A Voice for a Different Europe

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January 23, 2008 18:03 | Interview with Susan George

The defeated EU Constitution has been repackaged as the Reform Treaty, which does not say a single word about social Europe. Rejecting it is crucial to save democracy.

Eoin Ó Broin, of the Irish Republican newspaper An Phoblacht, spoke recently to writer and social activist Susan George about how important the Irish referendum on the EU Treaty is for democrats and progressives across Europe. With her satirical political novel, The Lugano Report, acclaimed by no lesser figures than Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and George Monbiot, Susan George's is a voice that should be heard.

"IT MAKES me feel as though I have been spat on. It makes me feel that they have nothing but contempt for the voters. It is as if we didn't vote, our votes don't count, our opinions don't count and we are being told, 'Just shut up and let the technocrats get on with it.'"

Susan George is not known to exaggerate. Her writing is careful and considered, well-researched and internationally respected. But the decision to repackage the defeated EU Constitution as the Reform Treaty has angered her. She feels "spat on". That people in France will be denied the right to vote on the new treaty indicates, in her opinion, that EU political elites "have nothing but contempt for the voters". Of course, she is "not totally surprised" because in, her view, "the EU is not a democratic organisation".

Invited to Dublin by the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, Susan George spoke to a meeting of political activists in Liberty Hall in November. The meeting was the first in a series of events being organised by the campaign to highlight their concerns about the content of the Treaty and its implications for Ireland and the EU.

Although maybe not a household name in Ireland, Susan George is well-known in political and academic circles across the world. For three decades she has written and campaigned on issues of debt, global poverty, environmental protection and neo-liberalism.

Greenpeace International

From 1990 to 1994, George sat on the board of Greenpeace International. From 1999 to 2006 she was-vice president of ATTAC France (Association for Taxation of Financial Transaction to Aid Citizens). ATTAC promotes the taxation of international financial transactions in order to curb stock market speculation and provide revenue for development projects in the developing world.

She is currently chair of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, an international network of writers whose work seeks to contribute to social justice and who are active in various social movements.

Author of fourteen books, translated into many languages, Susan George is best-known for her ground-breaking studies of global poverty, food insecurity and the impact of debt on the developing world. Since the publication of How The Other Half Dies (1976), she has been a trenchant critic of the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. More recently she has focused much of her attention on the World Trade Organisation and the impact of trade liberalisation on the world's poor.

John Pilger described her 2003 book, The Lugano Report, as "an extraordinary, original book of exquisite irony, a kind of Catch-22 of capitalism". Noam Chomsky said, "with acid wit and sombre truths, The Lugano Report brilliantly portrays, through the eyes of its imagined but all too realistic planners, a world that may be heading for deep trouble". George Monbiot described the report as "a brilliant and innovative means of exposing a world order that serves only the strongest. A compelling satire, packed with information, this is the work of an author in complete control of her subject."

The EU Constitution

In 2004, ATTAC France took a decision to oppose the EU Constitution. In their view, the treaty was promoting neo-liberalism, poverty, insecurity and mass-unemployment. On 29 May 2005, in the biggest ever turn-out for an EU-related poll, 55 per cent of French voters rejected the EU Constitution. The 70 per cent turn-out was in sharp contrast to the 45 per cent turn-out for the 2004 European parliamentary elections.

As vice-president of ATTAC France, Susan George played a central part in the campaign. Opinion polls had been indicating for some time that the 'No' side was gaining ground. There was widespread shock across Europe that France, one of the union's founding members, rejected the Treaty. George explains the result as a consequence of "the spirit of the French Revolution".

"It seemed to me to be in the long line of French movements on the left for human emancipation. Once people actually found out what was in the treaty it was quite natural to vote 'No.'"

The French said 'No' because the treaty was "a blueprint for neo-liberal economics and privatisation, giving no protection to public services and very little protection for the environment".

The Reform Treaty

Following the rejection of the treaty by the French and then the Dutch, the European Commission announced a "period of reflection". Eighteen months later, the Council of Europe agreed the Reform Treaty, containing 96 per cent of the articles of the EU Constitution. George believes that, during the intervening period:

"The European Council and Commission were trying to figure out the best way to mask the fact that they were going to try and shove the same thing down our throats. You can't just say that the French and the Dutch voted wrong so we're going to hand them the same text again. They had to find a way to hide what they were doing."

That the Reform Treaty is almost identical to the EU Constitution is not in doubt. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, speaking to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in July 2007, said:

"In terms of content, the proposals remain largely unchanged - they are simply presented in a different way." Giscard d'Estaing, former President of France, was chair of the convention that drew up the Constitution.

As a life-long campaigner for trade justice, George is particularly concerned about the implications of the Reform Treaty for the developing world.

"The relationship between developed Europe and the global south is going to be profoundly changed," she believes. Articles promoting unfettered international trade and transferring power for international trade negotiations to the EU "would enable the EU to push through exactly the kind of treaty that Peter Mandleson is negotiating right now with the African Caribbean and Pacific Countries, 78 of the poorest countries of the world". The European Commission agenda of seeking to open up developing world markets to European corporations, irrespective of the impact of such policies on the world's poor would be strengthened if the Reform Treaty is passed.

"The EU will use these new powers in the Reform Treaty to do exactly what he pleases," says George, "and people from Trócaire and other development organisations can complain all they like to the Irish Government but the Irish Government is not going to be able to do anything about it."

George is also dismissive of those who argue that the Reform Treaty is Europe's best hope of defending the gains of Social Europe in the face of globalisation. "I don't see how anybody can argue that," George says in exasperation. "There is not a single word about Social Europe in the Treaty. On the contrary, this is a treaty to enrich the elites further. It is a treaty that is going to continue to crush democracy. And it is a treaty that is going to break down the capacity of the state to provide for its citizens."

George contends that the motivations behind the drafters of the treaty are best summarised by liberal economist Adam Smith's famous phrase: "All for ourselves and nothing for other people."

Despite strong opposition to the Reform Treaty, Susan George cannot be described as anti-European. In her 2004 book, Another World is Possible If... she argued the case for a strengthened Social Europe as a global counterweight to US-led corporate globalisation and militarisation.

Rejecting the Reform Treaty for George is a crucial aspect of her alternative.

"I want to open up some space. We have to keep saying no until they get the point and we can sit down and have a real discussion about the future of Europe, one which would include electing a convention which would draft a new treaty but only after a lot of debate."

She adds:

"Europe ought to be an alternative model to the United States, promoting social solidarity, human development and peace."

With opinion polls indicating that 62 per cent of the Southern Irish electorate is undecided on the Reform Treaty, Susan George's arguments are a reminder that opposition to the EU and opposition to the Reform Treaty are not the same thing.

Susan George's new books, We The Peoples of Europe (Pluto) and Culture in Chains: How the Religious and Secular Right Captured America (Polity), will be published later this year. This interview first appeared in An Phoblacht (The Republic) on 24 December 2007

See also http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/george5.htm