EU Constitution: Finnish Left Perspective

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In a parliamentary debate last month, Suvi-Anne Siimes, leader of the Finnish Left Alliance, gave her party’s response to the proposed EU Constitution.

 

Discussion of a draft constitution has at times been a fashion show of complicated euro-jargon. One of the difficulties has been the fact that we discuss a draft treaty on a Constitution for Europe. It has also been called a "constitution" or a "constitutional treaty". Technical details and difficult terms have swarmed the catwalk so often that even a more experienced debater has been left perplexed.

 

Matters described in those difficult terms and technical expressions will, however, have a deep impact on everyday life in Finland. Therefore the draft constitution and government report must be viewed through the prism of those values and matters that are important to people's daily life and not only through technical details and difficult terms.

 

The Left Alliance deems it necessary to take up at least two themes that are important for the Finnish social formation and people's daily life. One of the themes is how to protect our social welfare services – i.e. education and health care among others – and the other is the theme of security that is based on co-operation, conflict prevention and peace building. Both themes are important for Finland in the future.

 

We believe that our education and health care systems must not be turned into cold cash on the global market. And education and health policies must not in any other way be subjugated to industrial or trade policy goals. We believe that this principle applies to other basic services as well.

 

Although the draft constitution would not infringe on our sole right to legislate on basic services, the extension of the scope of the European Union mandate on international trade as it is written into the draft constitution could still lead to difficulties. For example, state aid to health services in remote areas or some other public measure devised to guarantee equal access to services may be interpreted in the WTO's dispute settlement process as limiting freedom of trade and consequently as not acceptable.

 

Such a situation must be avoided at all costs and therefore it would be safer to formulate the trade policy competence of the European Union as it was done in the social welfare services exception that was included in the Treaty of Nice. Otherwise, Finland may well land into the legal thicket of the EU and the WTO, where the billhook is wielded no longer by elected officials but by international lawyers. Such a situation does not reflect our views on transparency and democracy.

 

In the European Union and in the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference, more democracy is called for. And the idea that citizens have a say when the future of the country and the continent is at stake. The web pages of the Convention, which are quite excellent as such, or the fact that the draft constitution contains a per se valuable and worthy clause on citizens' initiative cannot remove the need for a public hearing. In a democracy, the voice of the ordinary man and woman in the street is heard in decision making. The voice of the daily life is needed when the Government sets negotiation priorities for the Intergovernmental Conference. Therefore the Parliament cannot give the government free hands to approve of just anything. On the contrary, we all must make sure that the safeguarding of our social welfare services is one of the top priorities of our Government.

 

In addition to safeguarding basic services, for us in the Left Alliance it is of utmost importance how the European Union relates to the wider world, for the peace issue is neither out-of-date nor unimportant but on the contrary a very burning issue.

 

In the article three of the draft constitution on the Union's objectives, it is stated that the Union contributes to peace, security, as well as to strict observance and development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter. This is a very important thing as is the fact that the Union's objectives include the sustainable development of the earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade and protection of human rights. All these things are also important to the Left Alliance.

 

How well and carefully these objectives are pursued and observed in future by the European Union will, however, be tested in practice. Some items in the draft constitution, I am afraid, hint at a Common Foreign and Security policy that will be less elevated and more brutal, that of power politics. For this reason, we in Finland should not postpone the debate on policy direction and whether the European Union will honour the role of the United Nations and international security based on co-operation or whether the Union will follow the American road to power politics.

 

How the European Union relates to the U.N. Charter and the role of the Security Council will have important consequences to the future of the U.N. Consequently, the policy choice is important not only to Finland but the entire world.

 

Even at its outset, the European Union was a community for peace, and as we know, one of its objectives was to prevent a new war in Europe. Diplomacy and mediation have been the principle the Union has observed in dealings with wider world. Many success stories of the Common Foreign and Security Policy are due to multilateral co-operation and promotion of widely shared common values. Good examples are the Kyoto Climate Protocol, the International Criminal Court and the Middle East road map.

 

Also the Union's new role as a way to control globalisation derives from the idea of multilateral co-operation and from the joint effort to set binding rules for the globalised markets. For us in the Left Alliance, this new role of the European Union is important and it must be given leeway for it to strengthen. The draft constitution does not meet this demand.

 

For the development of the Finnish welfare state, we today need European help, for the ever-increasing international competition will force down taxes, employment conditions and environmental norms. For this reason, we need to adopt the policy goal of harmonising upwards. The return of the early 20th Century unfettered capitalism cannot be the Union's objective, but the creation of a better and globally more just world.

 

In the Convention, themes related to a more social Europe were brought forth, but at the final forcing stages of the Convention, it was stamped in bud by military boots. And we see that the draft constitution e.g. failed to provide new tools for curbing tax competition, for in the fields of capital gains and corporate taxation unanimity is still required. The same limitation concerns also energy and environment taxes as well as most of workplace rights. Instead, the draft constitution calls for a continued increase in defence spending.

 

For us in the Left Alliance, the member states need common goals in areas, entirely different from weapons procurements. We believe that the objective of the Union should not be the globalisation of arms race but rather the globalisation of the justice. Today, we need ambitious EMU criteria for the access to social and health services, employee protection and other employment condition and for the prevention of harmful tax competition and environmental dumping, and definitely not for arms procurements. We should also work together to harmonise environmental and energy taxes and different emission reduction targets upwards.

 

Roughly speaking, the Government report takes up three major goals for the IGC, i.e. the importance of having a national commissioner, of thwarting a closed defence core and of keeping social welfare services in our own hands. We in the Left Alliance rate them as important and worthy of our support.

 

Also, other positions in the report are in the right direction, although we are more critical towards the establishment of a Foreign Minister's post. One of the most important questions during the parliamentary process is as follows: How vigorously and how successfully the Government dares to push forward its positions?

 

Yesterday, Prime Minister Vanhanen expressed the wish that the Parliament would refrain from taking non-negotiable stands and would rather emphasise the well-functioning totality emerging from the IGC. That wish means in practice that the Parliament gives the Government a carte blanche to accept anything.

 

We in the Left Alliance believe that drifting with the flow of a river is not a wise policy. In the Vanhanen Government Programme, there are laudable goals as far as services are concerned. It is in the very Intergovernmental Conference itself that the Government and the leading party of the coalition, the Centre have an excellent opportunity to act in accordance with the government programme.

 

If the Parliament works unanimously and wisely, the Government can also do nothing but refer to the Parliaments unequivocal stand on some issue. It would be a functioning shield, for the new constitution cannot be adopted without the ratification of the national parliaments and of our own parliament.