SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

The EU constitution revived?

THE IRISH presidency of the European Union (EU) aims to get agreement on the new EU constitution at the next EU summit on June 17-18. Since the earthquake overthrow of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) government in March, Spain is firmly back in the Franco-German camp. Does this mean that the EU has recovered from last year’s ‘war with itself’, as the International Herald Tribune described it? Not at all. It just shows that the rulers will continue with new attempts to attack the conditions of the working class.

The most recent projects of the EU – the euro, the Lisbon agenda, enlargement, military cooperation, and the constitution – are all means of creating a US-style economy, including attacks on workers’ rights. The result, however, is a deepened crisis. Last year, the economic growth of the eurozone was only 0.8%. Public sector deficits are growing in all countries, with a majority breaking through the 3% deficit limit of the so-called stability and growth pact this year, according to the European Commission. Unemployment is rising again. Mass movements and political discontent have shaken or toppled governments in many countries.

The leading politicians and capitalists have growing misgivings, but with no alternative they stick to the original plan. On enlargement, leading EU politicians this year have stressed all kinds of problems coming up. "Controversial cuts, shaky state finances, political instability and unexpected difficulties in carrying out promised reforms", was how the Swedish conservative daily, Svenska Dagbladet, described the new EU member states. Poland and the Czech Republic have state deficits of more than 6% of gross domestic product (GDP). And in both countries, unemployment has exploded during the ‘integration’ process, from 3.5% to 10% in the Czech Republic and from 13% to 20% in Poland, since 1996.

But to stop enlargement would have meant even bigger problems, the politicians reckoned. The main aims of enlargement still exist – a bigger market, cheap well-educated labour, advantages over the US and Russia, and pressure on Western European governments from the competition from low taxes, etc, in the new member states.

New crises within the EU will inevitably develop, sooner rather than later. In these circumstances, how important is the new EU constitution? Wouldn’t a ‘No’ just mean that previous treaties from Nice, Amsterdam and elsewhere would continue to apply? That’s true, but there are still important reasons for socialists to say no to the new constitution.

Firstly, neo-liberalism is a cornerstone of the constitution. The EU is supposed to direct and coordinate economic policies even more. The draft constitution says the EU will "strengthen the coordination of their budgetary discipline and surveillance of it". This includes the Lisbon agenda of privatisation and attacks on trade unions rights.

Secondly, increased military cooperation and a common ‘security policy’ is included. Last November, the EU decided to establish its own military planning agency, supposedly independent of Nato. In Sweden, the government predicts that every fifth draft soldier will be involved in international missions in the coming years.

To advance further, groups of EU states can establish "permanent structured cooperation", including "multinational force groups" and "combat units". The effect will be compulsory, increased military spending, to "bring their defence apparatus into line with each other as far as possible", in the words of the draft. ‘Anti-terrorist’ surveillance and measures will increase and can be directed against refugees and workers in struggle.

Thirdly, the EU laws will have ‘primacy’ over national laws. This means a race to the bottom on issues like workplace security, the environment, etc. Generally, the new constitution promotes stronger power at the centre, with an EU president and a foreign minister. Immigration policy and trade issues are fields where the EU already has a common position, increasing the pressure on poorer countries.

There are still issues that could spoil the Irish presidency’s plan for the signing of a deal on June 18. One is the voting powers within the EU, despite the new Spanish government’s retreat. The present proposal means that the votes from three of the ‘big four’ (Germany, Britain, France and Italy) constitutes a veto. Another proposal means that ten out of 25 EU commissioners will have no voting rights in the European Commission. The Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, has predicted traditional all-night EU negotiations to reach agreement. Paradoxically, the pledge for a referendum in Britain will force Blair’s government to pose with some ‘strong demands’ in the negotiations.

For the draft to be implemented, however, it has to be agreed in all member states. But there have been No victories against different EU treaties recently in Sweden (2003), Ireland (2001), and Denmark (2000). Even in France in 1992, Yes won only with a narrow majority. There could be referendums over the constitution in all these countries, as well as in the Czech Republic, where EU sceptical parties have 50% in the opinion polls for the EU elections in June. Spain – remember the elections – and Portugal are other possible referendum countries. Not to mention Britain which, alongside Sweden, has the most EU critical opinion.

This debate has already created new political splits. The French president, Jacques Chirac, irritated over Blair’s u-turn, even hinted that countries voting ‘No’ should be expelled from the EU. Others, like the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, opened the door for an all-European referendum.

The establishment-run Yes campaign in Sweden is now fighting to avoid a sequel to its humiliating defeat in September. A referendum "creates fixed positions and spreads distrust", and leads to "infected battles", according to Dagens Nyheter, the liberal daily, which campaigns against a referendum. Distrust is not created by the referendum, however, but by years of cuts and increased poverty. It’s the privatisations and the privileges of politicians and the rich which cause these ‘infected battles’. A referendum can only speed up this process.

In Sweden, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden), supports the demand for a referendum. At the same time, we point out its big limitations. In many countries, the No campaign dominating the media will be nationalistic and even chauvinistic. Fortunately, this was not so much the case in Sweden, where the No to the euro campaign polled 56%. The main argument for No was fear of even bigger cuts in health care and education. The result shocked the establishment, but "the outcome did not get any echo or consequences in government policies", as a new anthology from some Left Party members points out.

The leaderships of the Left Party and the Greens, both supporting No to the euro, jumped back into the camp of the social democratic government immediately after the referendum. They continue to support massive cuts in councils and health care, as well as in parliament. The experience from the referendum in Denmark in 2000 is the same. A majority voted No, but it did not at all change the policy of the government. And within a year of the referendum, a ‘neo-conservative’ government replaced the right-wing social democracy.

To achieve a change of course in the interests of workers, there is a need for a real workers’ party, which not only says no to the EU but fights for a socialist programme, for struggle against neo-liberalism and cuts. To prepare for this development is one of the aims of the parties of the CWI in Europe.

Per-Åke Westerlund

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna,

CWI Sweden


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