certain area, it would automatically fall within its remit, and national governments, national parliaments and national debates would be automatically excluded. The glass would be constantly filled with EU rules, displacing and precluding national laws and national debates, democratic discussion, and accountability.
    No doubt over the coming months the political establishment throughout the European Union will attempt to have the political thrust of the constitution brought in by whatever means they can find. We will get a salami approach: slice by slice. They will have difficulty in trying to force France or the Netherlands to vote again for some reheated version of this constitution.
    It is important to recap what the elites have already secured:
• Neo-liberalism is now imposed on us by the provision of the various treaties.
• The European Union now has two “Foreign Ministers.”
• There is foreign policy co-operation.
• The European Union has its own army, in the form of the Rapid Reaction Force and battle groups.
• It has its own police structure, in the form of Europol.
• It has a voting structure with increased majority voting at Council of Ministers level.
• Expanded areas are covered by majority voting.
    Some of the No opposition in France, in the form of ATTAC, have come forward with a number of policy areas they wish to see changes in if they are to give their support to any future constitution. These demands are in the main economic and are based on an economistic approach to politics. A number of them would further expand the power of the European Union over member-states.
    We here in Ireland should be concentrating on and building support for the essential demands to be made on the Irish government. For some of these we can find allies in other member-states. Possible areas in which democratic opinion can take the offensive and undo the strategy of the EU elites are
• the reintroduction of the national veto on vital strategic issues
• withdrawal from military co-operation and co-ordination
• defence policies to be pursued through the United Nations and the OSCE
• no co-ordinated imperial foreign and security policy
• Ireland to speak in such forums as the United Nations with its own voice
• the abolition of Europol
• subsidiarity to be determined by each state
• each state to have control over its national labour market
• the repeal of the Treaty of Nice
• voting in the Council of Ministers to be in public and made public
• co-operation based on respect and equality among nations.
    The context as well as the content of demands, be they political or economic, is very important. It is the same as applies to those who call for “class, not creed” in the north of Ireland, or the old “Sticky” position that economic struggles are central and are more important than the national or political struggle. What is needed at this time is for those who believe in national democracy and those on the left to push forward a more strategic political critique and to raise demands that meet head on the political strategy of the elites.
    It is only by linking economic demands and placing them in a clear political strategy that we will undermine the EU elites and open up the whole debate about the nature of the European Union, and in doing so map out any future relationship between the different nations and peoples of Europe. Democracy is the bedrock from which social progress can advance. This requires equality and respect for all the nations and peoples of Europe.

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