European Convention, European Constitution

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  ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of [Financial] Transactions for the Aid of Citizens) is a citizens' organization opposed to corporate globalism. It has a large membership in France and many other countries. It was established in 1998 at the initiative of  Le Monde Diplomatique, a monthly progressive newspaper. Wayne Hall, a member of ATTAC-Hellas, has written  the following text as a critique of, and a partial counterproposal to, ATTAC’s contribution to the European Convention, the Brussels-based conference established by the Laeken European Council meeting of December 2001 “to propose a new framework and structures for the European Union which are geared to changes in the world situation, the needs  of the citizens of Europe and the future developments of the European Union.”

 

There can be no argument with the positive content of ATTAC’s policy recommendations: an economic strategy more favourable to employment; education for all; opposition to privatisation/commodification of public services, social exclusion and poverty; development that respects the environment; recognition of multiculturality; the right to information and guarantees for transparency in decision making; access to legal assistance and facilitation of the recourse to litigation, and so on. All of these are policies which a Europe aspiring to be a model of liberty, dignity and justice would prioritise and which the existing Europe of neo-liberal elites subverts. There is no disagreement on that.

 

The focus of my criticism will be the proposal for a directly-elected President of the European Commission, with executive powers and the right to appoint other members of the Commission from lists of candidates provided by member states. This might seem to be a secondary topic but it should be central to the strategic approach of a citizens’ movement seeking a point of entry into the mainstream political debate  on the future of Europe. Sometimes the strategy of the international anti-globalisation movement seems to amount to little more than street politics. We face formidable challenges and we should be giving  more serious answers. For a start we should be trying harder to establish the priority of lived experience over the rule of the visual image and of mass-media “virtual experience”. Even the late Guy Debord may have found it hard to believe just how absolute and all-embracing his Society of the Spectacle could  become by the opening years of the twenty-first century. Something, also, he neither analysed nor predicted was how “the spectacle” would  start actively invading our lives, so that we cannot escape it   by turning off the television, or not having a television. The people of New York saw this for themselves on 9/11 and we experienced it too in Greece in our summer 2002 local variant of the “War on Terrorism”, the media witch hunt of real  and presumed supporters of the November 17 terrorist organization, which focused on anyone who spoke French, had been in Paris in the junta years  and was or had ever been a Trotskyist.

 

 The 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and even more so the unprecedented global political and institutional crisis that has followed them should have made it abundantly clear that a directly-elected executive presidency is quite compatible with total powerlessness of citizens. The non-elected European Commission President Prodi is undoubtedly exposed to a much wider range of institutional and social checks than the directly-elected President Bush of the United States. ATTAC is supposedly committed to strengthening participatory democracy but there is no proposal I can imagine more  remote from participatory democracy than one for a directly-elected executive president.

 

Unfortunately, ATTAC’s inappropriate proposal comes at a time of widespread recognition that intervention by “civil society” in the European constitutional debate is more necessary now than ever. Our participation is being solicited. Input from us is demanded as the European Union’s “democratic deficit” drags on and Europe’s internal paralysis prevents any adequate political response to the present abdication of rationality in the United States. The citizens’ movement against globalisation is proving unequal to its  tasks. The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy emphasised this at a recent news conference in Rome when she said: “The struggle has hit a dead end. We need to re-imagine nonviolent resistance. It’s not simply about demonstrations on the streets and wearing masks.” ATTAC has the image of being one of the more bourgeois-reformist tendencies of the anti-globalist movement, and possibly the  self-image of being the movement’s intellectual powerhouse. But we are in danger of losing out on both these fronts: we are not bourgeois-reformist enough to gain real acceptance among bourgeois-reformists and we are apparently not smart enough to provide the popular movement with the leadership it needs.

 

In a paper published in October 2002 immediately after the second Irish referendum on EU expansion, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Kirsty Hughes, pointed out that the crucially important European Union debate between advocates of “integration” and “intergovernmentalism” is being  carried out behind the backs of the public. It is not even taking place at the  European Convention, but mostly outside the Convention, in the form of a dispute between the larger and  smaller states of the EU.  As Dutch Socialist MEP Erik Meijer has explained: “parties such as the Swedish Left, the Danish People’s Party and the three French parties of various Marxist traditions represented in the European Parliament are seeking to prevent a purported European partnership from being nothing more than a modern form of annexation.”

 

What that means is that the larger EU states such as France and Britain are increasingly imposing policies that will mean upgrading the role of the European Council at the expense of the Commission. In mid-October the British government endorsed a draft Constitution (drawn up by the lawyer Alan Dashwood) under which the President of the European Union would be the President of the European Council.  While attracting support from Spain and Italy, this proposal has been attacked both by the smaller countries and by the Commission, which is concerned that such a reform  would lead to its losing its powers of political initiative. To win over the former category of opponent, France has floated ideas of guaranteeing that the (Council) President would first come from a small country. The smaller countries and the Commission have responded by calling for election of the European Commission President – possibly by a new Congress of MPs and MEPs.

 

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is set to intervene in this debate. Strengthened by the recent re-election of the Social Democrats/Green coalition government, he will be representing Germany at the European Convention and in effect leading the campaign to defend the prerogatives of the Commission. He will also be taking the “integrationist” side in the dispute between the delegates who want to see the Commission controlling EU foreign policy through its external relations Commissioner and those who think that the Council’s High Representative, currently Javier Solana, should have the upper hand.

 

As regards the methodology for electing a European President, ATTAC’s  “radicalism”, though seemingly greater than Fischer’s, is without substance. ATTAC’s direct-election proposal would  only arouse the antagonism of supporters of the “national sovereignty” of EU member states, without achieving anything in terms of either greater democracy or greater European integration. To the extent that it played any role at all in the current dispute it could only strengthen the intergovernmentalists and undermine the Commission.

 

Some may wonder why a British government as pro-European as Tony Blair’s feels obliged to canvass for a Europe of nation-states rather than promoting European integration. At the most obvious level, the answer to this is that EU integration is anyway a Central European idea which goes against the entire grain of British history since the Reformation. Britain’s entry into the EU took place ostensibly on the basis of economic calculations and on the assumption that the country was joining a free trade association, not a would-be federal superstate. The result of this is that every British move in the direction of the objectives set out in the successive state treaties that comprise the EU’s de facto “constitution” has to be camouflaged and in effect disowned. Ideas of “sharing sovereignty” that are easily assimilated by Germans because of the way their own national unification was carried out are unacceptable and  even incomprehensible for their British neighbours.

 

Britain’s constitution is said to be based on “parliamentary sovereignty”, embodied in the conception that “Parliament has the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.”  If Parliament itself signs away that sovereignty, as in fact occurred with Britain’s act of accession to the EC under the European Communities Act of 1972, upholders of what has until now been understood as constitutional  legality in Britain are obliged to turn elsewhere for support.

 

On Friday March 23rd 2001 a petition was presented at Buckingham Palace signed by 28 members of the House of Lords, supported by 60 other peers and endorsed by “7,000 other loyal subjects, many of whom signed on behalf of organisations with tens of thousands of members” urging Queen Elizabeth to withhold assent from the Treaty of Nice on the grounds that “the European Union is threatening to set up a military force which will place British service personnel under its direct command, restrict the free expression of political opinion, and permit the introduction of an alien system of criminal justice which will abolish the ancient British rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury, and allow onto British soil men-at-arms from other countries with powers of enforcement.”

 

The peers were using their rights under Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215. Under clause 61, four peers, representing 25 others, can petition the Monarch for “redress of grievances”. These were powers that had not been used for over 300 years. “We have petitioned her Majesty”, the text continued, “to withhold the Royal Assent from any Bill seeking to ratify the Treaty of Nice because there is clear

evidence that it is in direct conflict with the Constitution of the United Kingdom. It conflicts with Magna Carta, with the Declaration and Bill of Rights and, above all,  with Her Majesty's Coronation Oath and the Oaths of Office of Her Majesty's ministers… Ultimately, our supreme protection is Her Majesty’s obligation under the Coronation Oath. The Queen has solemnly promised to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom ‘according to the Statutes in Parliament agreed on and according to their laws and customs.’ Recent statements by (Labour government) ministers, and by the previous prime minister (Mr. Major), confirm that they would not advise any measure which might tend to breach the Coronation Oath nor betray Her Majesty's promise to her loyal subjects. Her Majesty accepts the advice of her ministers and conversely it is their duty to advise in accordance with the Coronation Oath. They cannot lawfully advise a breach. Nor can they gain or remain in power without swearing allegiance to the Crown. Yet the Treaty of Nice represents precisely such a breach, and it has now been signed by the foreign secretary using the Royal Prerogative.”

 

The Lords’ petition received hardly any coverage at all from the newspapers and television in Britain or elsewhere. It was passed over in almost total silence, never receiving any substantial reply either from Queen Elizabeth or any representative of the Crown, despite the fact that the arguments put forward by the Lords are the realities of existing constitutional law in the United Kingdom. The mass media proved more than adequate to sweeping such formalistic quibbling under the carpet, without even needing to draw on reserve forces from the organized Left, who on other recent occasions, e.g. with Haider and Le Pen in Europe, Pauline Hanson in Australia, Milosevic in Yugoslavia, have had to be pressed into service to deal with populist opponents rather more robust than these petitioning Lords.

 

But the situation has grown more serious since March 2001. The great transatlantic ally of freeborn Britons seems to have entered a terminal institutional and political crisis. Even the staunchest defenders of the status quo in Britain are finding it hard to comply with the “who is not with us is against us” demands of America’s War on Terrorism. The reservations of the type of Eurosceptic Tory who a year and a half ago would have supported the Lords’ petition against the Treaty of Nice are equally as strong as those of the much diminished rank-and-file of the labour movement. To secure acceptance for its unpopular foreign policy, the British Labour government is forced to make concessions. It can’t break ranks with Washington on the War on Terrorism, so it buys Tory support for the war by taking a harder line with the Commission.

 

Why do we in the anti-globalist movement have no strategy to deal with trade-offs of this kind? Why do we so helpfully play the scarecrow so that Blair can be the lesser evil and defuse the Eurosceptics in this way? Why do we not directly challenge the rights of parliamentarians to decide who will be the European Head  of State? After all, the far right of the European spectrum is often as anti-parliamentary (including national-parliamentary) as the far left, if not more so. Why not come into the debate with proposals that could break the habitual lazy equation of national sovereignty with national parliaments and so shift the political balance much more in the direction of the  integrationists and the Commission and away from the intergovernmentalists and the Council. Let us provide Joschka Fischer with some constructive assistance instead of merely sniping at him from the sidelines as an opportunist, all the while being worse (because irrelevant) opportunists ourselves.

 

Let us propose the formation of a European Sovereign Council, partly made up of existing heads of state, whether presidents, monarchs or whatever. The European Sovereign Council could also have fifty percent representation from civil society, including one representative of the national social forums of each of the EU member states. The European Sovereign Council, half civil society, half existing heads of state would, by ballot, election or any other means they chose, themselves decide who, for a certain period, would be European head of state. And this European head of state would be a constitutional referee, like the President of Greece or like Queen Elizabeth, not like the executive President George Bush of the ATTAC model. He would swear in a government headed by a Prime Minister of the European Commission, a body formed either from parliamentarians enjoying the confidence of the European Parliament or from members of the European Social Forum, whichever body obtains a fixed-term mandate from a Europe-wide referendum based on universal franchise.

 

What is involved in this proposal is that we get serious with the social forums we are currently creating and not merely see them as part of a participatory-democratic “relay” process in the service of representative democracy. (This formulation is quoted from ATTAC’s contribution to the European Convention). Representative democracy is in any case, as Ellen Meiksins Wood points out in her Democracy Against Capitalism an American innovation, an idea with no historical precedent in the ancient world: “English Whiggery,” she reminds us,  “could have long  remained content to celebrate the forward march of Parliament without proclaiming it a victory for democracy.  The Americans had no such option.”

 

If the European Union is to be provided with a Constitution it must institutionalise not a token participatory-democratic input into a representative-democratic polity but orderly competition between representative democracy and direct democracy. This is the arrangement that should have come into the world in Germany and/or England in the first half of the twentieth century, but  was instead derailed by the First World War and then, after the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, replaced by geopolitically-distorted military competition between communist and capitalist blocs. This in its apocalyptic final phase has now degenerated even further into a gigantic one-player profit-driven war game against glove-puppet enemies all over the globe. How long can it continue?

 

The Social Forums

 

Already-existing practice of the forums dictates that they should not divide on party lines but instead strive for consensus, making no decision until consensus or near-consensus has been arrived at. It was clearly explained to us by Bernard Cassen at the November 2001 inaugural meeting of ATTAC-Hellas in Athens that the search for consensus and avoidance of voting have been central organizational principles of ATTAC since it was first established. Competition in the European polity with the more summary methods of party-based legislatures applying majority rule would serve to sharpen up procedures of consensus-orientated assemblies, which would be permanently aware that political paralysis could lead to loss of mandate. On the other hand the threat of being voted out of power in a referendum would act as a powerful deterrent to the demagogy, the numbers games and the pretend-politics we have come to associate with multiparty parliamentarianism. The frequently-cited disadvantage of consensus-based procedures that they encourage trade-offs and corruption would likewise be greatly diminished by the presence of squads of representative-democratic party politicians permanently on the lookout for precisely such misbehaviour on our part.

 

The biggest initial problem that the social forums would face would be securing recognition as  assemblies rather than a party. The citizens’ movements from whose numbers the social forums would be drawn would never include everyone in the population, and although it would be impermissible for us to exclude people on the basis of ideology, there would always be opponents of direct democracy eager to claim they were being excluded from social forums because of their ideas rather than because of their obstructive, destructive or insincere behaviour. This would place great demands on heads of state and/or constitutional courts, the arbiters of the polities we seek to construct. They would be required to rule which claimants to the status of direct-democratic assemblies (social forums) would have to be classed as political parties and so be required to seek their mandate in that  way.

 

If one bears in mind that the present monopoly status of representative democracy, while assuring citizens as would-be political producers  of the right to stand  for political office and the right to vote for any representative they choose also restricts their rights as political consumers, confining them/us essentially to one choice: government by mass-media-driven universal-suffrage politicians, it is obvious that under the existing system of representative democracy we are truly being denied important rights. Surely the right to be governed by a polity comprising active citizens and only active citizens, answerable to  electorates not as individuals and not as party members but as an assembly and its support network (and certainly NOT answerable to extra-institutional middlemen such as the owners of television channels), is a right that we should be demanding..

 

The model of the professional, non-political civil service that has been developed with some success in certain countries suggests that would not be impossible - given the political will - for the deliberative-democratic behaviour our social forums would require  to meet with high levels of acceptance and support and become a source of social status.

 

Full elaboration of  active citizens’ networks throughout the European Union would make it possible for a kind of reverse subsidiarity to be practised whereby a referendum victory for direct-democracy at one level of government would automatically entail transfer of the mandate from representative-democratic to direct-democratic at all lower levels of government, subject to an opt-out clause making it possible for citizens on submission of a certain number of signatures to hold a local, regional or national  referendum challenging that transfer. This arrangement would naturally cut two ways, the same transfer occurring in the event of representative-democrats obtaining the mandate. Thus in the event of power passing to a Prime Minister of the European Commission with his base in the European Social Forum rather than the European Parliament, it would be possible, if enough Greeks, say, were discontented with the prospect of being governed by the Greek Social Forum, for them to demand a referendum offering the prospect, if  approved by the majority, of the mandate returning to the familiar party politicians of the Greek Parliament. If the European Social Forum lost its mandate in Europe as a whole to the European Parliament, then the Sovereign Council would be made up of heads of state and delegates appointed by European national parliaments (except for member states where a national referendum had restored the mandate to the country’s social forum).

 

This evolution towards institutional integration of the social forums now being created throughout Europe (and the rest of the world) could in Europe start from today. The first step would be for the social forums to demand establishment of the Sovereign Council, comprising existing heads of state and an equal number of representatives from the social forums of European Union member states. Following establishment of the Sovereign Council it would be open to parliaments in European Union member states to challenge the mandate of the social forum representatives and propose alternative representatives of their own for the Sovereign Council. This would automatically generate the competition between parliaments and social forums that we would be seeking to incorporate into the European Constitution.

 

The ideas put forward here may seem so unusual as to be eccentric, but they have been largely foreshadowed by recognized protagonists in the European constitutional debate. Heidrun Abromeit in her Democracy in Europe – Legitimising Politics in a Non-State Polity recognises that “the answer to the riddle of European democracy is not the basically statist one of constitutionalism-cum-parliamentarisation, but the more flexible one of supplementing the European decision-making process with various direct-democratic instruments.”

 

Abromeit’s analysis is centred on the two poles we have already encountered: consensus-based procedures and majority or qualified-majority voting. Consensual procedures are appropriate for the primary constitutional stage in the building of a polity. Majority-voting is suitable for subsequent decision-making within the agreed polity, except insofar as the decisions have a bearing on the identity of specific sectors of the polity, where the rule of consensus should again apply (or  continue to apply).

 

As Abromeit sees it, full parliamentarisation of the EU is “not even desirable”. For her the problem is not explicitly that parliamentary politics is dominated by extra-institutional factors. It is that “the majoritarian logic of parliamentarianism stands in contradiction with the EU’s national heterogeneity, providing minorities with no safeguard against being frequently outvoted and thus cast into the role of structural minority.” Whereas  in other heterogeneous societies specific forms of democracy have been developed which apply the principle of not outvoting any of the society’s segments, giving their elites a share in the power at the centre, in Europe it is parliamentary democracy that is being promoted. But the differences between the various segments of  the polity are dramatic and when people’s primary allegiance rests as they do with the segments, a  parliament’s majoritarian decisions can only produce resentment and thus have disintegrating effects.

 

The direct democratic instruments Abromeit would incorporate into the EU polity cannot be exactly equated with my proposed competition between social forums and parliaments. What she has proposed is veto rights in the form of universal suffrage referenda at the regional and European Union level, as well as provision for public petitions demanding that specific acts or policies be put on the agenda. The half-way character of these proposals can perhaps be explained partly by the fact that her book was published in 1998, prior to the full flowering of the anti-globalisation movement and certainly prior to the  appearance of today’s social forums. It would have served no purpose for her at that time to recommend tasks and self-concepts for bodies not yet in existence. She also makes it clear that her suggestions are “of a rather  tentative and preliminary nature: they are submitted for further debate”. The universal suffrage referenda she proposes do not present so much of a challenge to parliamentary-democratic assumptions as my idea of  a mandate being given to bodies of associated citizens with the right of exclusion, yet not to be designated parties. But it is worth noting that Abromeit also seeks a constitutionally-specified role in the  EU polity for policy networks, a role consistent with the fact that they  have already largely displaced parliaments in European decision making. With European policy-making still in the stage of “maturing”, no European public yet in existence and no interested electorate monitoring  political developments, the invasion of decision-making by networks has led to routinisation, depoliticisation and neglect of the interests of those affected by decisions. Experts and lobbyists once nationally based have become estranged from home reference groups. A situation has arisen where they now represent hardly anyone but themselves. It is time, says Abromeit, to re-politicise the networks by ‘bringing the people back in’ and elaborating strategies for holding the networks and the actors within them accountable.

 

The non-accountability of policy networks is attributed by Abromeit largely to lack of organisation on the part  of “those affected”, who are typically a rather amorphous lot when compared to a policy network united by a specific (often narrow) common interest.  She concedes, however that even where ‘those affected’ have organised themselves into NGOs such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the like, “they are not admitted to the policy networks but instead act as a kind of self-styled opposition, attacking and criticising from the outside”. Policy networks thus have drawbacks from the viewpoint of the  representativity, transparency and inclusiveness of their  dealings, but counterbalancng this is the fact that they are cross-national and indeed highly “Europeanised” actors. For Abromeit the task is to  find  remedies for the drawbacks while maintaining the advantage: to make the networks accountable without  regressing  to the nation-state level. “The network actors’ negotiative game”, she says, “has to be complemented by a ‘second game’ that a) makes them visible in the first place, b) links them firmly to depictable sectors of society (and to the reference groups they profess to represent), c) gives those who had been bypassed up to that point the chance to have their views included, and (d) allows the whole sectoral interrelationship to find some sort of legitimacy of its own, independent of the mechanisms legitimising group politics in nation states (which is mainly the national electoral linkage).”

 

We thus see that Abromeit’s work has set the stage for the introduction into European politics of “active citizens” as an institutionalized factor in the political scene, a factor deriving  its legitimacy not from votes to individual politicians or to parties but  from a collective mandate of a new kind. As indicated she opposes further parliamentarisation of  European politics  on the grounds of its centralising dynamic and because of the fact that “it can be expected to aggravate the EU’s incompatibility problems as well as its internal conflicts.” We have examined one such  conflict: that between Britain (supporting the Council) and Germany (supporting the Commission), whose roots lie in a party-political trade-off under which Conservative support for Labour foreign policy is bought by  Labour embracing Conservative “intergovernmentalist” policies for the future of Europe.

 

Other similar examples could be mentioned. Abromeit even makes the very harsh point that one of the main motives for governments pushing ahead with European integration could be their judgement that they can trade the losses in ‘state autonomy’ incurred in intergovernmental co-operation against gains in ‘internal autonomy’, in effect “instrumentalising the EU as a shield against domestic participatory pressures.” This must be the ultimate structural putdown of the “democratic deficit”.

 

As indicated at the beginning, my proposal is that “civil society” in the European Union should oppose the institution of a directly elected European presidency, particularly an executive presidency, and that existing European heads of state, together with representatives either of parliaments or of social forums, whichever enjoy the relevant mandate, should jointly be given the task of deciding which from among themselves was to be the European Union’s ceremonial head of state and constitutional referee. The corollary of this stance is that we should encourage civil society in the United States to adopt a similar stance towards their own country’s imperial presidency, in the first instance through expressions of solidarity with the new and paradigm-breaking post-9/11 American political opposition now aspiring to challenge it.

 

ATTAC’s formulations on the United States and its situation do not do justice to the historic dimensions of the showdown that is looming in that country and internationally. To say “we are not anti-American but opposed to American policies”, and that “we cannot agree to running the world according to your (American) principles and if this continues we will become very anti-American” is tantamount to admitting that one’s abstention from anti-Americanism is not cognitively grounded but merely a question of etiquette and/or patience. To threaten that one may in future become anti-American empties disclaimers of anti-Americanism of any significance, even of any meaning. And the formulation that “it is evident to many people that our values (European and American values) are different” is even worse. What is currently at stake, for Americans, and for non-anti-American Europeans, is constitutional legality versus criminality, not differences over policies or over values.

 

How many people in Europe are familiar with either the style  or the content of what the new post-9/11 American opposition is actually saying, and doing? Probably very few, and certainly not the drafters of the ATTAC submission.. Older and more  familiar figures such as Chomsky do not count because Chomsky does not accuse  the U.S. government of collusion in the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Only the writer Gore Vidal (who is not  politically organized) has been given publicity in the mass circulation media making such charges. The new American opposition is essentially unknown in Europe, even among activists.  Here are some extracts from David McGowan, one of its many little-known voices:

 

 “What the hell is going on here? For the most part, just business-as-usual as the media performs its time-honored role of covering-up for the inadequacies and crimes of our 'elected' leaders. Yet it has become bizarrely surreal as the press struggles mightily to continue performing that function even while faced with an administration both arrogant and criminal almost beyond human comprehension.

 

How are we to digest the events of the last year? -- the wholesale theft of a presidential election, the massive give-aways to the largest and most corrupt corporations in the country, the largely unexplained and completely uninvestigated September 11 attacks, the declaration of open-ended war on much of the world, the rapidly escalating attacks on civil liberties and privacy rights.

 

Millions are surely struggling to make sense of their world as the full extent of the corruption of the American political, economic and legal systems is increasingly laid bare. Denial is a fierce weapon, but it does have its limits. 

 

How are we to make sense of a vast sea of media outlets all shouting the same lies and all failing to ask the most obvious of questions? How are we to account for an allegedly thriving ‘alternative’ press that takes at face value the  official version of the events of September 11 – pretending not to notice the gaping holes in the story?  And how  are we to make sense of the fact that the leading voices of the supposed 'left' have questioned the events of 9-11 only in terms of so-called 'blowback,' carefully avoiding questioning the underlying assumption that "Osama did it?"

 

And how long can we cling to the futile hope that the Democratic Party is somehow going to ride to the rescue and get us out of this mess? The party whose two standard-bearers, "Animatronic Al” Gore and Joe “Jews for Fascism” Lieberman, have openly cheered the ‘War on Terrorism’, all but demanded its expansion into Iraq, endorsed the preposterous notion of  an ‘Axis of Evil’ and given favourable reviews to America’s new nuclear ‘Posture’? The party whose congressional members, in both houses, have embraced nearly every reactionary appointment by the Bush regime, signed on to every openly fascistic 'security' measure that has come their way, given a huge thumbs-up to virtually unlimited military spending, and failed completely to voice even the tiniest protest over the flagrant theft of the election or to launch any sort of an investigation into the events of

September 11.

 

But I know how comforting it is to believe in the American ship of state. To believe in the two-party system. To believe in the Democratic Party as the party of the people. To believe that things will be OK again just as soon as the next election rolls around and we can get ‘our’ party back in charge. To believe that our obviously free press isn’t really lying to us. To believe that ‘this too shall pass’ and that we’ll be back to ‘normal’ soon…

 

As anyone who has ever published material in this country that falls outside of the boundaries of acceptable dissent can tell you, the first response of the power structure is not to attack the messenger – it is to  ignore the messenger. If the publication receives no mention by the media, if it garners no reviews and – as is virtually always the case – the publisher lacks the resources and/or the opportunities to market the work, then for all intents and purposes the published material does not exist.



It is only if and when the information manages to find an audience despite the obstacles erected, despite being ignored in the hopes that it would just go away, that the second line of defence kicks in: destroy, by any means necessary, the credibility of the source.

 

We can only conclude from this then that 'conspiracy theories' are beginning to reach a much wider, and much more receptive, audience than the boys in Washington are comfortable with. And that which can’t be ignored must be destroyed. Coupled with the depressed voter turnouts and the apparent hunger by the American people for books critical of the current agenda, it begins to look as thought there may be a considerable amount of dissent bubbling just beneath America’s tranquil surface.



That simmering anger and frustration can be gauged in another way as well -- by perusing the e-mails that are pouring in to websites that offer alternative 9-11 scenarios. The confusion, anger and fear is palpable in such mailings. They frequently begin something like this: “I have never considered myself to be a conspiracy theorist, but…”



The desperation evident in such mailings is striking, as respondents struggle mightily to find answers to questions they never thought they would be asking.”

 

There could be no more glaring contrast today than that between the participation to which European citizens are being so insistently, and rather unsuccessfully,  invited by European elites and the massive gulf that has opened up between the rulers and citizens of the United States. The last thing any member of the political class of the U.S. seems to want is to get unscripted input from citizens. Here in Europe the channels are open but people frankly don’t have all that much to say. There are national gripes, there is the discontent with neo-liberalism, there is opposition to the wars the Americans have on the drawing board.. But none of it is urgent enough to impel European activists to translate their concerns into the language and intellectual framework of the would-be European constitution makers and find a common idiom.

 

Some participants in the current European Convention debates certainly mean business. The Europarliamentarian Alain Lamassoure, for example, claims that the EU is “condemned” by the very fact of its numerical expansion to the methodology of majority (not consensus) decision-making and the creation of an executive power. Like ATTAC, Lamassoure is calling for a President, a “Mr. Europe” to confront “Mr. America” more effectively than Jacques Chirac or the United Nations can do.

 

“The time has come” he asserts “for the Constitution of the European Union.” “Europe will be democratic or it will not exist.” That sounds very good but what kind of democracy does Lamassoure mean when he concedes that: “If the Convention establishes an efficacious, democratic system, the Constitution will not be accepted by all. Neither inside the Convention, nor among the members. It is to be predicted that governments which approve it will be subsequently disowned by their peoples.”? They will be disowned by their peoples? In what way then does this proposed European democracy differ from the “people’s democracy” of the former Warsaw Pact states whose demise was celebrated nowhere more than in France, but which is now apparently being resurrected – not as tragedy but as farce – precisely by the French! And it is no solution to propose, as Lamassoure does, a Constitution of comprising two texts, the real constitution (menu gastronomique) for the connoisseurs and the “light” constitution (menu allégé) for the British and others..

 

Civil society, to be specific, the social forums, have to start vigorously denouncing Napoleonic schemes like this, not in the name of opposition to “neo-liberalism”, which is to confuse issues of primary (constitutional) and secondary (policy) legislation, and not for the sake merely of rejecting a bad idea – that of a European president elected by the parliament – in the name of a worse one, a directly-elected European president. The Europe of citizens which we are being encouraged by everybody, including the European Convention, to demand, must be demanded in concrete form, in the form of a claim for powers: fifty percent representation in a Sovereign Council of European heads of state and the recognized right to compete for a mandate against the European Parliament, and against the national parliaments of member states and regional and local councils. The European Union must indeed seek to put an end to the imperial hegemony of the United States,  but not in the name of an imperialism or a nationalism of our own. We must simply seek to extend our own citizens’ networks into the United States, helping in the elaboration of American civil society just as the burgeoning and paradigm-breaking post-9/11 citizens’ opposition in the United States can (and, if asked, will) greatly assist us now in clarifying and focusing our own objectives and our own demands.

 

 

Athens, 1st November 2002

 

REFERENCES

 

1.       For ATTAC’s submission (in French) to the Forum  section of the European Convention see

http://europa.eu.int/futurum/forum_convention/documents/contrib/other/0147_c_fr.pdf

2.       Guy Debord: La Societé du Spectacle , Paris, 1971.

3.       Kirsty Hughes,  Where is the Real Debate on the Future of Europe?, Centre for European Policy Studies,

      http://www.ceps.be/Commentary/Oct02/Hughes.php

4.       Spectre magazine on EU enlargement,  http://www.spectrezine.org/europe/Harry.htminz

5.       Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism, Cambridge, 1995.pp.213 and 215.

6.       Heidrun Abromeit, Democracy in Europe: Legitimising Politics in a Non-State Polity, New York 1998, pp. vii, 32. 36, 112, 149, 162.

7.   Gore Vidal, The Enemy Within, http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,819931,00.html

8.   David McGowan. America through the Looking Glass,  http://www.swans.com/library/art8/dmg001.html

9.        Alain Lamassoure, Une Constitution pour L’Europe, The European Policy Centre

       http://www.theepc.be/europe/strand_one_detail.asp?STR_ID=1&REFID=819&TWSEC=Commentary&TWDOSS=