Friday, May 27, 2005

Raging against the machine with angry little fists

Meaders reports:

As Thierry, an activist in the independent SUD trade union, told Socialist
Worker on Saturday, the strength of the campaign comes from its link with the
movement against privatisation and other attacks — “If the no campaign is
victorious it will put the idea in people’s heads that the neo-liberal machine
can be stopped.”...

Nothing could sum up, better than this, the other-worldliness of the lumpen intelligentsia that makes up the new left. A 'NON' vote may put the idea in people's heads that the neo-liberal machine can be stopped, but in reality, a rejection of a common European stand in defence of history's most successful and progressive social model (the one found throughout most of the EU currently) may prove to be one of the most serious mistakes.

As exhaustively demonstrated by Phil Edwards excellent round-up.


Meaders said...

In other words, you think the neoliberal machine can't be stopped. Still, looks like the angry little fists have gained the upper hand for the time being.

Have you, by the way, seen the text of the proposed constitution? Here's a good summary of the relevant bits:

1. Articles 111-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180 all identically repeat that the Union will act 'in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free.'

2. There are numerous clauses that specifically correspond to demands made by certain employer organisations.

3. The ECT demands unanimous voting for any measures that might go against corporate interests. This is the certainly case for measures against tax fraud, or taxation of companies. Such legislative movement in this regard requires a unanimous vote as, above all, "[it is] necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." (111-63). Thus, any future proposed duty imposed on corporations would be subject to unanimous voting - something the Ouistes regularly trot out as being reduced under the ECT.

4. Shockingly, the ECT demands all states' subservience to NATO: '[M]ember states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capacities.' (1-40-3). Article 1-40-2 says that European defence policy shall be compatible with members' NATO obligations, a direct recognition of the superior judicial status of that military organisation. Furthermore, the article continues with even greater precision that "participating member states shall work in close collaboration with NATO". Even in situations of "internal serious disturbances affecting public order, in cases of war or of [...] the threat of war", member states are obliged to work together in order to avoid "affecting" the functioning of the "internal market"! (III-16)'

5. Perhaps most disturbing in the ECT is clause 17 of the third section, regarding the question of the break-up of public services: It is permitted that a member state can be in favour of maintaining a public service. But public services have: "the effect of distorting the conditions of competition in the internal market, [and] the Commission shall, together with the state concerned, examine how these steps can be adjusted to the rules laid dawn in the Constitution. By derogation of common law procedure, the Commission or any member state can apply directly to the Court of Justice which will sit in secret..." (III-17)' Thus the constitution from the start commits member states to the ultimate elimination of public services.

(From here.)

How is rejecting the above rejecting "common European stand in defence of history's most successful and progressive social model"? (And how does Phil's thorough round-up "exhaustively demonstrate" any such thing?)

Paulie said...

Thanks Meaders. A good response. More than I've expected - my blog is intended as a snapshot of instant responses and personal prejudices, but your comments are detailed and deserve a decent reply.

Let's get the weakness in my argument out of the way to start with: Mea Culpa on using Phil Edwards as evidence. I looked at it for about ten minutes and read a handful of quoted points that supported my views. I welcomed the fact that someone had pulled together a good comprehensive round-up of both sides of the argument and I printed it off to read over the weekend.

When I read it, I realised that he was reaching a different conclusion to mine. But it IS still a good round up….

On the substance of your comments, those 'angry little fists' have a long track-record of mistaking popular revolt for revolutionary symptoms. Most opponents of the Poll-Tax were tory tax protesters. In France, lots of votes were cast against Turkish immigrants rather than Brussels.

It is NOT 1968 all over again.

I think that the ECT died the moment the first member state opted for a referendum. Referendums are a farce. They are profoundly anti-democratic and are only seem to be promoted to mobilise a popular prejudice against something that has been proposed by representative assemblies. EVERY government in the EU (as far as I know) does not command 51% of their electorate's support. Ask the public to vote against the government and they will.

This is not a victory for the left. It is not the harbinger of a renewed period of progressive social unrest.

If anyone is looking for a conspiracy here – an ‘elite’ to blame – they can look to professional bureaucracies and not politicians. As long as the EU remains an intergovernmentalist construct, it will continue to rule progressive demands by division. And there will continue to be massive, over-powerful, top-heavy national governments. It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always get in.

On the points you raised….

1. ‘Free Competition’ does not equal neo-liberalism. A free flow of trade within states using harmonised regulations is the only way I know of to effectively regulate services. Apart from the way they were regulated in the Eastern Bloc or in pre-EU Europe. The French vote will ensure the continuation of opt-outs – we now have twice as many states that can sit on their vetos whenever the pressures of the commercial lobbies demand it. Each one will diminish the power of workers, consumers and environmentalists. Our economic rivals in the US and Asia will be able to pick us off one-by-one in the absence of an effective EU settlement.

The equation between ‘Free Competition’ in the European model with ‘neo-liberalism’ leaves only one conclusion: You would prefer other forms of regulation. I have plenty of friends who are tankies. I like and respect them. But I think they are seriously wrong about all of this.

2. There are plenty of clauses that also correspond to the demands of organised labour and consumer groups.

3. I think the requirement for unanimity in some places is mistaken – but the ECT would reduce the intergovernmentalist nature of the EU. Personally, I wouldn’t allow Italy a veto over any counter-fraud measures. Find me someone with an ounce of sense that would!! It renders them all ineffective. I’d still vote for the ECT in it’s totality because I know no-one will ever present one that I can fully endorse. It’s the only one on offer.

4. You quote ‘compatible’ and translate it to ‘subserviant’. I’d prefer a common EU foreign and defence policy, but we aren’t going to get one as long as NATO is the only coherent partnership in place. You get a common policy once there is a firm foundation for it. The French vote has effectively prolonged NATO’s dominance of European defence policy. An EU foreign policy was on offer. It may not be now. If you opposed the war in Iraq, the French vote will give you plenty more to oppose in future.

5. You may be shocked by the proposed break-up public services, but I’m not. As a libertarian socialist, for a long time I’ve believed that no situation is so bad that it’s not made worse by the involvement of a state-bureaucracy. Competition doesn’t happen just between businesses. It happens between voluntary organisations, social enterprises, co-ops, charities and other NGOs.

The reason state-provision has such a rough ride with the voters is because anyone who has ever worked in large parts of the state sector can provide dozens of horror-stories about how appallingly managed they are, how wasteful, corrupt, and antithetical they are to the reasons for which they were set up.

There are, unquestionably, parts of the public sector that are well-run, effective and efficient. When responsibility for their management is devolved away from central government, they tend to run more effectively. So why hang on to state management as if it were a point of principle? And if you really believe that the wording in that treaty leaves no room for manoeuvre, then a quick look at the way that previous treaties have been implemented will tell you everything you need to know.

There is plenty of room for ‘exceptionalism’ as well. Anatole Kaletsky – a real liberal cheerleader comments (writing in The Times before the vote) that a NON will kill off the French notion of 'exceptionalism' for once and for all. He is as delighted as any Murdoch-employee could be. It was a very useful to know that 'exceptionalism' is dead next time the OECD threatened ‘state-aid’ projects such as the BBC in the mid-1990s (more on this if you want it from an ex-MEP's site that specialised in public service broadcasting).

In conclusion: A coherent EU is the foundation of the only settlement that the world has ever known in which a large number of countries have lived in the certainty that they won’t go to war with each other. In the certainty that they won't starve through mismanagement and sub-regional competition. And one in which they enjoy minimum standards in the workplace, as consumers, or as environmentalists. It's also a bulwark against fascism on a continent that is prone to it. This is not a trivial point - most commentary I come accross takes it for granted though.

I’m sure that the federalist project isn’t dead. There is even an argument that – on reflection – the French have unwittingly done us all a favour. But the idea that a vote that has had the Front Nationale, Murdoch, Tebbit and the large rump of French tankies jumping for joy is somehow a victory for those of us who want to see strengthened local democracies is a bit na├»ve in my view.

(does a fulsome reply here mean I'll get 10 more points to rebut?)


Meaders said...

Well, maybe not ten points, but one or two stick out:

1. "Referendums are a farce. They are profoundly anti-democratic and are only seem to be promoted to mobilise a popular prejudice against something that has been proposed by representative assemblies. EVERY government in the EU (as far as I know) does not command 51% of their electorate's support. Ask the public to vote against the government and they will." - this is clearly wrong. What about Eurosceptic Britain, back in 1975? What about France (and others) in 1992, ratifying Maastricht?

Actually, Maastricht is the real villain in the piece here: leaving an ECB with power over monetary policy, but without any mandate for Euro-wide fiscal policy has created a very obvious tension, particularly in tying governments' hands when faced with both prolonged structural unemployment and different economic cycles. The political bargain made in Maastricht between European rulers and their citizens - that a very crude sound money policy formulated in Frankfurt would resolve economic issues across the entire continent - has proved unworkable, and is one of the major reasons for the failure of this constitution.

Of course I'd prefer regulation, relative to unhindered competition, and so - I suspect - would you: I'm glad there's even a crappy minimum wage; I'm very grateful for unemployment benefits; I'm glad, ultimately, that I don't have to work 16 hours a day in a mill. I'm particularly glad that decisions about the allocation of resources to public goods like health and education are decided through formal, vaguely democratic procedures. I think all these things are the barest you need run a minimally acceptable society, and that regulation (and concomitant democratic control) are absolutely necessary, as a minimum, under capitalism. (I'm not sure how a "libertarian socialist" could disagree with this.)

But fundamental to neoliberalism is that this belief is quaintly misplaced and that free markets will always allocate resources more effectively than any alternative mechanism - even where these have to be artificially created by governments. The constitution explicitly states as much.

Is this aspect that is perhaps most disturbing. The open-ended commitment to progressive expansion of the market, especially in the provision of public services, brings to mind the notorious GATS treaty. This also called for the erosion of public provision in major public goods like health, education, etc. There are very clear economic reasons, on both equity and efficiency grounds, as to why this is grossly undesirable, connected to clear market failures in the provision of public goods. This is to say nothing of the fundamentally undemcratic nature of such a commitment, effectively tying potential future governments' hands.

"A coherent EU": fine. But not on the terms offered.

Paulie said...

Meaders - I've sort-of composed a number of different replies to this and then discarded them. Rather than pick at the specifics, I thought I'd post an item to my blog on why I think that an a la carte constitution is not an option. Our choice is to take the one offered or take none at all. The instutution, process and people that composed the ECT may be imperfect, but they are better than the alternatives.