Why is the European Union (EU) constitution such an explosive issue?
The right wing press was howling with rage over the EU constitution last week. The issue of Europe tore apart the Tory party and could do the same to Labour. The key questions, for the main parties, are about how British firms can best make profits in a world of giant multinationals and huge trading blocs. But this raises questions about democracy, the power of the nation-state and the limits of nationalism.
Tony Blair wrapped himself in the Union Jack and claimed to be defending his "red line" issues of British control over policy. But really he wanted to make sure that the Thatcherite restrictions imposed on British workers were not rolled back by European regulations. As negotiations went on, the Financial Times said, "Tony Blair's main concern is to push through changes that would prevent trade unions acquiring new rights to strike."
Most of the European left and trade unions have marched against the proposed Charter of Fundamental Rights because its provisions are so in hock with big business. Blair objected because he thought this limp document went far too far.
What does the new constitution say?
The constitution agreed last weekend aims at letting the free market rip across a continent. It does have various nods towards a "social dimension". But these are not hard laws.
The draft constitution has capitalist ideology at its heart. "Member states and the Union shall act in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition," it says. Article I-3-2 proposes "a single market where competition is free and undistorted"; article I-3-4 guarantees free trade; article I-4-1 calls for free circulation of commodities, services and capital. Article I-29-3 gives the European Central Bank absolute control over monetary policy.
Public services like health and education are under increased threat because the constitution insists on "free" competition and the dismantling of regulations. Under pressure from big firms the EU has launched a series of initiatives to "reform" pensions across the continent.
This has added to the pressure at local level. In many countries the attacks have been fought off by mass mobilisation. But the constitution will make such assaults more general.
Greater power for unelected EU officials mean they will have more scope to do deals with bodies like the World Trade Organisation. At points the constitution puts forward a weaker and nicer-worded version of the Structural Adjustment Programmes which are forced on the Third World by the IMF and World Bank.
In addition there is a big step forward towards greater EU militarism. Article I-15 states that "Member states shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly." There are also moves towards a European army. This all points towards more EU military interventions like the ones in Macedonia and Congo.
Finally this is a constitution for a Fortress Europe, open to business and closed to refugees. It would mean greater barriers to people fleeing persecution and poverty. Many people look at the Tories' visceral hatred of the EU constitution and think it must therefore be worth supporting. But that would be to give greater powers to our enemies.
Who runs the EU?
Formally the European Parliament and the European Commission. These bodies do have certain powers. But the EU is infected with powerful bosses' organisations such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists.
Business lobby groups and think-tanks cluster around the EU buildings in Brussels. A short walk would bring you to the European Services Forum (a privatisers' group), the UNICE European industrialists' and employers' confederations, Dow Europe and Dupont (US chemicals giants), Forum Europe (a corporate-funded think-tank), New Defence Agenda (an arms sellers think-tank), the British CBI, GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceuticals), the International Council for Capital Formation (an anti-environmental think-tank)-and many others.
So why are bosses divided on the constitution?
The debate is how best to screw the working class. The aim, to get workers to be more "flexible", is shared by all bosses. Some companies are in favour of focusing on free trade deals with the US, Canada and Mexico rather than Europe.
Rupert Murdoch, for example, is against the EU because he wants to forge stronger links with the US and other countries such as China. But he is united with Blair on the need to keep workers down.
On Friday of last week Murdoch's Sun newspaper launched a crusade against the EU constitution. But it added, "Blair is right when he says Britain has power in Europe. That power comes from the example we set. We have a dynamic, free market, enterprise economy." The Sun goes on: "We must tear up the Charter of Fundamental Rights, so we can decide our own asylum policy and prevent Europe dictating how our businesses are run or handing new powers to trade unions."
The best way to challenge bosses and warmongers
Isn't the EU a block to the power of the US?
Strengthening the powers of the EU is sometimes posed as an alternative to US imperialism. It is never a solution to build up another imperialist army to confront an existing imperialist force. It would lead to British or French socialists urging greater military spending, more of "our" nuclear weapons and more soldiers.
In any case, businessmen and generals are already well down the road to setting up joint US-EU cooperation to exploit the world more powerfully together. This weekend sees the EU-US summit at Dromoland Castle, near Dublin in Ireland. With very little pre-publicity this is due to set out an agenda for a "barrier-free transatlantic marketplace".
As the excellent Corporate Europe Observatory says, "Little-known but influential business bodies like the Transatlantic Policy Network and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, campaigning behind the scenes, are having an impact.
"The Transatlantic Policy Network (TPN)-a lobby group involving EU and US parliamentarians and major corporations from both sides-will use 2004 to gather political support for its plan 'on the highest political level'." The 35 member corporations of the TPN include giants like DaimlerChrysler, BP, Nestle, UPS, IBM, and Boeing. For details go to www.corporateeurope.org
When will a referendum take place?
The most likely timetable is: November 2004: Bill to ratify the constitution goes into the British parliament. The Tories and many Labour MPs will oppose it and it could take six months to get through, by which time a general election will be looming. May/June 2005: Most likely date of next general election (although New Labour could hang on until June 2006).
July 2005: Britain takes over EU presidency. Government officials have said this will delay the referendum further as ministers will be "too busy" with other EU matters.
February 2006: Most likely date for referendum campaign to begin. It will last ten weeks. The government will identify two "umbrella" yes and no campaigns (which will therefore be based around the traditional forces). These will be allowed to spend up to £5 million each, get around £600,000 from public funds and a free mailshot to every home.
What does Socialist Worker say about this issue?
We have no truck with the petty British nationalism of the Tories, UKIP and worse. We are for unity with European workers and have far more in common with them than we do with the British rich.
Nor is there anything wonderful about "independent" Britain-trailing behind the US in bloody wars and trailblazing for neo-liberalism across the world. However, the EU constitution is an attempt to set in stone a capitalist vision of the world with penalties for those who defy it. It will erode democracy and make officials even less accountable. Our campaign against the constitution should be internationalist and anti-imperialist. We are against the bullying military and economic power of the US and the EU.
We draw inspiration from the struggles of workers across the world and magnificent events like the anti-war mobilisations of 15 February 2003. We are for workers' rights instead of the spurious rights offered by the European institutions.
And we are for the rights of refugees and immigrants. We are against Fortress Europe and for tearing down all the racist immigration laws, whether drawn up by the EU or national governments.