zaterdag, mei 28, 2005

Pour l'Europe, votez Non à leur constitution!

There is an insufferable smugness with which the liberal (in the Anglophone sense of the word) encouragers of a Oui vote in France's referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty tomorrow present their argument.

In almost every Guardian article on the subject from the last month, the requisite description of what is being put to the vote includes the words 'designed to make the European Union more efficient and democratic' - presented within news articles as fact, not within editorials as the (gullible) opinion these words are. How could anyone, they reckon, other than facho Lepenistes and dippy Neanderthal Euro-refuseniks vote anything other than Oui? Jon Henley, the Guardian's gauchephobic France correspondent (or, more accurately, the Grauniad's sentimentalist in-house purveyor of Year-in-Provence-esque cliché) wrote last week that 'half the French population is living on another planet.' (Actually, as of yesterday, the polls suggest le Non, il s'insurge: 55 per cent against)

However, I wonder whether these liberal Ouistes have actually themselves read the very document they champion. Today's leader on the referendum in the same paper calling for a Yes, contains this howler:

'[T]he constitution does not warrant the opposition it has generated. For all the anger about liberal Anglo-Saxon economics, the text does not include economic prescriptions that are any different from those in the Treaty of Rome in 1957'

Just quickly, here are a handful of the key examples (which I already discussed in an earlier post) of how the ECT remains not merely neo-liberal through and through, but is additionally aggressively militarist, (incidentally undermining the traditions of neutrality of Ireland and Austria):

1. Articles 111-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180 all identically repeat that the Union will act 'in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free.'

2. There are numerous clauses that specifically correspond to demands made by certain employer organisations.

3. The ECT demands unanimous voting for any measures that might go against corporate interests. This is the certainly case for measures against tax fraud, or taxation of companies. Such legislative movement in this regard requires a unanimous vote as, above all, "[it is] necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." (111-63). Thus, any future proposed duty imposed on corporations would be subject to unanimous voting - something the Ouistes regularly trot out as being reduced under the ECT.

4. Shockingly, the ECT demands all states' subservience to NATO: '[M]ember states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capacities.' (1-40-3). Article 1-40-2 says 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)'

5. Perhaps most disturbing in the ECT is clause 17 of the third section, regarding the question of the break-up of public services: It is permitted 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)' Thus the constitution from the start commits member states to the ultimate elimination of public services.

I find it remarkable that the Guardian leader writers are not aware that the ECT explicitly codifies the dismantling of social services and expansion of European military capablilities.

But let's take the latter two elements and invert them leftwards, just to expose how retrograde this project truly is: Imagine if instead there were a document - a constitution no less, the founding document of a (in this case quasi-)state - that included words something along the following lines:

'Markets have the effect of ever greater inequality, impoverishment and environmental destruction, and so the Commission shall, together with the state concerned, examine how steps can be taken to minimize the impact of markets on society, steadily taking into public ownership under workers' control initially the commanding heights of industry, but in the shorter or longer term every aspect of the economy, in accordance with the rules laid dawn in the Constitution. By derogation of the inalienable rights of humanity, the Commission or any member state can apply directly in this regard to the Court of Justice, which will be directly elected and instantly recallable and which will sit openly...'

or how about:

'Member states shall undertake progressively to eliminate their military capacities. European peace policy shall aim at ending the use of the force of arms between nations or within nations for evermore, and will work in conscious opposition to all forms of imperialism, colonialism and state terror, with particular emphasis and close collaboration by member states on undermining the American hegemon.'

Now, I'd happily vote for something like that, but I'd hardly be capable of convincing anyone that such a document was politically neutral. The above is merely the progressive inverse of what is written in the proposed ECT. Would anyone be under any illusion whatever that such a document was anything but a socialist programme? It is a mystery to me why anyone remains under the illusion that the ECT as it stands is anything but a neo-liberal programme.

At least in France, the Oui de gauche forces readily and defensively admit that the document is flawed. Even Chirac has recently been admitting its flaws, and regularly. The sole remaining card supporters of the ECT in France can play is that 'at least it's a start, and after a Yes vote, we can fix it.' This is the pitiable defence the Oui side has been reduced to, the Non forces have been so effective.

But even this is false. To change this constitution after it is approved will be even more difficult to change than the U.S. Constitution, which, for thirty-odd years has been unable to be amended to include even the simple provision that women are equal to men (the failed E.R.A.).

Let's also dispel the myth that the Non vote is a xenophobic vote against Turkey joining the Union or is rooted in some Gallic chauvinism - or even that the referendum will be decided by Front National voters. All of the Non campaigners, barring the Front National, have been explicitly clear that they are pro-European and for this very reason they must vote no.

According to Pascal Perrineau, a political scientist and the director of the Centre d'etudes de la vie politique française (Cevipof), interviewed in Thursday's Libération,

'Front National electors will contribute decisively to the Non side's victory [behind the traditional supporters of the Parti Socialiste(PS)]…the Lepeniste electorate is, of all the various parties' supporters, situated the most in the Non camp, with some 90 per cent of them against, according to a TNS-Sofres poll. Their vote will be massive, as it was in 1992 against the Maastricht Treaty…The electorate of the far right is the second biggest section of the Non voters, after those who traditionally vote Socialist, but ahead of Communist Party supporters and of the far left. No majority for the Non is possible without the FN.'

Tout d'abord, to counter M. Perrineau's Ouiste thesis, the PS electorate is much, much larger than that of the FN. It is the left of the PS that has won this one (assuming the Non is successful) - overwhelmingly so. What sort of math attributes primary importance to the secondary contributing factor? Secondly, the FN has been running a very low-key Non campaign, as the party itself admits, with the Great Leader having been recovering from hip surgery since March. Thirdly, to the extent that the FN vote is voting Non, we have to recognise that, as with much of the rest of the support for the far right throughout Europe, FN supporters for the most part come from economically depressed regions. The largest support for the FN outside traditionally conservative Alsace is the deindustrialised north, which historically voted not merely Socialist, but Communist. There is no reason to assume that the FN electorate's vote is a xenophobic vote and not a vote against factory closures, precarity, unemployment, delocalisation and the rest of the nasty secondary diseases that one contracts after a major infection of neo-liberalism.

Admittedly, we shouldn't be Pollyanna-ish about this - it may well be a mixture of the two amongst FN voters in many cases - but the sort of aggressive, genuinely anti-neo-liberal campaign that the Non team have been carrying out, and hasn't been seen on the national stage in France outside the far left since 1981, is exactly the sort of work that needs to be done (across the board, not just in France) to wean these working class voters from the far right. It is in the absence of credible left alternatives to neo-liberalism that far right politics flourish.

It is heartening to hear reports that the various forces (left Socialists, left Greens, SUD, the CGT, the LCR, and other far left groups) have been so galvanised by the success of their campaign and, recognising that they represent a majority of the French, but a majority that regularly goes unrepresented by the gauche plurielle, that there are discussions currently taking place about continuing to work together after the referndum to fight neo-liberalism in its other forms.

Already, Chirac has said that job number one after the referendum is a major initiative to combat youth unemployment. Now, whether anything of any substance results from such words or they turn out to be, comme d'habitude, just words is immaterial. Chirac, along with the rest of the forces of neo-liberalism in Europe - including the full spectrum of establishment left parties, union bureaucracies, and centre-left media outlets - have been put on the back foot, however France votes tomorrow. Oui ou Non, nous avons deja gagné.

Votez Non.