EU "Constitution" is a political programme

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A massive “no” in the referendum which the Netherlands’ government has promised to hold early next year  - a “no” to what is in reality no constitution but instead  a neoliberal manifesto – would be good for Europe, argues Dutch Socialist MP Harry van Bommel.

The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe does not deserve to be called a “Constitution". It is a political manifesto of neoliberal design which, while doing nothing to make Europe more democratic or (in fulfilment of the goal originally laid out at the Laeken Summit) to bring the EU closer to the people, will lead to an undesirable militarisation of the Union.  For all of these reasons a massive “no” in the referendum would be good for Europe.

The existing Fortress Europe did not come into being because the citizens of its member states wanted it, but because international business saw that it would be to its advantage. Its central goal, as stipulated in Article 3 of the current Treaty on European Union, is to establish ‘an internal market within which competition is free and unhindered` and this without any distinction being made between private and public sector.

Under pressure from the EU large parts of our country’s public sector have been farmed out to the market. Privatisation of state concerns – telecommunications, public transport, electricity and a section of the postal service – has offered scant advantage to the consumer. Parts of the education system and the health service are also, under pressure also from global developments, on the privatisation wishlist, with again few or no obvious benefits.

In Neelie Kroes, the Netherlands is sending to the European Commission a powerful advocate of privatisation. As part of this regrettable development from Fortress Europe to Europe plc, more and more of the family silver will be sold off.

A more transparent and more democratic Europe would be a Europe which gave more responsibility to its electorates, a goal which was ostensibly originally one of the aims of the new treaty. On the eve of the eventual agreement on the new treaty's text, the Netherlands witnessed an impressive increase in participation in elections for the European Parliament, though this clearly implied no endorsement of the EU. A  majority could be seen to have no faith in  this Europe’s democracy and with this new treaty such negative feelings will increase.  True, the powers of the European Parliament will be increased, but against this must be set the upsetting of the balance of power between large and small countries. At the appointed time a number of member states will lose their right to a vote at the Commission and it is far from likely that these will include big countries such as France, the United Kingdom or Germany.  

Should any big country indeed find its position within the Commission weakened in this way, it is clear that it would be compensated with the award of other positions of importance, such as that of the new Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Presidency of the Commission itself. It is, moreover, unthinkable that one of the big three would ever acquiesce in foreign policy initiatives with which it was not in complete accord. We were recently given, in Berlin, a crude foretaste of this power politics when in perfect unison Blair, Chirac and Schröder said “what’s good for us is good for Europe”. This treaty will put the big three in an even stronger position to dictate terms to Europe. National politics will soon be nothing more than the realisation of decisions taken in Brussels, a development which will at length fatally weaken popular participation and interest in political life within the member states themselves.

A third argument for a powerful rejection of this treaty is the militarisation of Europe which will be one of its consequences. Article 40 governs the common security and defence policy of the EU and stipulates that Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities.  Defence spending, including our own in the Netherlands, will therefore rise. No constitution in the world includes such a provision, and it is absurd to call a treaty which does this a constitution at all. The same article provides for the setting up of a European bureau for armaments, research and military capacity, specifies operational requirements, and contributes to the establishment of measures aimed at strengthening the industrial and technological basis of the defence sector. Europe plc thus becomes a military-industrial complex with its own army, an army that sooner or later will see active service. Because the EU exists primarily to serve the interests of business, a development such as has occurred in the United States, where wars are conducted for the benefit of big economic interests, is not in the least unthinkable. In my opinion few Europeans would welcome such a state of affairs, but how many realise that, in voting for this treaty, they would indeed be endorsing precisely such a development?

In contrast to the introduction of the new currency, far more national electorates will have the opportunity to make their voices heard in response to an important change in European politics. In ten or more countries referenda will be held. For the first time this will include the Netherlands, and Dutch voters will have the opportunity to vote in a consultative referendum. My party, the Socialist Party (SP) will participate in a common campaign with other opponents in order comprehensively to inform the electorate and mobilise for a “no” to the treaty.

Should only one member state reject the treaty, it will fall. Given the widespread scepticism which exists in regard to this Europe, this could easily happen. In the United Kingdom, for example, ‘Euroscepticism’ has traditionally been much stronger than it has in our own country and it is very probable that the British will put a stop to the treaty. The suggestion that countries which fail to ratify the proposed text should be forced to leave the EU is as senseless as it is undemocratic. If you won’t take no for an answer, then why ask the question in the first place?  We are clearly in for an exciting phase, and one which will give the EU’s propagandists plenty to chew on. 

Harry van Bommel sits for the SP in the lower house of the Dutch parliament. To read more about the SP, go to www.sp.nl and click on the Butcher’s Apron (sorry, Union Jack) in the left hand column.