European Union: Giscard's constitution and ours

Valery Giscard d'Estaing - president of the Convention on the Future of Europe - is set to unveil the draft for a constitution of the European Union. The convention has been meeting in Brussels since March 1 2002 and is to submit its final report in time for next month's summit of EU leaders in Thessaloniki, writes Jack Conrad

The convention has 105 delegates - chosen by the 15 member-states, the 10 incoming countries and hopefuls such as Turkey and Romania, the national parliaments, the European parliament and EU commission. Each member-state 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.

Sixty themes were set for debate under a series of working groups - the constitutional convention was created in order to write an EU constitution suitable for when it expands to 25 members next May. The basic idea is to transform institutions and procedures.

Frankly the main proposals that have come to light so far are devoid of the slightest democratic impulse and are typically piecemeal and technocratic - replacing the rotating presidency with a permanent president to chair summits; a president for the European commission who will be appointed by the governments; an EU foreign minister; more coordination on asylum and cross-border crime. Not that that has stopped Iain Duncan Smith and the Europhobic press in Britain screaming about national betrayal and demanding a referendum to “save our country”.

Giscard d’Estaing has grandly compared the work of his convention to that of the founding fathers of the USA, who in 1787 managed to unite the loose confederation of 13 states which emerged victorious from the revolutionary war against the British crown. Certainly amongst Europhile integrationists the expectation is that the EU will over the next 10 to 20 years emerge as a federal state which can counterbalance US super-imperialism.

In their turn Tony Blair, Europe minister Denis MacShane and Peter Hain have been at great pains to downplay any such expectations. Downing Street will object to any formulation containing the word ‘federal’. As shown by the Iraq war, the British government is still firmly wedded to a mid-Atlantic strategy and the attempt to play Greece to the new Rome.

Whatever the outcome, the proposals coming from the EU’s constitutional convention 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 is due to present 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 considerably expanded and filled with a definite social content.

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 insufficient, makeshift and 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 cleaved the continent into two - has become an economic giant embracing 380 million people.

The eventual aim of many a leading EU bureaucrat and far thinking top politician 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 European Central Bank, 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 an expanded membership - perhaps including Romania and Turkey - but have far outstripped the US in terms of gross domestic product. By streamlining this huge political-economic conglomeration and putting it under centralised direction there arises 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.

Meantime, as underlined by the Iraq war, 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 and disunited states. But the grain of development is not hard to discern: wider, in the form of the 10 incoming ‘new European’ members such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; deeper, in the form of enhanced economic-political-legal institutions. The EU already has the European Central Bank, a common currency, a council of ministers, the European Commission, an elected parliament and a European Court of Justice. But how deep? Essentially that is the question to be debated at the Thessaloniki summit.

The convention will reportedly see a “battle” between “big and small member-states” (The Guardian May 15). Countries such as Austria, Finland and Portugal fear that a powerful president and majority voting would considerably reduce their influence. Strains also exist over Franco-German proposals for a common defence policy; strains which reflect underlying differences between pro- and anti-federalists. Evidently in terms of sentiment Giscard d’Estaing is firmly in the federalist camp.

His 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 - have also been tentatively floated.

His constitution is designed to inspire supranational loyalty. Giscard d’Estaing’s preamble is drawn partly from the French Revolution’s ‘Rights of man’ and partly from the US declaration of independence. There are 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”. Last year Giscard d’Estaing suggested a name change to the United States of Europe or simply United Europe and a system of dual citizenship - home country and EU.

Naturally the little-Britain, anti-EU, rightwing-left reformist bloc has done its best to whip up a wave of chauvinist hysteria. In tandem there has been a broad right-left campaign demanding a referendum on the Giscard d’Estaing constitution.

The Sun led a howling pack. Giscard d’Estaing is branded an “arrogant, condescending snob”, who is “planning the end of Britain’s freedom”. His draft constitution is portrayed as constituting the “biggest betrayal in our history”. And under the slogan “Save our country” the paper launched a telephone poll demanding “the right to vote on the future of our nation” (editorial, May 16).

Conrad Black - Lord Black of Crossharbour - has thrown his newspaper empire into the media battle too. He used a front page article in The Daily Telegraph to oppose any EU constitution and promises “a very serious controversy” over the question (The Daily Telegraph May 19). Later on BBC Radio 4 he ridiculed those who want to set up a “ramshackle structure of alternative influence” to the US.

The Daily Mail eagerly joined the fray. Fulminating against government refusals to concede a referendum, it condemned the constitutional draft as endangering “centuries of British constitutional tradition” (editorial, May 16). The same paper provided a platform for Mark Seddon, Tribune editor and member of the Labour Party’s national executive committee. According to Seddon, the planned constitution “will deprive Britain of its independence and its very identity” (May 19).

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. Eg, something like 50% of all British legislation originates in Brussels. But what history poses is not some atavistic retreat into 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. Ironically the debilitating divisions over the Iraq war will surely force them to redouble efforts designed to bring about ever closer unity. Certainly that is the case with France and Germany. These ‘core’ states have held out the prospect of a European axis which embraces Russia in order to challenge US superimperialism.

So the real question presented by history is what sort of EU? Is the EU to evolve into a quasi-democratic federal state, as longed for 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 pork-barrel 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 loose 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 bureaucratic palliatives, we require our alternative that can help create the objective and subjective conditions for the epochal transition from capitalism to communism.

Communists seek 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 Europe - meeting the challenge of continental unity London 2002, p44).

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 is 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 call for a ‘no’ referendum vote on the constitution and the euro follows. Naturally, being sincere socialists, the SWP-ISG majority say any campaign they conduct will shun xenophobes and chauvinists and promote demands such as ‘For a workers’ Europe, not a bosses’ Europe’ and ‘No to Fortress Europe’.

By their allies ye shall know them. The SWP-ISG majority are nowadays expectantly touting a joint campaign with the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. An almost dormant remnant of ‘official communism’ which, when it comes to the EU, is virtually indistinguishable from IDS’s Tory Party and the Vote 2004 group established to oppose the Giscard d’Estaing constitution.

Those advocating an active boycott and an independent working class engagement with the battle for democracy in the EU were defeated by two to one at the Socialist Alliance’s October 2002 conference on the euro. In all probability the same margin exists over the Giscard d’Estaing constitution. But, try as you might, you will find no programme from the majority outlining how to achieve a workers’ Europe - other than by 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.


The EU is an undemocratic “bosses’ club” and involves institutional 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, 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 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 urban renewal, railway building and other public projects.

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. Encourage the production and consumption of organic food. Green the cities. Free urban public transport. Create extensive wilderness 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 a common revolutionary socialist-communist manifesto and list in the 2004 EU elections. For the closest possible EU Socialist Alliance as part of the process of establishing a single, democratic and 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 strengths and extending our room for manoeuvre through securing far-reaching economic and political gains, the “bosses’ club” can be made into a workers’ club.