Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Wrong man, wrong Europe

Referendums killed off the EU Constitution, a 'blackmail' that Europe's elites will now avoid by forcing through the Lisbon Treaty without debate, writes Susan George. And Tony Blair is just the man some of them want to lead the way in this new Europe

April 2, 2008
6 min read

Europeans are becoming accustomed to both insult and injury. For many excellent and well-examined reasons, in mid-2005 French and Dutch voters rejected the European Constitution. In France, it had been 13 years since anyone had asked its citizens what they thought about Europe, and they replied 55 per cent strong that it was going in an entirely wrong, neoliberal, inequitable direction. Yes, there were some far-right ‘No’ votes, but most came from pro-Europeans who refused to see Europe reduced to the status of a marketplace.

This expression of popular sovereignty was intolerable to the elites. They have now remedied the situation by forcing through the Lisbon Treaty, a carbon copy of the constitution, with only ‘cosmetic changes’ to ‘make it easier to swallow’, as former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing phrased it. He should know, having drafted the original document.

No official flag and no Beethoven hymn, but the rest is there. Don’t believe me – listen to Giscard, Angela Merkel, Karel De Gucht, Giuliano Amato, José-Luis Zapatero, Bertie Aherne and Jose-Manuel Barroso, European leaders who all heaved huge, public sighs of relief to that effect. As for the thoroughly undemocratic process that brought forth the Lisbon Treaty, Gunther Verheugen, vice-president of the European Commission, put it best after the French-Dutch votes: ‘We must not give in to blackmail’. They didn’t. One thinks of Bertolt Brecht, who in 1951 said of the East German regime:

After the uprising of the 17th June

The Secretary of the Writer’s Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

So the text of the treaty will be pushed through parliaments with no time for discussion and debate. Nicolas Sarkozy himself told right-wing Euro MPs that if there were referendums on the Lisbon Treaty, they would be lost; if the French voted, they would again vote ‘No’. Under no circumstances should citizens be allowed referendums (and Ireland made a huge mistake in making them compulsory).

Don’t make the mistake of letting people actually read a clear text. The Lisbon Treaty is what you get, like it or not, although we can’t actually give you a copy of it – just five or six separate documents, protocols and declarations that you can spend the next few years collating and cross-referencing to your heart’s content. Oh yes – and we’ve got just the man to lead the new Europe that this treaty intends to force upon you: Tony Blair.

He’s perfect for the job. We can count on him to promote ‘a more assertive Union role in security and defence matters [which] will contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic Alliance’. And he will make sure that Europe ‘respects the obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which remains the foundation of the collective defence of its members’, according to Protocol 4 of the treaty (which, like the other protocols and declarations has the same legal force as the treaty and supersedes national law).

We don’t know what Nato’s future policies will be and are signing on blindfolded. But we do know that the US will continue to lead it and that the US president will be its de facto commander in chief. Who better than Blair to polish the commander’s medals and shine his [or her] shoes?

The EU is terrific on market-oriented policies as well, and that can only be to Blair’s satisfaction. In the 410 treaty articles, the ‘market’ rates 63 references and ‘competition’ is cited 25 times. ‘Social progress’ gets three mentions, ‘full employment’ one and ‘unemployment’ none, but you can’t have everything.

What you can have is a downgrading of social policy and of public services. Any upwards harmonisation of EU social [or fiscal] policy will require unanimity of the 27 members, so the pressure will be to reduce taxes and social services. As for public services, they are specifically made subject to competition. The treaty doesn’t affect ‘the competence of member states to provide, commission and organise non-economic services of general interest’ and that may sound reassuring. The problem is that ‘non-economic services’ are nowhere defined and in some interpretations they could be reduced to the police and the courts. The European Court of Justice has not shown undue affection for public services and the Commission can also make members stop subsidising them, so Blair should feel quite at home.

Among the many provisions of the constitution, the treaty has also retained the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a meek and mild compendium granting fewer rights than most national constitutions. However meagre, this was still too much for Blair, who demanded – and received – an exemption for the UK, enshrined in the lengthy and detailed Protocol 7. All one can deduce from this is that in our brave new Europe, the rules concerning market freedom and competition are compulsory, whereas anything smacking of even limited human and social rights is optional. Why should Blair’s attitude as president of Europe reflect any other view?

If Europe still seems remote to you and not worth getting excited about, you should know that 80 per cent or more of the laws that will apply to you and your country will come not from the seat of your national government but from Brussels. Let us hope that the petition against Blair’s presidency blazes its way through the 27 member states or that Tony himself may decide to be content with the putative 500,000 quid he will receive annually as a part-time advisor to the JP Morgan Chase investment bank. If he jumps out of the British frying pan into the Brussels fire, 450 million European citizens risk being severely burned.

Susan George is board chair of the Transnational Institute and honorary president of Attac France. Her two new books are We the Peoples of Europe (Pluto) and Hijacking America: How the Religious and Secular Right Changed What Americans Think (Polity Press)

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going