Their United Europe and ours

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, president of the European convention, has unveiled the first "skeleton" draft of what could be the future constitution of the European Union. The convention has been meeting in Brussels since March 1 and is due to finalise its proposals in June 2003. In terms of method, scale, ambition and probable consequences the only parallel 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 the work of his convention to that of the founding fathers of the US, and the expectation is that the EU will over the next 10 to 20 years emerge as a superstate of some kind. The proposals coming from the EU's constitutional convention therefore demand the closest attention of communists and revolutionary socialists - not only in Europe itself but throughout the whole world. Just dismissing the EU as a "bosses' club" and posing an abstract United Socialist States of Europe will not take us 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. Consisting of 105 delegates - chosen by the 15 member and 13 candidate states, the national parliaments, the European parliament and EU commission - the constitutional convention has been given the remit of detailing various broad options for the EU's inter-governmental summit in 2004. Each government has one representative, while the national parliaments have two. Former Europe minister Peter Hain is the voice of the UK government, Gisela Stuart and David Heathcote-Amory speak respectively for the Labour and Conservative sides of parliament. Efforts have also been made to involve non-governmental organisations, trade unions and commercial and industrial bodies. Sixty themes were set for debate under a series of working groups. They include the future of EU policy-making; the division of powers; the legitimacy of EU institutions; institutional planning in an enlarged EU; the role of the EU in world affairs. The need for reform is urgent. In 2004 there are expected to be 10 new member states, "leading to the risk of paralysis if institutions and procedures are not adapted" (European parliament press release, February 26 2002). And expansion, and thus pressure for radical change, is set to continue. By 2010 some well placed commentators predict that the EU will have within its space 28 states. 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 leading bureaucrats and top 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 Joscheka 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). Global role Through presiding over the process of unification, the EU bureaucracy is confident that by 2010 Europe will not only possess a greatly expanded membership but have far outstripped the US in terms of GDP. By streamlining this huge political-economic bloc and putting it under centralised direction comes 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 an amalgam of unevenly developed states. But the grain of development is not hard to discern: wider, in the form of honeymoon candidates like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; deeper, in the form of enhanced politico-legal institutions. The EU already has the European Central Bank, 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 being asked in Brussels by the EU's constitutional convention. The convention is reportedly seeing a "battle between pro- and anti-federalists". However the pro-federalists have the "biggest firepower" and count France and Germany among their number (BBC News Online, February 27 2002). Evidently the Giscard d'Estaing "skeleton" shows that the balance lies firmly with the pro-federalists. Commitment to an "ever closer union" is to be ended on paper. But the convention also envisages ending the national veto in certain key areas such as taxation and asylum. Furthermore the EU is to be given a single legal personality. Proposals exist to protect subsidiarity - the principle that decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level. However, the group responsible for defence matters is looking towards instituting an EU "undertaking of common defence similar to Nato's article five, as well as an agency for joint arms procurement and research". Member-states would be given a minimum annual target to spend on the armed forces. Former Irish prime minister John Bruton, as the head of the group looking at internal affairs, has mooted the controversial idea of a "common border guard". On foreign affairs there is a proposal to unite the EU's divided approach under a single commissioner who would be responsible to the member-states. Britain and France reportedly prefer giving an extensive foreign policy role to a president of the EU council. The European constitution is designed to inspire supranational loyalty. Giscard d'Estaing's preamble is to be drawn in part from the French Revolution's 'Rights of man' and the US declaration of independence. There will be fine words and talk of human dignity, the rule of law, tolerance and fundamental rights. 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". Giscard d'Estaing has even suggested a name change to the United States of Europe or simply United Europe and a system of dual citizenship - home country and EU. The draft constitution mentions the possibility of putting in place procedures for voluntary withdrawal from the EU. An innovation. At present there are no provisions for opting out. Plans for the "possibility of establishing a Congress of the Peoples of Europe" - combining the EU and national parliaments - has also been floated, along with appointing a president of the EU states as well as the EU council. Naturally the little-Britain, anti-EU press enjoyed a field day. The Times condemned the constitutional draft as federalist to the core and thundered that it "severely circumscribes the meaning of statehood". The Daily Telegraph warned that the government would 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, 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" (quotes October 29). 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 a semi-mythical past. The British empire can never return. Nor can British independence. Britain cannot operate effectively in the world alone. Nor can Germany, France, Italy or the other EU countries. Only together can they 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 those 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. That 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 historical 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's constitutional convention is 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 the formulation: "To the extent the EU becomes a superstate, the working class must unify its resistance and organisation across Europe" (J Conrad Towards a Socialist Alliance party London 2001, p152). That explains why we are far from indifferent about the EU constitutional convention and the bureaucratic-bourgeois project of unifying Europe. The call from left-nationalist reformists, 'official communism' 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 century 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 surrender. 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 states, 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). Yet from these elementary - and uncontroversial observations - it is quite perverse to claim that a 'no' referendum vote on the euro follows. Naturally, being sincere socialists, the SWP-ISG majority 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. Glory days The EU is an undemocratic "bosses' club" and the introduction of the euro will be accompanied by further attacks on the working class. There is no difference here. But, instead of joining with the Tories, the Murdoch press, the British National Party and the national socialist left and opting for the pound and dreams of a return to long-gone glory days, communists take up the weapons of organisation and democracy. We argue for 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. No to the EU senate, a second chamber, proposed by Tony Blair. 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 - 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. Jack Conrad * Meeting the challenge of unity