Exposing the European Union

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Brian Denny highlights the dangerous contradictions in the EU which make a mockery of claims about flourishing harmony.

Europhiles are often fond of referring to eastward expansion of the European Union last month as the "reunification" of Europe. So when exactly was this golden age of "unity?" The Roman empire, perhaps? Charlemagne? Or was it that apex of democracy and freedom the nazi Third Reich?

Similarly, extravagant claims are made about the EU "keeping the peace" for 60 years in Europe, despite the fact that it has really existed for barely a decade in its present form. There is also the small matter of the devastating and illegal attacks on the sovereign state of Yugoslavia by the Luftwaffe and the RAF in 1999.

Likewise, behind the flowery rhetoric of flourishing harmony among the European "partners," there is increasingly obvious bitter infighting, exemplified by the battle going on around the EU constitution.

These conflicting gaps between fact and fantasy show the EU as it really is - a growing mass of contradictions.

Take EU industrial policy. In the EU, state aid to industry is officially banned under competition laws. However, France and Germany recently announced plans for a joint industrial policy, which will involve building monopolistic corporations that will enjoy state backing from Paris and Berlin in direct contravention to EU diktats.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin are meeting this month to plan "the creation of European industrial champions of tomorrow, of which France and Germany could build a number."  France is already pouring billions into the French engineering giant Alstom, Europe's biggest ship and passenger train builder. The alleged final arbiter of these decisions, the European Commission, which has come down heavily on other member states for doing exactly what France is doing, has been forced to ignore the Alstom deal as Paris has the support of Berlin.

If German engineering giant Siemens merges with Alstom, it would create a train-making monopoly within the EU. Significantly, neither France nor Germany has purchased a single train outside these two manufacturing giants, a policy that is also illegal under EU law.

Neoliberal fundamentalist and British Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt has fervently attacked the idea of such "industrial champions" as "old-fashioned," outlining new Labour's vision of letting capitalism rip regardless of its effect on British industries. However, new Labour's near religious attachment to the cult of free-market "globalisation" is clearly leading British manufacturing into meltdown.

In contrast, the Franco-German-first policy within the EU is paying off. State-backed Air France, a basket case a few years ago, now dominates the EU aviation market and has taken over Dutch airline KLM.

The Franco-German-dominated EU military-industrial complex, known as the European Aeronautic Space and Defence company, is profiting from selling weapons of war all over the world in competition with US state-backed rivals. Paris and Berlin want to use the newly established European Defence Agency to harmonise EU military requirements and impose a "buy Europe" military procurement policy.

However, Britain favours leasing military hardware so as to not upset the US military-industrial complex.

These rows are indications that the EU is primarily about removing power from national elected parliaments to a Brussels dominated by the bigger states. The fact of the matter is that, whereas the rhetoric was formerly one of EU integration, France and Germany are increasing policy co-ordination to impose their designs on smaller states.  This centralising of production to core states prevents EU "partners" from developing independent, sustainable and native industries and imposes a neocolonial dependency environment.

French commissioner Pascal Lamy and his German counterpart Gunter Verheugen called for a Franco-German confederation last year, which would also integrate economic policy and foreign policy. The federalist quest is now to forge a core of so-called "avant-garde" EU states to principally safeguard and extend French and German interests.

Such "enhanced co-operation," written into the Nice Treaty, would allow the core to impose economic and foreign policies as a fait accompli regardless of the views or needs of the periphery. This bilateral strategy was made clear when the two countries united to rip up eurozone economic policy rules last year, embarrassing the commission and the European Central Bank and daring other member states to contradict them.

This is the background to the EU summit in Brussels next week, which will discuss the highly controversial EU constitutional "treaty" designed to give the EU a legal identity and transfer huge powers to Brussels. Britain is coming under enormous pressure to give up its so-called "red lines" in defence of national vetoes on taxation, foreign and military policy, social security and over the EU budget. This pressure has led to Blair calling a referendum on the EU constitution in order to strengthen his hand at the negotiations. And France and Germany have been incensed even more.

As a concession to Berlin, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has indicated that Britain will only support "key" red lines, which do not include criminal justice. Such moves threaten the very concept of habeas corpus, trial by jury and rules of evidence that currently exist under British law.

Some trade unionists have interpreted the introduction of an EU constitution to include the right to strike and so welcome the process. However, this nebulous and vague "right" does not take into account that it would then be for unelected EU bodies to interpret, not elected parliaments.

For instance, the Schengen accords - allegedly introducing open borders - has been rescinded on cue to stop the movement of anti-globalisation protesters. The most basic "freedom" written into the original 1957 Rome treaty is the right of capital to have complete freedom from elected governments. The question must be asked which will hold sway - the right to strike or the right of capital to be "free."

The EU constitution also makes clear that the very existence of the public sector will be controlled from Brussels. Whatever the outcome of the Brussels summit, France and Germany are clearly placing themselves at the core of an undemocratic, authoritarian EU group that wants to impose itself on the rest of the EU. This has angered new and old member states alike. Older member states, such as Portugal, see France and Germany doing what they like while they must continue with deep spending cuts.

New eastern member states will be expected to adopt the euro and suffer at least two years in the exchange rate mechanism mark two. When Britain was in the ERM, before famously crashing out in 1992, the Tory government lost all credibility. The same fate awaits other pro-EU political elites of the left and right who twist and turn to sell the EU while giving succour to the opportunists of the far-right.

All these tensions reveal that nothing is what it seems in the Alice-in-Wonderland world that the europhiles have created for us. It is up to progressive forces to expose the emperor's new clothes of the EU and defend national democracy across Europe against such corporate dictatorship.

Brian Denny is a spokesman for the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism. Find out more about CAEF at www.caef.org.uk  This article first appeared in the Morning Star on Tuesday 8 June 2004. The Morning Star can be accessed at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/