Political centralisation, economic liberalisation, austerity policy and militarization - not much left for the left in EU's constitution, says Jonas Sjöstedt, MEP
Reading the proposed EU constitution it's hard to see what's in it for the left. There is no improvement in the content of the Union's policies when it comes to workers' rights, social issues, the environment or gender equality. There are some beautiful words, but no obligations made or tools created for progressive politics. On the other hand, it's made clearer than ever that the Union is a political project created with free market capitalism as its basic ideology. This is spelled out again and again. Any policy contradicting the free market is simply not possible for the Union, which of course limits the possibilities for progressive politics in almost any field. The single market is still the core of the project and the failed EMU policies remain unchanged, imposing austerity measures on the member states and the dictates of a central bank beyond democratic control. The goal of continued economic liberalisation is clearly spelled out in the treaty.
The EU is a legal system and the constitution decides what will be within that system's scope. Thus, unlike in other constitutions, not only are the democratic rules spelled out, but the central political goal. That's why the constitution has to be criticised from the left, regardless of whether we like or dislike the idea of transferring more powers to the EU institutions. If this were a football match, the Left team has no chance of winning because the constitution means that the rules of the game are fixed by their opponents, the referee is paid by the opposition and they have a 5-0 lead at the start .
One of the most controversial parts of the constitution is the clear ambition to form a common defence, the "solidarity clause" that makes the union into a military alliance and the obligation for each member state continually to increase its military capacity. This amounts to nothing less than a fully-fledged militarization of the EU. The Union will become a military power totally dependent on Nato, ending nonalignment for formerly neutral countries. We also clearly risk a development in which the EU, like the US, starts acting on its own initiative in military issues, further weakening a UN structure which is already too weak. According to the new constitution, no mandate from the UN security council is required for EU military action.
Looking at the free market character of the text, the militarization and the lack of progress in social questions, it's hard to find anything good to say about it. Yet it is still defended by federalists on the left because it brings the EU closer to being a federal state. This the constitution surely does. It increases the powers of the central EU institutions, weakening the national parliaments and democratic systems. For me, however, it's impossible to see what is progressive in the creation of a federal EU, especially one built on the principles of free market liberalism. None of the EU institutions gaining powers is more democratic then the national parliaments. The EU Commission is a totally undemocratic body, meeting behind closed doors and forbidden to take advice from national democracies. Instead, they are heavily influenced by large corporations. The EU court makes political judgements in favour of the free market, though it is not formally a political body. True, the Council will become more transparent with the new constitution - a good thing. But it is governments, not parliaments, which are represented in the Council, governments which will now enjoy the right to extend the EU's powers still further without asking those national parliaments. The European Parliament is another winner, but remains a parliament that cannot live up to the democratic standards of a normal national parliament. Turnout in the elections is now well below 50% on EU average, but figures are a lot lower among working class voters. Workers don't vote, and they don't get elected to a European Parliament which, because of that, is heavily dominated by the right. The present parliament will use the powers it receives from the new constitution to impose right wing policies and deregulation on the member states. The only way to change the EU into something better, therefore, is to reject the presently proposed constitution: let us do just that.
Jonas Sjöstedt is a Member of the European Parliament for the Swedish Vänster (Left) Party, the Swedish affiliate of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL). He is the GUE/NGL's co-ordinator for the Group's work on the environment and public health, and played a leading role in the campaign for a "No" in his country's referendum on membership of the euro.