donderdag, maart 10, 2005

Yes to the European Constitution (but only in the UK. No to the Constitution of the Bosses in continental Europe!)

I'm not a big fan of George Monbiot. It's not really anything to do with his politics, which are broadly admirable, if a little wet. It's just that I tend to find his writing style exceptionally bland. I also don't think he holds himself up well in debates, conceding here, politely acquiescing there, as he does. And he's as posh as a mother-of-pearl caviar spoon. But in the end he's not so bad. I guess it's a bit like Rush. I recognise that they're very good musicians, and should probably be allowed into the canon of Good Bands, but I just can't get past Geddy Lee's voice. You know?

However, yesterday in the Guardian he wrote a very good article indeed (George Monbiot, not Geddy Lee), covering a subject which, for shame, almost the entirety of the British left is handling as well as I can handle three martinis.

Since moving to Brussels last February, I've spent quite more than a quart d'heure on anti-Bolkestein demonstrations, one of which was quite large (for Brussels, admittedly), and the draft directive and reactions to it certainly have given rise to any number of continental newspaper column inches, often even creeping onto the front pages. But if you're reading this from Britain, I'd wager no small amount that even if you consider yourself to be the most Right On and 'conscious' person in your circle of friends, with your collective guerrilla turnip garden and a civil disobedience rap sheet as long as a roll of toilet paper, you won't have the faintest clue what this Bolkestein business is. (I can't speak to the discussion in Ireland, I'm afraid. I hope the level of debate is healthier than in the UK)

If the Bolkestein directive becomes European law, and this really is no exaggeration, many of the social gains, and in particular the advances the workers' movement has made in Europe since the birth of trade unionism, will be destroyed legally, as Lord Monbiot points out:

'[The directive] impose[s] on member states a compulsory commercialisation of public services, while destroying their ability to defend us from corporate exploitation. It is - or was - due for approval by the end of this year.

'The gremlin inhabits a clause called "the country of origin principle". Companies, it says, "are subject only to the national provisions of their member state of origin". What this means is that if a construction firm based in Lithuania is working in the UK, it need abide only by Lithuanian laws. Every enterprising corporation will want to relocate its HQ to the state with the weakest regulations.'

Even worse,

'The state responsible for enforcing the rules will be the one in which the company is based, not the one in which it is working. If, for example, the Lithuanian company forced workers in the UK to risk their lives on dodgy scaffolding, our Health and Safety Executive wouldn't be able to do a damn thing. Instead, the Lithuanian equivalent would have to send its inspectors over here, and, hampered by any number of translation problems, seek to defend the lives of British workers.'

This is no small bit of fuss about courgettes that are too bendy or how much cocoa butter needs to go into a Mars bar for it to qualify as chocolate (and as far as I'm concerned, the answer there is: a hell of a lot more). It is no wonder that activists across Europe have plowed almost as much energy into defeating the directive as they have into opposing the war.

But because of the British left's provincialism and soft nationalism, there has been little in the way of even information campaigns, let alone protest. The veritably Arctic lack of interest is so thoroughgoing that even the English pages for the Stop Bolkestein campaign website had to be written by someone for whom English is a second language.

I don't think I'm going to make any friends here, but I have to say that I am seriously leaning towards voting in favour of the European Constitution simply because of the failure of the UK far left to mount a serious campaign against it. Instead, they have been half-silent cowards not wanting really to touch the issue, leaving the anti-constitution campaigning to the xenophobes and nationalists.

The progressive arguments against the Constitution are sound. Where historically, conceptions of freedom ran as themes through bourgeois constitutions, being born for the most part in times of anti-feudal revolutions, the organising theme of the European Constitution is the free market.

From Alternative Libertaire's English pages (yes, I had to go to the English pages of a French anarchist magazine to find a coherent English analysis of the document - that's how pathetic this all is) about the Constitution, we find:

'For example article 1-2 declares that "the Union is based on indivisible and universal values of human dignity, equality and solidarity, it rests on the principles of democracy and the rights of the State." But this wonderful declaration is contradicted in the following articles 111-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180 all identically repeating that the. Union will act "in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free".'

'In their pursuit of anti-social policies, different EU governments have shown no hesitation in hiding behind the constraints of the UE treaties. Consequently, a fundamental treaty like the constitutional project stipulates as obligatory a whole range of [neo-]liberal dispositions (including certain clauses that specifically correspond to demands made by certain big bosses lobbies), to demand unanimity voting for any measures that might go against capitalist interests, is to block all political attempts in that direction. This is the certainly case for measures against tax fraud, or taxation of companies, the very measures that should require a unanimous vote and above all "they are necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." (111-63). The same applies to controls of the free circulation of capital, under article III-46-3: "Only a European law or framework law of the Council of ministers may enact measures which constitute a step back in Union law as regards the liberalisation of the movement of capital to or from third countries. The Council of Ministers shall unanimously after consultation with the European parliament."'

'…on the question of the break up of public services, it is allowed that a member state can be in favour of maintaining a public service. But public services have: "the effect of distorting the conditions of competition in the internal market, [and] the Commission shall, together with the state concerned, examine how these steps can be adjusted to the rules laid dawn in the Constitution. By derogation of common law procedure, the Commission or any member state can apply directly to the Court of Justice which will sit in secret..." (III-17)'

'As for the rest of the constitutional project, nearly everything that the bosses' union wants, the Union of the confederation of industry and employers in Europe (UNICE, MEDEF of France is a member) is set out in Part III. On the other hand, there is no mention of the rights of wage earners concerning questions of remuneration, rights of associations, strike action, etc.'

While there are social and environmental provisions, the language gives away the intent: member states 'may' do things, where when it comes to the market, they 'shall' do them.

Then there is the militarisation of Europe that finds its place in the document (again from Alternative Libertaire):

'"member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capacities." (1-40-3). Article 1-40-2 stipulates that European defence policy shall be compatible with members' NATO obligations, a direct recognition of the superior judicial status of that military organisation. Furthermore, the article continues with even greater precision that "participating member states shall work in close collaboration with NATO". Even in situations of "internal serious disturbances affecting public order, in cases of war or of [...] the threat of war", member states are obliged to work together in order to avoid "affecting" the functioning of the "internal market"! (III-16)'

And finally, the existing undemocratic - nay - anti-democratic structures of the European Union - in which the institution that is elected, the parliament, has no power and those institutions that are appointed, the Commission, the Council and the presidency - will be enshrined forever.

The European Union is not in any way responsibly democratic (in the sense that it is responsible to electors), and the European Constitution is a naked attempt to advance deregulation, privatisation and militarisation and to undermine social services and workers' rights. So how can I possibly vote in favour of this?

Because the British people, overwhelmingly so, are not opposed to the Constitution for the above reasons, but simply because it's European and it's foreign. The causes of racism, xenophobia, nationalism and even fascism will be profoundly strengthened by a No vote in the UK.

If the British far left, like the continental far left, had mounted a coherent campaign opposing the constitution for these reasons, distinguishing themselves from the far and nationalist right, then I would vote No. But, if anyone from the far left in the UK at any point does actually begin campaigning against it, are they really going to correct someone they come across while handing out leaflets outside a tube station who says she's going to vote No to protect the pound, or because he believes Britain's sovereignty is being eroded?

Realistically, even the limpest of campaigns is unlikely to be mounted. Why waste valuable activist energy on something that is certainly going to go down to the most legendary of defeats?

To be honest, I am bending the stick a bit in the opposite direction in order to straighten it out (to steal a phrase): I cannot actually bring myself to vote in favour of this wretched, wretched document, despite the fact that my vote will not be seen as it should be - as a rejection of a corporatised and militarised Europe - but as a rejection of Europe in toto.

In the end, I will have to vote No.

Nonetheless, the UK far left is being unquestionably criminal and cowardly in the way it is dealing with Europe.