Blair’s final act as prime minister was to negotiate a new European treaty at the European Union (EU) summit last weekend.
He said his plan was to “sort it out, then move on”.
The treaty proposes a neoliberal Europe run by the countries with larger economies, deregulation of public services and worse rights for workers.
The proposed agreement restates existing economic policy – and then goes further. For example, the words “public services” are replaced by “services of general interest” – which may be private or public.
The “right to look for a job” replaces the “right to a job”. The treaty will mean more layoffs, more unemployment, more working poor, and more attacks against public and social services. The proposals on EU foreign policy will lead to a more militarised Europe.
Gordon Brown’s only contribution was apparently to “go ballistic” at the removal of a reference in the text of the treaty to “free and undistorted” economic competition. Brown worried that this might be interpreted as move away from free market policies.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted the phrase removed to help him sell the treaty to a sceptical French working class.
The deletion is more symbolic than real since there are 13 remaining references to the primacy of competition in the EU’s Treaty of Rome.
Nonetheless, such is Brown’s commitment to the market that he phoned Blair at least three times to insist that the move be reversed. Brown demanded that a separate protocol be added to reiterate the EU’s historic commitment to competition.
Heads of state from all 27 EU states backed the treaty to replace the proposed constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005.
Sarkozy boasted that he would agree to this new version of the constitution without a popular vote – a view shared by most other EU leaders.
Blair’s second goal was to maintain opposition to the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, which was agreed in 2000 but has never been enforced.
The charter enshrines the right to strike, the right to union recognition, a limit on working hours and a ban on child labour. Brown is determined that Britain will not sign up to it.
Other leaders want to play up the “social dimension” of the EU in order to offset opposition to their free market policies.
The EU is not the only vehicle that the bosses can use to drive through neoliberal policies, and a law is only as effective as the ability to enforce it.
But behind the pretence of “fundamental rights” lies an attempt by European big business to entrench and extend its profitability.
That’s why there should be a referendum on the treaty – so that we can reject Brown’s vision of a neoliberal Europe.