I can’t pretend I totally get the inner workings of the European Union or the intricacies of the planned constitution, but here we go…
Despite the overwhelming rejection of the EU constitution in referenda in Holland and France, plans are afoot for an “amending” treaty which will act as a constitutional treaty whilst allowing national governments to avoid holding further referenda.
The argument from the government is that the revival of the constitution is in fact about tidying up the rulebook and simplifying EU arrangements. No one’s buying it. If not for Blair’s 2004 promise to hold a referendum on the issue, the treaty would have been approved by parliament.
Socialists must be at the forefront of campaigns to oppose the constitution in the event of a referendum in the UK and should argue forcefully for withdrawal from the Union. The EU has always been an elite project and the logical position to take is one of opposition; it cannot be decentralised or democratised to meet the needs of the working class, it must be dismantled.
The position of the trade unions in the UK with regard to the European Union is somewhat disappointing; support for the constitutional treaty would be foolish and fingers crossed the labour bureaucracy will declare their opposition when it matters. Some trade unionists might be tempted to back the constitution by if it included of better labour laws for workers in an EU Bill of Rights which would override the UK’s anti-union legislation.
This situation will not arise, though: the New Labour government that has so loyally served British capitalism would not approve a treaty that would allow for greater workers’ rights. God forbid in this age of global competitiveness employees should spend less than 48 hours at work each week…
Public image limited
The EU is massively unpopular in the UK because, for an organisation that legislates on internal matters, it has a remarkably low level of democratic accountability: the directly-elected European parliament is a feeble talking-shop that resembles the British parliament since it is unable to effectively challenge the European Commission, appointed by national governments, which rules by diktat. This isn’t bourgeois democracy, it’s bourgeois supremacy.
This lack of openness and transparency has led to widespread suspicion, encouraged by the newspaper barons. Politicians are regarded as dishonest but the Eurocrats are portrayed as purebred power-hungry criminals.
This stereotype is not without reality: EU “harmonisation” is either a power-grab or an attack on the living conditions of workers. The European political elite deny that the EU aims towards becoming a “superstate”, but there is no doubt that this is the constitution will allow for the creation of a single, albeit federal state.
Opposition is growing, hence the determination of EU leaders to prevent further referenda by trying to pass the constitution off as an “amending” treaty. On the public perception of the EU, the former German President Roman Herzog observed in March of this year:
“People have an ever increasing feeling that something is going wrong; that an untransparent, complex, mammoth institution has evolved: divorced from practical problems and national traditions; grabbing ever greater competences and areas of power; that the democratic control mechanisms are failing – in brief, that it cannot go on like this.”
From trading bloc to nascent state
The EU already has its own currency and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for the creation of an EU army. The new treaty will create a permanent president and Foreign Minister, make it harder for member states to block legislation, and possibly abolish the veto on criminal justice matters. Tony Blair has already been touted for the Presidency job by his new friend, French President Nicolas Sarkozy but Blair’s people have denied he will pursue a political career after he steps down as Prime Minister.
The creation of an EU Foreign Minister paves the way for the creation of a single European defence policy. The worry, expressed by Sarkozy and others, is that without a further centralisation of powers, Europe will not be able to rival the US and China as a significant international power or deal with Russia as a bloc.
The Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice treaties have formally converted the European Community into the European Union, from a free trade body to a nascent neo-liberal state. The “amending” treaty will attempt to secure the European Union as a legal entity that overrides the laws of member states; in short, a European government.
50 years is enough?
The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 was the initial agreement between the six founding states of the European Economic Community – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, with the objective of removing trade barriers between these states.
Britain finally joined in 1973 under Ted Heath’s Tories, having been denied entry by the French veto during the 1960s and Harold Wilson’s Labour government held a referendum on remaining in the EEC in 1975. This was last time there was a referendum on an EU matter, unless you count the North East’s “no” vote to proposals for an elected regional assembly, which was certainly a policy favoured by the EU.
The progression from a Common Market to a nascent state has progressed slowly over the years but the arguments for European integration have not advanced. In recent times, the value of the EU has been weighed against the overt interventionism of the United States and the growing economic power of India and China.
It is argued that the EU has provided peace and stability in Europe (apart from the war in Yugoslavia) and has lifted the Iron Curtain dividing the capitalist and socialist countries in Europe: now many of the former socialist states and Soviet Republics are members of the enlarged EU and their citizens provide the imperialist countries with a ready supply of skilled and cheap labour.
In 32 years, there have been major changes to the political and economic situation in Europe, and there is now majority opinion against EU membership in the United Kingdom. If a referendum on the EU constitution was to be held in here, there would be an even larger “no” vote than in France or Holland.
Who likes Brussels sprouts?
The debate about the EU reflects sectional and national interests and in the UK it is informed by a reactionary British nationalism. Which is not to say that the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties are hostile to the EU, rather they look to Ireland’s membership as a model for how a small nation can succeed in Europe. Plaid Cymru has as its first aim to attain full member status in the European Union and the Scottish National Party are keen to see an independent Scotland go from pounds to euros.
In the 1980s, the Labour Party was against EU membership – and favoured pulling Britain out of Nato. This is obviously no longer the case and the issue is of little relevance to the party these days. The Tories on the other hand are still split on Europe, just as they are by taxation, immigration, education – wait, they are convulsed everything.
For a while it looked as if an anti-EU party would get off the ground: the UK Independence Party threatened to eat into the Tory vote, but it has since faltered after suffering splits and scandals. UKIP’s main figure, the former Labour MP and chat show host, Robert Kilroy-Silk left to form his own party, Veritas, which has since gone out of existence and the wildcard Islamophobe has since quit politics.
UKIP’s funding came from former Tory backers, mostly capitalists who are still involved in manufacturing in England. The bulk of political funding comes from financial capital these days, and because of this UKIP was referred to as a Poujadist party. UKIP lingers on, and is still trying to steal vote to the right of the Tories. They might do well out of exploiting the divisions within the Tories over the Cameron leadership, particularly on grammar schools. UKIP has been trying to stress their support for “independence” within the United Kingdom, though presumably not for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Geoff Hoon, erstwhile Defence Minister and contemporary Brownite, has suggested that as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown would be willing to hold a referendum on the “amending” treaty. I’m sure Brown will want to look like a democrat by promising a vote, but he knows it would result in an embarrassing defeat which would damage his leadership as well as the European Union.
It is known that Brown argued against Britain joining the European currency, but I doubt very much if he is a true Euro-sceptic. Resistance to Europe emanates from the industrial capitalists, small businesspeople, and sections of the labour movement and since Brown has never had much time for them, I doubt he will listen to their objections.
If there was another damaging defeat for the European project, it’s hard to see where it could go: the political elite of Europe will not commit suicide en mass. The possibilities for withdrawal would increase – from the monetary union or the Union as a whole – and there’s a good chance that some parties would drop their allegiances to the EU out of opportunism, populism, or respect for majority opinion.
Selling further powers for the EU is an advertising nightmare: the product has negative brand recognition. Most people have established views on European integration and the issue arouses strong emotions; politicians won’t find it easy to come out for the EU, let alone granting the bureaucracy more power.
Roll on the referendum!