• Transformed Treaty – But No Transformation of Europe!

  • Von Francis Wurtz | 30 Nov 12 | Posted under: Europäische Union
  • Let us recall first of all the principal stages envisaged for the process that is supposed to lead to the future European Treaty:

    • On July 23, 2007, the ministers of foreign relations of the “27” met in Brussels to launch the intergovernmental conference (IGC). The new Portuguese presidency of the Union (which followed the German presidency) had, already at that date, to submit a draft of the future treaty. This illustrates the sort of hurry the European leaders are in to be rid of this problem, as if they feared that the citizens could seize the problem from them and alter its underlying basis …
    • On September, 7 and 8, a working reunion is supposed to complete the text.
    • On October 18 and 19, 2007, the European Council of the heads of state and government, meeting in Lisbon, is asked to approve the text.
    • If this is accomplished, the period of ratification will then begin. From now until that time, there may be problems of interpretation of certain passages of the (very complicated) mandate of the treaty (allegedly “simplified”) at the level of the states. But worst of all, this beautiful staging has no relation to the feelings of the Europeans themselves about the policies carried out under the aegis of the Union. 

     

    How will things develop concretely? The negotiators and their experts will have in hand two texts: on the one hand, the current treaties; on the other, the ex-project of the Constitutional Treaty (CT). The current treaties will remain in force. The mandate of the negotiators will consist in integrating into the existing treaties all the new aspects of the CT, with the exception of the duly mentioned exceptions. Put differently, the regulations of the CT not quoted in the mandate of the negotiators will remain valid just as they were written in the ex-CT.

    It is thus a matter of transferring the essentials from the ex-CT into the current treaties. This is why the new text is called “Modification Treaty”.

    I. Referendum Debates and the New Treaty

    The first question to is: what will become, in the new text, of the questions that were at the heart of the debate in a number of European countries in 2005?

    1. I am thinking in particular of all the regulations designed to contribute to the perfecting of the present liberal model that guides the whole economic and social policy of the European Union. The majority of these dispositions were not “innovations” of the CT, but figured already in the current treaties. They have been taken over into the Constitutional Treaty. The French president interpreted the retreat from the principle “of free and undistorted competition” (but only the one figuring in the article devoted to “the union’s objectives”) as a “major reorientation”. But what do the other principal members of the European Council, who accepted the modification at this point of the text, think about it? I asked this question directly of the German chancellor who presided over this particular session of the European Council; I also asked Mr. Barroso, the President of the European Commission, at a plenary session of the European Parliament last June 27: “What will change concretely as a result of the retraction of this sentence at this particular section of the future treaty?” Ms. Merkel’s answer left no room for doubt: “Nothing will change!” Incidentally, the principle at issue here will remain in the text, in several passages. Certainly not as an objective, but as a means. Better still, in order to avoid all ambiguity, a special “protocol” has been written that will be included in the future treaty in order to emphasise “loudly and forcefully” – the chancellor insisted – “that this means should be retained and not be weakened”. Mr. Barroso was exuberant on this point, affirming that the principle of competition should in no case be “diluted”, because it constituted “one of the essential components of the Common Market. That should be very clear.” For the rest, reading the conclusions of the European Council leaves no doubt as to the unflinching liberal integrity of its present members. In the chapter devoted to “economic, social and environmental questions”, it is recalled, in the very first sentence, that the “pursuit of the reinforcement” (sic) of the free circulation of capitals continued to “have primary importance”. Does this mean that we should content ourselves with merely taking note of this official response to the question of “free competition” and that we should accept the reality of Operation Sarkozy? Not at all in my view.

     

    2. Another sensitive question during our debates in 2005: the place of public services in the European texts. Nothing will be changed on this point either with respect to the ex-CT except again for the addition of a “protocol” stressing, without further details, the large scope of manoeuvre for national, regional and local authorities in the provision, the shaping and organisation of services of general economic interest in a way that responds as much as possible to the needs of consumers.” As one can see, there is hardly a cultural revolution here. The SGEIs (Services of General Economic Interests) will continue to enjoy a merely secondary status, well supervised and subordinated to the rules of competition and the laws of the market.

     

    3. As far as the Charter of Fundamental Rights is concerned, a few remarks: Its text will not appear in the future treaty, but it will be mentioned, and its juridical value will be emphasised. A protocol appended to the treaty will clarify that neither the Charter in general, nor in particular, “in order to dissipate all doubt, anything in title IV of the Charter (social rights and the right to work), establishes legal rights with regard to the United Kingdom”. The version of the Charter that will be retained is of course the one that figures in the ex-CT project, with its very controversial passages (for example the traditional “right to work” is replaced by “the right to be working”) and its “explanations established under the aegis of the presidium of the European convention” which, re-inserted at the insistence of Great Britain, remove all substance from certain articles.1

     

    4. Despite numerous objections to the development, envisaged by the ex-project of the CT, of a ”common security and defense policy”, this whole part has been absorbed into the mandate to the negotiators of the future treaty. I quote in particular: · “the policy of the union (…) shall (…) be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework” (that of NATO). We do not know what the politics of NATO will be in the future, but we commit ourselves, with eyes closed, to never permit a policy that would break from it …; this passage was seriously criticised as the expression of an a priori allegiance to NATO;

    • “the member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities”. That appeal to increase armament expenditures was often condemned in the 2005 debates; 
    • “the Council may entrust a task, within the Union framework, to a group of member states in order to protect the Union’s values and serve its interests” (sic).
    • “Those member states whose military capabilities meet higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework.” These kinds of new dispositions prompted fear of a militarist derailment of the Union and consolidated the NO vote (on the left).

    II. Other “Innovations”

    Let us enumerate the other “innovations” derived from the ex-CT project, which are featured in the mandate for the negotiators of the future treaty. I will be brief, since some of these ”innovations” are by now well known, having been subject to ample public commentary. I am thinking especially of:

    • the creation of a post of president (man or woman) of the European Council for a mandate of 2.5 years, renewable once;
    • the creation of a new function of high representative (man or woman) of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy;
    • The instituting of a new voting system with double majority (50 % of the states and 55 % of the population) starting in 2014 (with transitional measures lasting until 2017);
    • The extension of the areas in which decisions are made by qualified majority.

     

    Other reforms are less well known and deserve attention. For example:

    • The reduction in the number of commissioners and the strengthening of the role of the President of the Commission;
    • the extension of the areas in which co-decision applies (European Parliament and Council);
    • a slight relaxation of the conditions allowing a minimum of 9 member states to establish among themselves a “reinforced cooperation”;
    • the recognition of the Union as a “legal person” which allows it to sign, as such, agreements and treaties in the name of all the member states;
    • the confirmation of the primacy of Community law over the laws of the member states, under the form of an appendix to the treaty recalling the decisions (the judgments) of the European Court of Justice on the relevant subjects;
    • A slight extension of the time permitted the member-state parliaments (from 6 to 8 weeks) to examine legislative proposals so that they may ensure that the European Commission does not overstep its prerogatives (principle of subsidiarity).

     

    This simple incomplete list of the institutional “innovations” drawn from the ex-CT, but which did not become the object of widespread information or confrontation of ideas in 2005, further convinces us that broad public debate, on the basis of an effective consultation of citizens given the opportunity to shape their will in full knowledge of the realities, is an unavoidable democratic requirement.

    III. The European Left Has to Overcome a Triple Challenge

    1. As mentioned above, the breakneck speed established by the European Council for adopting the text of the future treaty has no relation to the wishes of the Europeans themselves no garding the policies conducted under the aegis of the Union. This is why it seems to me that the first duty of the European Left is to facilitate the participation of the populations in this process. The first and, in my view, decisive stage of the citizens‘ appropriation is the clarification of the substance and force of the text being elaborated. At this stage I think we should devote our efforts to this task.

     

    2. Coupled to this effort of political education, the European Left should, in our opinion, satisfy the demand for a large public and pluralist debate in each country and at the European level, leading up to a referendum.

     

    3. And most importantly, the European Left should, in my view, rise to the level of the ideological debate engaged in by certain European political officials who, like Nicolas Sarkozy, understand very well that the traditional “Brussels” discourse and its unitary outlook does not go over very well any more. And what is true for the question of “public deficits” also holds for industrial policy, custom tariff protection and the dogmas of the ECB. In order to channel the ever higher ambitions to change the “European software” – to use a fashionable expression –, they are breaking certain taboos and speaking out about contradictions up to now cloaked in secrecy. That is partly due to the lesson of the May 29, 2005.

     

    Thus the German finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, recently pointed to the danger of a “legitimacy crisis of the European economic and social model”. As for the Italian economic minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, although long known as an advocate of budget austerity, he caused a scandal last month by crying out: “we refuse the European straitjacket.”… It would in my view be just as incoherent to deny the reality of the problems – often at the heart of the 2005 French debate – these officials bring up as it would be naïve to have illusions about their wish to arrive at solutions that would addness the aspirations of our fellow citizens. A real confrontation around political options emerges therefore in the full light of day, on the basis of the people’s concrete experience and the increasingly undeniable contradictions of the Union’s current policies.

    Thus, for instance, the French President declares that he wishes to combat the dogma of “free competition”? Wonderful! Then, what measures does he intend France to take to stop the economic, ecological and, of course, social absurdity of opening up the electricity market to competition? And what approach will the French government take to the total liberalisation of the postal services discussed this week at the European Parliament?

    It is at the concrete level and through many and various moves to break with the orientations and current structures of the Union that the European Left should, in my view, elaborate and give life to its alternative vision.

    This text was written in mid August 2007 

    Note:

    1. Example (article 94 of the old CT): “The union recognises and respects
      the entitlement to social security benefits” (there follows a list of benefits). Then follows the “explication” of the “presidium”: this article “does not imply that such services should be created where they do not exist”!

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