One of the few genuinely democratic moments of the past few years came in May and June 2005, when the European Constitution was thrown out by referendums in France and the Netherlands.
These votes were the result of real citizens’ movements that defied the virtually unanimous support for the Constitution by the political and business establishment throughout Europe. And these movements were largely led by the radical left, campaigning against the Constitution because it would hardwire neoliberalism into the political economy of the European Union (EU).
This irruption of democracy has caused a lot of inconvenience to Europe’s elites. So the last EU summit in June decided to repackage the Constitution as a “reform treaty” that does not have to be put to a popular vote anywhere.
You might think that this process would be somewhat embarrassing for the British government. After all, it was Tony Blair’s pledge to put the Constitution to a referendum that forced the then French president Jacques Chirac to do the same, with disastrous consequences.
This policy was reaffirmed in the Labour manifesto in the 2005 general election. But Gordon Brown has made it clear there will be no referendum on the reform treaty. The supposed reason for this is that the reform treaty is quite different from the Constitution. But this is nonsense.
The documents make exactly the same changes to the EU. As Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, architect of the original Constitution, put it, “the European governments have thus agreed on cosmetic changes to the Constitution to make it easier to swallow”.
Indeed, the reform treaty is in some respects worse – as is shown in a new analysis by
Pierre Khalfa of the French anti-globalisation coalition Attac.
For example, despite lobbying by the Catholic church, the Constitution made no reference to Christianity. But the reform treaty invokes Europe’s “religious heritage”.
This is doubly outrageous. Firstly, it undermines the principle of the separation of church and state that should be basic to any secular society.
Secondly, the invocation of an essentially Christian heritage effectively makes believers in non-Christian faiths, and above all Muslims, second-class citizens. This clause is grist to the mill of the campaign led by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to keep Turkey out of the EU.
Beyond that, Khalfa demonstrates in detail that the reform treaty repeats all that the Constitution sought to do to make the EU a global centre of neoliberal imperialism alongside the US.
The treaty goes further in demanding the “progressive suppression of all restrictions on international trade and foreign direct investment”. It reaffirms that the unaccountable European Central Bank has the sole duty of combating inflation – unlike, for example, even the US Federal Reserve Board, which also has to maintain full employment.
The reform treaty gives the unelected European Commission the power to force through the privatisation of public services. And it commits the EU to Nato and to “a renewed Atlantic alliance”. The signatories pledge to enhance their military capabilities in order to mount more missions abroad “to contribute to the struggle against terrorism”.
So the case for submitting the reform treaty to a referendum is overwhelming. Which brings us to the real reason why the June summit went through the charade of repackaging the Constitution.
There is every chance that if the reform treaty were submitted to fresh referendums, it too would be defeated in at least one country. And it can only come into force if all 27 EU member states ratify it.
There is building outrage against Brown’s rejection of a referendum. He risks offending the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail, which he has been carefully courting. But the thunder isn’t just coming from the Eurosceptic right.
Four unions have protested against Britain’s dispensation from even the very feeble social rights contained in the reform treaty. Some Labour MPs are demanding a referendum. Maybe this is where the Brown bounce will start losing momentum.