Weekly News Review

26th June 2004

Big news this week is that the European Union’s member states have agreed a new text for a Constitution. Changes from the one rejected at the end of last year are minimal. In the coming weeks we will provide as much information and analysis as possible. Referenda, already promised in the Netherlands, UK, Portugal, Spain and Denmark are also likely to be held in a number of other countries, giving us a chance to stop this thing in its tracks. One group which will be trying its best to do so is the Irish National Platform, whose analysis we carry here.   Some points made by the Platform and many others are:

On sovereignty: Until now, the EU has been an association of States, deriving its authority  from international treaties. Henceforth, it will be a State in its own right, drawing legitimacy from the Constitution. "This constitution", says Article I-5 "shall have primacy over the laws of the Member States." Article I-6 gives the EU legal personality and an independent corporate existence separate from its Mmebers, allowing it to be treated as a State under international law. The EU, not its member States,  will sign treaties with other States in future. Ireland will remain a state in the sense that Bavaria is a state inside Germany, Massachussetts a state inside the USA, or Ontario a state inside Canada, but it will no longer be an independent  international actor in its own right. It will have surrendered its political independence.

On Justice and Home Affairs:  The Constitution establishes a two-tier legal system, rather like the USA, with a Federal law code sitting above state jurisdictions. It creates a European Public Prosecutor, a prosecuting magistracy (Eurojust), and a Federal police force (Europol). It also harmonises civil proceedings and launches common policies on immigration and asylum. While some of these things already exist, they have hitherto had no legal basis in a State Constitution.

On the division of powers: The Constitution lists the areas where Brussels will have either full or shared jurisdiction. These cover virtually every area: transport, trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries, justice and home affairs, space exploration, employment, social policy, foreign affairs, defence, immigration and asylum. Where sovereignty is shared, the Constitution states “Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that  the Union ceases to exercise, or chooses no longer to exercise, its competence”.

On Foreign Affairs and Defence: Article I-15 reads: "The common foreign and security policy shall cover all aspects of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security. Member States shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly, in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity." The Nice Treaty's provision that the progressive framing of a common defence policy "might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide" becomes "will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.” The Constitution creates a European Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps. It gives legal recognition to the EU's fledgling military forces, which have already been deployed in  the Congo and Macedonia.

On the Charter of Fundamental Rights: This is now made legally binding in all areas covered by EU law. That will make huge new areas of national life subject to European rulings, including family relations, employment rights, social policy and anti-discrimination  law.  The European Court of Justice has made clear that it will treat the Charter as directly justiciable. The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg becomes supreme over national Constitutions and Supreme Courts, and the  Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in such human rights matters.  This adds another expensive tier of legal appeal for aggrieved citizens seeking  to obtain their human rights. At the same time one article of the Charter allows all the rights it mentions to be limited in the interests of the EU.

Whistleblower joins Green Group

After holding talks with the right-wing Eurosceptics and considering joining the left wing United Left Group, Paul van Buitenen, the man whose revelations about corruption in high places led to the resignation of the European Commission in 1999, has opted for membership of the Greens/European Free Alliance, the European Parliamentary group which brings together a ragbag of left-leaning Greens, right-wing Greens and more-or-less progressive regionalists. How well van Buitenen will get on with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who in the recent past has threatened to expel members who participated with left- and right-wing EU-critics in an attempt to have the Commission’s accounts rejected, remains to be seen.

New eurosceptic group to be announced next week

Plans to form a new anti-EU group in the European Parliament are reaching the last stages and are expected to be announced early next week.  The group will unite left-leaning and centrist Eurosceptics with the far right League of Polish Families and UKIP, but will essentially be two groups in one, an arrangement of convenience necessitated by the EP’s rules on minimum group size. Read all about it here

Citizens’ Initiative for a Social Europe

Focused on the recent elections to the European Parliament, a group of academics from the University of Amsterdam launched an appeal for a progressive European Parliament, committed to reversing neoliberal economic policy and achieving a more "Social Europe". Gaining support from intellectuals, artists, journalists, NGO activists and politicians their appeal  "For a Different Europe" sought to mobilize public opinion in favour of these goals and to open lines of communication between citizens and MEP. Spectre would endorse most of what the initiative calls for but also believes that you might as well expect a tiger to go vegetarian as call for a “social” EU, but if you want to judge for yourself you can read the full text of the call and the names of those who signed it here 

Thanks to Spectre readers from Greenpeace as Bhopal survivors make progress towards justice

Spectre recently passed on a request from Greenpeace that people to take action to help the survivors of  Bhopal. We have no way of knowing how many of you were amongst the more than three thousand people who responded, but we know that you are above all activists and are therefore confident that we can pass on Greenpeace’s thanks. The deluge helped turn around the position of the Indian government, forcing it finally to bow to pressure and agree to allow a US Court to rule on whether Dow Chemical should clean up the site of the ongoing Bhopal disaster. Greenpeace is confident that there is a good chance that the court will so rule. Go

here for more information.