A tale of two treaties

French magazine Politis asked two leading French progressive figures, Alain Lipietz (Green Party) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (Socialist Party) to debate their respective support for and opposition to the proposed EU constitution.

March 1, 2005
6 min read

Can you explain the main reasons that have led to your rejection/approval of the Constitution?

Alain Lipietz: Neoliberalism continues unconstrained because of the contradiction between the unified market economy in Europe which has developed since 1998 and nationally fragmented political power. Only a single, democratic political mandate can deal with the power of market forces.

Europe with its new member states is 90 per cent self-sufficient. A Europe-wide democratic political mandate could lead to a common social and environmental and expansionary economic framework. But this political framework does not exist. As each political treaty comes up, I ask myself if political unification is progressing at the same pace as economic unification. If not, I campaign against it, as I did against the Single Act, against the Maastricht Treaty, and against the Nice Treaty. But I will vote ‘yes’ for the treaty establishing a European constitution.

The constitutional treaty represents real progress in the creation of democratic and political power. This is true with regard to legislation in the European parliament, decision-making over the budget, majority voting in the council of ministers and co-decision-making between the parliament and the council becoming the rule. Decision by unanimity in the council is becoming the exception. This is progress. Another sign of progress is the possibility of a referendum if one is demanded by a petition with one million signatures.

Jean-Luc Melenchon: I share Alain’s left-wing starting point. In my analysis, the economic unification of Europe was simultaneous with the political one. Neoliberalism has created its own political environment based on the dismantling of regulation and elimination of contradictions between national legislation.

As a result, citizens have no involvement with or power over European economic institutions. This is the deficit that needs to be addressed. Advocates of a ‘yes’ vote think that the proposed constitution provides political regulation and popular sovereignty. We think the opposite.

Socially progressive legislation would be blocked because the proposed constitution would consolidate all previous treaties into a constitutional form. One article explicitly prohibits social harmonisation by legislation, another prohibits social transformation through negotiation between social partners. In the end, no matter what social partners might decide, the final decision would be taken by the council under the rule of unanimity.

Until now, the economic unification has not been accompanied by social harmonisation. Is this imbalance modified by the proposed constitution?

A.L. The only important gain in terms of social issues is on the question of public services. Today, the rules of competition are applied to public services as long as this does not stop them from meeting their obligations as public services. It is an obligation under the new constitution that public services be in a fit state, including financially, to fulfill their mission, ‘without prejudice to the competencies of states to supply them and to finance them.’ We have gone from an authorisation to an obligation. This is fundamental.

On the other hand, as far as the harmonisation of social systems is concerned, the gains are modest compared with the Nice Treaty, and this made me hesitate between voting ‘yes’ and boycotting.

Contrary to what Jean-Luc believes, I find it healthy that Europe is not directly harmonising the social laws of member states. The constitution suggests ‘harmonisation through progress’ and distinguishes eleven areas for legislation. Reform of social security systems and the fight against social exclusion remain strictly under national control, as is the case with wages. On the nine other areas, European law establishes minimum standards which are to be progressively increased to achieve harmonisation.

But … in four of these points decisions would still require unanimity in the Council. For instance, unanimity would be required to increase social protection and minimum unemployment benefit. On the other hand, rules on transnational social allowances for workers would be decided under majority rule. Not useless but modest. The more decisions on social issues that are taken on a majority basis, the better. As long as a state can veto improvements to common minimum rules, we are defending social dumping.

There is one extension of this right of national veto in the constitution about which the left in the Parliament is ‘rejoicing’ – negotiations on the General Agreement on the Trade in Services (GATS) and on intellectual property (TRIPs) at the WTO. The ‘cultural exception’ is maintained on health, education and social services. I think this is reasonable. It is normal that on these points, which are considered issues of national identity, we keep the law of unanimity.

J-L.M. For socialists, Europe is not an end in itself. It is the content of European integration that determines where we stand. What is unacceptable is putting neoliberal economic policies in the constitution.

The first principle that the text lays down is ‘free and undistorted’ competition in all fields. Social harmonisation is therefore impossible through legislative, regulatory or contractual means. This makes impossible, for instance, a policy of social convergence to be imposed on all states progressively in the way the economic convergence criteria of the stability pact are imposed. But levelling down and competition between national social systems are happening all by itself with the Bolkestein directive. Social Europe is without meaning. This is the situation of today. We are about to install an institutional system in which there is no space for a socialist political perspective. This, in my opinion, is a determining factor.

As far as social services are concerned, Alain and I don’t have the same interpretation of the constitution. It calls them ‘services of general commercial interest’. In every field, neoliberalism tries to transform what was, until yesterday, considered free: postal services, education, health.

The constitution prohibits subsidies for any kind of product and service. It is said that exceptions can be made, but it is up to the Commission to decide. Where a state is declared to be at fault, neither the Parliament nor the Council decides, but the Court of Justice. In social matters, as in every other issue, we are installing government by judges.

Translation: Vasilis Margaras, Loughborough University.

Read a longer version of this article in this month’s Red Pepper or in French at www.politis.fr/article1273.html Politis is a partner with Red Pepper in Eurotopia.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank