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)