United States of Europe - theirs and ours

Jack Conrad explains the communist vision

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing unveiled the final draft of the proposed constitution of the European Union on July 10. Since then the 15 member and 10 candidate governments have been locked in often fraught and difficult negotiations. Many doubt that they will be able to reach agreement by the December deadline. The EU presidency then passes from Italy to Ireland - from a government which broadly favours the draft to one which holds reservations.

Even if an agreement can be cobbled together, there are other hurdles to cross. Not only is it necessary to get the European and national parliaments to vote for it: most countries will have to submit the constitution to a referendum. Despite the noisy agitation from the Tory opposition - sudden converts to referendums - Tony Blair has consistently rejected all such demands for Britain. Moreover, worried by his incipient split over Europe with chancellor Gordon Brown, and the bad example it would give the British people, his diplomats have actually been urging French president Jacques Chirac not to hold a referendum. It would be “unhelpful”, say government sources (The Sunday Telegraph November 9).

The Giscard d’Estaing draft offers nothing startling or radical. When boiled down, his constitution represents little more than a systemisation of existing European treaties. There are though four main areas of controversy. The national veto is to be limited (either that or the expansion to 25 members in 2004, threatens to wreak havoc); the European parliament is to be granted a modest increase in powers; there is to be an EU foreign minister; and the number of commissioners is to be cut, thus depriving smaller countries of an automatic seat on the commission.

Naturally little-British nationalists - of the left as well as the right variety - object to the draft virtually as a matter of principle. They loath everything European, fear any further loss of sovereignty and want to keep the pound in perpetuity. Revolutionary socialists and communists would, of course, make a big political mistake if they merely echoed the objections of the nationalists. Our movement also surrenders its political independence whenever it indulges in the sterile politics of automatically saying ‘no’ when the incumbent government says ‘yes’. Socialism requires its own positive programme.

The Giscard d’Estaing draft must be carefully studied. That the “second line of discussions” at the European Socialist Forum in Paris is devoted to “citizens rights” and “an analysis” of the EU constitution is to be warmly welcomed. Dismissing the EU as a “bosses’ club” and posing an abstract United Socialist States of Europe, as it too often the case on the left in Britain, takes us not a centimetre forward. If the working class is ever to realise the goal of socialism in Europe, or anywhere else, it is vital to actively intervene and take a lead in the battle for democracy under capitalism. Without that socialism is impossible. Where Giscard d’Estaing has presented a cribbed and cramped, quasi-democratic EU, the left is duty-bound to develop our alternative vision of a united Europe in which democracy is greatly expanded and filled with a definite social content.

In terms of method, scale, ambition and probable consequences the only parallel to the EU under capitalism is the formation of the United States of America in 1787 out of the loose confederation of 13 states which emerged victorious from the revolutionary war against the British crown. Giscard d’Estaing has himself compared his work to that of the founding fathers of the US, and the expectation - especially in France and Germany - is that the EU will over the next 10 to 20 years emerge as a superstate of some kind.

Yet compared to the US in the 18th century, European unity has evolved thus far at a much more cautious and protracted - and for our rulers an altogether safer - pace. There has been no great wave of liberation nor the voluntary coming together of risen peoples. Nevertheless European integration, though piecemeal and only quasi-democratic, has gone a long way since the 1957 Treaty of Rome. The customs union - born of the terrible slaughter and mutual destruction of World War II and then the cold war system which divided the continent - has become an economic giant embracing 380 million people.

The aim of the EU’s ‘core’ bureaucrats and politicians is clear. Wim Duisenberg, the first president of the European Central Bank, says economic and monetary union “is, and was always, a stepping stone on the way to a united Europe”. Germany’s Joschka Fischer is also of the opinion that there must be a “translation from a union of states to a federation”. The Bundesbank issued statements in 1990 and 1992, arguing that monetary union had of necessity to be followed by political union. Otmar Issing, the chief economist of the ECB, notes: “There is no example in history of a lasting monetary union that was not linked to one state” (quotes from A Brown The euro: should Britain join? Cambridge 2001, pp73-74).

Through presiding over the process of unification, the EU bureaucracy is confident that by 2010 Europe will not only possess an expanded membership - possibly a total of 28 states - but have far outstripped the US in terms of GDP. Streamlining this huge political-economic bloc and putting it under centralised direction brings the possibility of the EU playing a determining global role and thereby gorging itself on the whole planet’s human and natural resources as the imperialist top dog.

Meanwhile militarily and politically the EU punches far below its economic weight. It resembles something like the 13 confederated American states before 1787 - the parts are more important than the whole. The EU is a bickering amalgam of unevenly developed states. But the grain of development is not hard to discern: wider, in the form of the 10 new members, who will formally join in May 2004 (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, etc); deeper, in the form of enhanced politico-legal institutions. The EU already has the European Central Bank and the euro, a council of ministers, the European Commission, an elected parliament and a European Court of Justice. But how wide and how deep? That essentially is the question.

Negotiations over the Giscard d’Estaing constitution have brought to the surface all the latent divisions that still characterise and hold back capitalist Europe. Britain, Italy, Spain and much of the “new Europe” to the east favour an Atlanticist foreign policy. Blair wants Britain to have one foot in Europe and the other in the US alliance. By contrast, “old Europe” - crucially Germany and France - wants to distance Europe from US hyperpower, not least over Iraq. They envisage the EU counterbalancing the US and operating independently of it - a strategy also pursued by Jacques Nikonoff, president of Attac France, and Bernard Cassen, its honoury president.

The division between the “old European” federalists and the Altanticist confederalists manifests itself over moves to create an armed wing of the EU. The 60,000-strong rapid reaction force is seen as a potential alternative to Nato by both sides. The Altanticists warn of the danger of detachment from the US and therefore try to keep things as inoffensive and ineffective as possible. Nevertheless Giscard d’Estaing’s draft includes a “common foreign and security policy” (article 15) and there has been much ostentatious talk within federalist circles of instituting an EU undertaking of common defence “similar to Nato’s article five”, as well as an “agency for joint arms procurement and research”.

There is another battle. The big four - Britain, Germany, France, Italy - and their allies in Luxembourg, Denmark and Belgium (federalists), are generally happy with Giscard d’Estaing’s draft constitution. However, others are decidedly unhappy about the prospect of limiting the national veto and not having an EU commissioner. Spain and Poland (medium-sized EU countries) are particularly aggrieved and have dug their heels in over the issue.

Then there is the matter of religion - originally mooted by former Irish prime minister John Bruton. Italy, Spain, Slovakia and Poland are demanding “god” and “christian values” be included in the constitution’s preamble. Poland’s cardinal Joseph Glemp is quoted as favouring Europe ... “but only with god”. Fundamentalist jewish, muslim and protestant faith groups have likewise demanded mention of the positive role of religious values. This has been opposed, in particular by France, which has a long secular tradition dating back to 1789.

The European constitution is designed to inspire supranational loyalty. Giscard d’Estaing’s preamble is drawn in part from the French Revolution’s ‘Rights of man’ and the US declaration of independence. There are plenty of fine words about “human dignity”, “the rule of law”, “tolerance” and “fundamental rights” (part II). The EU is described as a “union of European states which, while retaining their national identities, closely coordinate their policies at the European level, and administer certain common competencies on a federal basis” (title III, article 9). He proposes a system of dual citizenship - home country and EU (title II, article 8). The draft constitution also contains mention of the possibility of “voluntary withdrawal” from the EU (article 59). An innovation. Till now there are no provisions for opting out.

Naturally the little-British, anti-EU press has vented its full fury against the Giscard d’Estaing draft. The Times condemned it as federalist to the core and thundered that it “severely circumscribes the meaning of statehood”. The Daily Telegraph warns that the government will swallow too many of Giscard d’Estaing’s proposals: “The danger is that Blair, like his predecessors, will go along with the bad in the hope of retaining influence on the continent.” True to form, the Daily Express wrote of a “slippery slope - leading to Britain becoming part of a federal republic”. The Daily Mail gave the parliamentary Tory Party’s representative on the constitutional convention which debated the Giscard d’Estaing draft, David Heathcote-Amory, a full page to paint his nightmarish vision of the EU’s future. Britain is a mere member of United Europe - worse, the BBC becomes the “European Broadcasting Organisation”, income tax is set at 70% and kilometres are used on motorway signs - “miles are just a distant memory” (all quotes from October 29 2002).

Hyperbole and lurid chauvinism aside, it is clear as day that the anti-EU press are right. British sovereignty and independence are being steadily eroded. But what history poses is not some atavistic harking back to some golden age. The British empire can never return. Nor can British independence. The idea of national autonomy is anyway a complete myth. All countries - even the mighty US - have relations of mutual interdependence. Certainly Britain cannot operate effectively in the world alone. Nor can Germany, France, Italy or the other EU countries. But together they can hope to compete with and rival the US and Japan.

The real question before us is what sort of EU? Is the EU to evolve into a quasi-democratic superstate, as proposed by Giscard d’Estaing? Or can those below pursue their own agenda and create an EU which embodies extreme democracy?

Whether European unity is to be federal or confederal, at present it is not being brought about under the direct or indirect impact of working class self-activity - as envisaged by Marxists such as Fredrick Engels, Karl Kautsky and Leon Trotsky. EU unity is proceeding fitfully through a whole series of tortuous, behind-the-scenes compromises and makeshift deals, hatched between member-governments - all presided over by an unelected EU bureaucratic elite.

Indeed there can be no doubt that the whole project is moving according to the rhythm, requirements and restrictions imposed by capital. So the working class has no reason whatsoever to endorse, applaud or join with either the EU federalists or the Atlanticists who stubbornly defend state rights and call for a looser confederation.

Capitalism is attempting to organise Europe into a blood bank - a huge source of surplus value, ever ready to meet its vampirish needs. Giscard d’Estaing’s draft contains a veritable paean of praise for the market and the virtues of competition (title VII, chapters I and II). However, capitalist Europe must, and will, call forth a working class alternative. The working class has never been simply a passive victim. The power of capital has always been confronted by the power of labour.

Moreover, our class is ascendant. History is on our side. After World War II capital could only maintain itself through a far-reaching historic compromise - the social democratic state. And with each year that passes capitalism becomes ever more impossible and riven with contradictions. Hence, whereas Giscard d’Estaing and the EU governments are proposing half-democratic measures and palliatives, we require our alternative that can help create the objective and subjective conditions for the epochal transition from capitalism to communism.

Communists wish in general to bring about the closest voluntary unity of peoples - and in the biggest state units at that. All the better to conduct the struggle of class against class and prepare the wide ground needed for socialism. Hence our formulation, “To the extent that the European Union becomes a state, then that necessitates EU-wide trade unions and a Communist Party of the EU” (‘What we fight for’).

That explains why we are far from indifferent about the EU draft constitution and the bureaucratic-bourgeois project of unifying Europe. The call from left-nationalist reformists, ‘official communists’ and various Trotskyites and sub-Trotskyites to pull the UK out of the EU because it is a “bosses’ club”, or because it is not “socialist”, is a blundering mix of political illiteracy and intellectual bankruptcy. One might just as well suggest pulling the working class out of Britain.

In the 18th and 19th centuries there were, of course, those utopians who argued that communists should have nothing to do with bourgeois society. It was by definition a capitalist or “bosses’ club”. They established colonies in the Americas, which would practise equality and fraternity. Suffice to say, they were ill-fated. All failed. And not surprisingly Marxism has consistently criticised such schemas. The utopian communists’ denunciation of capitalism provided wonderful ammunition. However, opting out of the struggle within capitalism was attacked as tantamount to desertion.

Capitalism and the capitalist state as it historically presents itself in the here and now is where the socialist-communist project starts. The journey begins not with the destination, but the first step. So we begin with the capitalist EU. There can be doubt that European integration, through the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, is, as the Socialist Workers Party-International Socialist Group majority wing of the Socialist Alliance state, the “central project of the European employers”. Nor can it be denied that the EU is an “anti-working class project” aimed at increasing the exploitation of European workers in order that European capital can “compete more effectively in world markets”. The EU “bosses’ club” aims to “maximise job flexibility” and “increase the power of the bosses in the workplace”. To that end EU institutions have been made as “undemocratic” as possible, with an “unaccountable” ECB, etc (quotes from SWP-ISG motion to October 12 2002 Socialist Alliance conference on the euro).

Of course, from these elementary - and uncontroversial observations - it is quite perverse to claim that in Britain a ‘no’ referendum vote on the euro follows. Naturally, being sincere socialists, the SWP-ISG majority in the SA say their campaign will shun xenophobes and chauvinists and promote demands such as ‘For a workers’ Europe, not a bosses’ Europe’ and ‘No to Fortress Europe’ - there was a two to one majority at the SA’s October conference favouring a ‘no’ campaign as against an active boycott. But, try as you might, you will find no programme outlining how to achieve a workers’ Europe other than rejecting the bosses’ Europe. There is no logically established linkage joining means to ends. Just saying ‘no’ to the euro and the bosses’ Europe does not lead to a workers’ Europe.

We argue for a positive programme. A social Europe, within which the political power and economic interests of the broad masses - albeit initially under capitalism - are qualitatively advanced. To bring forward these immediate ends the following seven demands, specifically concerning the EU, are presented:

1. For a republican United States of Europe. No to Giscard d’Estaing’s EU monarchical president. Abolish the council of ministers and sack the unelected commissioners. For a single-chamber executive and legislative continental congress of the peoples of Europe, elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation.

2. Nationalise all banks in the EU and put the ECB under the direct, democratic control of the European congress. No to the stability pact and spending limits. Stop privatisation and so-called private finance initiatives. End subsidies to, and tax breaks for, big business. Tax income and capital. Abolish VAT. Yes to workers’ control over big business and the overall direction of the economy. Yes to a massive programme of house-building and public works.

3. For the levelling up of wages and social provisions. For a maximum 35-hour week and a common minimum income. End all anti-trade union laws. For the right to organise and the right to strike. For top-quality healthcare, housing and education, allocated according to need. Abolish all restrictions on abortion. Fight for substantive equality between men and women.

4. End the Common Agricultural Policy. Stop all subsidies for big farms and the ecological destruction of the countryside. Nationalise all land. Temporary relief for small farmers. Green the cities. Free urban public transport. Create extensive wildernesses areas - forests, marshes, heath land - both for the preservation and rehabilitation of animal and plant life and the enjoyment and fulfilment of the population.

5. No to the rapid reaction force, Nato and all standing armies. Yes to a popular democratic militia, equipped with the most advanced and destructive weaponry.

6. No to ‘Fortress Europe’. Yes to the free movement of people into and out of the EU. For citizenship and voting rights for all who have been resident in the EU for longer than six months.

7. For the closest coordination of all working class forces in the EU. Promote EU-wide industrial unions - eg, railways, energy, communications, engineering, civil service, print and media. For a democratic and effective EU Trade Union Congress. For the closest possible EU Socialist Alliance as part of the process of establishing a single, centralised, revolutionary party: ie, the Communist Party of the European Union.

Armed with such a continental-wide programme, a social Europe - the United Socialist States of Europe - can be realised. By taking the lead over every democratic shortcoming, by coordinating our defensive and offensive activity, by building upon our strength and extending our room for manoeuvre through securing far-reaching economic and political gains, the “bosses’ club” can become a workers’ club.