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Ministers Paper Over Growing EU Crises
ON 29 October leaders from the 25 member states of the European Union (EU), meeting in Rome, signed a new European Constitution.
John Reid, Socialist Party, and Per-Ake Westerlund, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI, Sweden)
However, the pomp and ceremony of the signing took place against the farcical background of the withdrawal of the entire EU executive by the incoming European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Borroso had faced rejection of the executive commissioners by a majority of Members of the European Parliament because of the appointment of the reactionary Rocco Buttiglione by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Buttiglione, who has now stood down, had aimed to become the EU's new commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, despite declaring homosexuality as a "sin" and attacking single mothers and asylum seekers' rights.
ALTHOUGH THE leaders of Europe have signed the constitution it still has to be agreed by all member countries. This could become a major problem for the constitution's architects as it is likely to be rejected by a number of countries, including Britain and possibly France, where referendums are expected to take place. So far, eleven countries have indicated that they will hold referendums.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has mooted a date for the referendum "in early 2006" after the widely expected British general election in May or June 2005. Tony Blair is hoping that if Labour win the general election the political momentum will secure a majority in the referendum.
But what happens if a number of states reject the constitution? The state or states in question could hold a second vote - possibly after negotiating opt outs - or could leave the EU. More likely, the constitution could be altered or even abandoned.
In addition to the constitution issue there are growing tensions between member states, reflecting different national capitalist interests. These differences could explode at a future date, especially during an economic downturn.
Last year's economic growth in the euro-zone was less than 1% and for 2004 the expected growth will be below 2%.
Instead of improvements, workers and particularly pensioners all over the EU have faced new, more severe attacks on their living standards. Austerity plans from governments have been supplemented or overtaken by a new wave of attacks from the big companies on wages, working conditions etc.
This has led to an upsurge in discontent and protests, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands. In Germany, the Monday demonstrations against attacks on the unemployed, and especially the actions of the car workers at Opel (General Motors), have shaken politicians throughout Europe.
The rules of the monetary union have deepened the present economic crisis. The Portuguese government, led by Barroso in the past, obeyed the rules of the "Stability Pact" and slashed thousands of public sector jobs. This deepened the recession and actually pushed up the public sector deficit instead of the intended opposite result.
The European Commission has proposed a softening of the "Stability and Growth Pact". Last year, both Germany and France ignored the rules, which say that state budget deficits bigger than 3% of GDP should be punished. A majority of the EU finance ministers voted with them to avoid the threat of fines.
Since then, Greece has been exposed with hidden deficits for several years of up to 5%. Germany, France and Portugal are breaking the rules again this year. Italy and the Netherlands are also very close. This trend will continue.
THE MOOD against the EU is growing in the member states. In the recent Euro barometer poll, only 43% said they have a positive image of the Union. Only 39% in Germany thought the country benefited from EU membership. Politicians aiming to tap this mood will attempt to play a nationalist card.
The Tories and UKIP with their "little Englander" agendas reject the constitution. They reflect more the interests of the smaller capitalists and sections of finance capital as opposed to interests of the multinational corporations who are championed by New Labour.
Socialists are opposed to the constitution because it will strengthen the neo-liberal attacks on workers throughout Europe, which will mean more job losses, more privatisation, more attacks on workers' and trade union rights. In other words, the constitution is a bosses' charter.
In rejecting the bosses' European Union, socialists are in favour of building genuine international solidarity between the workers of Europe. We are in favour of a socialist Europe based on the democratic control, ownership and planning of industry by the working class of Europe.
In The Socialist 6 November 2004:
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