October 2011        

Bogus progressive stance on “social Europe”

A very perceptive comment on the process of European integration appeared recently in the “Charlemagne” column of the Economist. It acknowledged that, with the euro-zone crisis, “the limits of [Jean] Monnet’s method are being reached.
     “Governments are running out of modest steps that can be passed off as technocratic fixes. Short of an unexpected change in the markets, or a sudden return to growth, they must confront a fundamental political decision: if the euro area wishes to avoid the nuclear option of complete disintegration, it will have to make the leap towards fiscal union.
     “Once this decision is taken, other arguments over, say, Eurobonds might be settled. Either way, it is time to set Monnet aside. Tell voters what the real choices are.”
     What the writer is conceding is that the process of building a Europe-wide EU state has been carried through by deception, constructed on the basis of a series of treaties that have been represented to the public in member-states as necessary and desirable for economic growth and jobs and more broadly for the development of a “social Europe.”
     The real state-building aim has been subscribed to only by the political, economic and bureaucratic interests that are behind the project. It has not been agreed by the citizens of the different countries of Europe. Nothing suggests that this situation is going to alter, or that the people are going to be told the whole story.
     The result of this deception? Member-states face into the crisis with their national democracy and national independence hollowed out and made meaningless. This is particularly acute for smaller countries, such as Ireland.
     The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, provides that from 2014 onwards law-making in the EU will be put on a straight population basis, just as in any state.
     From 2014 EU laws will be passed if there is a majority of 15 member-states out of the 27 in favour, as long as the 15 comprise 65 per cent of the EU’s total population of some 500 million. Germany and France between them have one-third of the EU’s population.
     This change will effectually double Germany’s voting weight in making EU laws from its present 8 per cent to 16 per cent. It will increase France’s, Britain’s and Italy’s voting weight from their present 8 per cent each to 12 per cent each.
     The Irish state, with its 4½ million people, will have less than 1 per cent voting weight in making EU laws.
     The EU now makes well over half the laws for its member-states each year. This means that the parliaments and citizens of the member-states no longer make most of the laws they must obey. It is the EU, not their own national governments, that decides their basic economic, social and foreign policies.
     EU laws are made primarily by the Council of Ministers in Brussels. This consists of a government minister from each member-state, with the ministers from the big states having several times more votes than those from small states. The Council of Ministers makes EU laws on the basis of proposals from the non-elected European Commission in Brussels.
     The European Parliament cannot legislate as a normal democratic parliament does. It cannot initiate any EU law but can only amend laws that come from the Council and Commission, and as long as the latter agree.

And the next stage?

The next stage is getting an amendment to the EU treaties ratified by each of the 27 member-states that will allow the 17 euro-zone states to sign a treaty establishing a so-called European Stability Mechanism. In Ireland the panic for the Government and probably for the Fianna Fáil “opposition” is that they might be forced to put the amendment to a referendum in the event of a successful Crotty-type legal challenge.
     The wording of the amendment reads: “The Member States whose currency is the euro may establish a stability mechanism to be activated if indispensable to safeguard the stability of the euro area as a whole. The granting of any required financial assistance under the mechanism will be made subject to strict conditionality.”
     Thus the treaty would formally subordinate Ireland’s interests to those of “the stability of the euro area as a whole,” even though there are no limits laid down as regards the “strict conditionality” that can be imposed on recipients of financial bail-outs from the fund to be established.
     And Ireland will be required to contribute some €11 billion in paid-up and callable capital once this fund is set up in 2013.
     Sssh, don’t mention the word “referendum”! The former attorney-general Paul Gallagher recently warned: “Referenda, particularly subject to the legal restraints in this jurisdiction do not always yield the most democratic results, particularly when you have uninformed and completely wrong assertions regarding the consequences of treaty amendments and the difficulty in explaining these concepts in a referendum context.”
     So the next time you hear trade union leaders and “left” politicians proposing, in response to our loss of economic sovereignty, that the progressive answer includes Euro bonds, “federalising the debt,” and “re-establishing ‘social Europe’,” remember that in reality they are advocating a permanent outside control over our budget decision-making, an end to what is left of Irish sovereignty.

And then?

The German newspaper Bild reports that the minister of finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, told a meeting of senior members of the Christian-Democratic Union (the principal government party) that a new EU treaty is needed for transferring further economic and financial policy powers to the euro-zone level. Schäuble is quoted as saying that such a move would be necessary “even when we know how difficult a treaty change is.”
     The noose around our necks tightens, and they try to tell us that it’s all “progress”!

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