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Our Alternative: A Worker’s Europe

The fact that the only vote by the people of the EU on the Nice Treaty is taking place in one of the smallest states says a lot about the democratic content of the new Europe being created.  It also says a lot about the democracy of the existing nation states.  Championing existing national democracies as the alternative to the Brussels bureaucracy is clearly mistaken.  The Irish State is only having a vote because it cannot avoid one.  Thus, despite promises to the contrary, it joined the Partnership for Peace without a referendum.

Ireland is certainly no example of the virtues of national democracy.  It has ratified the occupation of part of the country by a foreign power through the Good Friday Agreement and reduced the remaining part to the plaything of US multinationals where the only people to get taxed are workers.

Ireland is a good illustration that if we want a more democratic society the main obstacles are the big imperial states and the power of multinational capitalism.  The analysis of the Nice Treaty by Socialist Democracy and the Socialist Alliance shows what this means for Ireland.  We need an alternative, and one confined to Ireland is not enough.  Stop the world we want to get off is not an option.

Eastern Europe

The Irish Times has congratulated Bertie Ahern because he launched the campaign for a yes vote by appealing not only to self interest but also for ‘altruistic’ reasons; that the Nice Treaty exists primarily to allow the benefits of EU membership to be extended to the east.  The promise of once more uniting Europe is supposed to be the grand vision behind the Treaty.

Socialists must not only show why the Treaty is directly bad for Ireland but also why it fails on this grand claim of uniting the people’s of Europe in peace and prosperity.  This is all the more necessary for Irish socialists because the example of the Irish State is held up to workers in Eastern Europe as the shining example of a poor country transformed by EU membership.  Socialists, who lay a unique claim to internationalism, must have their own grand vision

First of all it must be pointed out that, all claims to the contrary, the EU has been in no hurry to admit the countries of Eastern Europe to membership.  It has been a common complaint of these countries that they have been promised membership within five years every year since 1990.  In the meantime the ‘west’ has dismantled the cooperation between them that did exist and created a devastating economic and social crisis. In only two applicant countries, Poland and Slovenia, did economic output in 1998 reach the level it was at in 1989, before the Stalinist system collapsed.

Not only has the EU failed to say exactly when the applicant countries may join but it is clear that the peoples of these states will even for a long time afterwards remain second class citizens.  It may be at least seven years after membership before workers in Eastern Europe will be able to travel and work freely in the rest of the EU.  This is why the Socialist Alliance, at the prompting of Socialist Democracy, is right to oppose immigration controls.

The promise of prosperity rings hollow when it is realised that the money available under the Common Agricultural Policy will not extend to Eastern Europe despite it being less expensive than first thought.  Instead Poles worry that rich Germans will buy up their land which is only one tenth of the cost of that in Germany.  The workers of Eastern Europe can also forget about regional aid making a heap of difference.  Under EU rules no country will receive more than 4% of its GDP in aid, a policy which obviously discriminates against the poorer countries.  In the meantime the ability of these states themselves to deliver on welfare needs, even if their governments wanted to, is restricted by the same Maastricht criteria limiting public expenditure that affects workers in the west of the continent.  That is why, again at the prompting of Socialist Democracy, the Socialist Alliance is correct to highlight the need to oppose the Maastricht rules.

In fact it has been reckoned that, working from existing growth rates, it might take Romania 600 years to converge with living standards in the west!  It is the job of we, who have already arrived, to tell them to find another road.  No wonder that it has been pointed out that the further away countries are from joining the EU more popular it is.  In Poland and Hungary support is only a little over 50%.  The Economist quotes a Polish academic report on what this could mean: ‘The absence of a debate … will have disastrous consequences when decisions have to be taken which the unprepared public will refuse to accept.’  Of course for the capitalists and middle classes membership holds out different prospects as the same issue of The Economist reveals: ‘A well educated Pole, Czech or Balt with a good grasp of English can expect all sorts of lucrative career opportunities in Western Europe.’

A United Europe

The calculated and undemocratic nature of the proposed enlargement shows that its purpose is not to unite the peoples of Europe in a political association of equals in pursuit of peace and prosperity.  It is designed to establish security and stability for European capital, which is dominated by that belonging to the biggest powers.  Western capital fears that instability in the east would inevitably affect the west but it is divided in just how far and to what extent enlargement should go.  If membership is supposed to be the route to peace and prosperity why are the poorest countries at the end of the queue?

In fact the proposed enlargement does not promise a united Europe but the creation of new divisions, not only within Eastern Europe but also within the existing EU as the biggest powers take greater control.  Hence the changes to voting arrangements and national vetoes.  Above all the division of Europe will be deepened in class terms as the erosion of what little democracy exists and the advancement of neo-liberal policies of de-regulation and privatisation widens the gap between exploiters and exploited.  To defend this situation the new proto-superpower is now devising its own army.  All armies are primarily means of defending the state against its own people and the new Rapid Reaction Force is the military wing of privatisation.

In this situation the idea of neutrality is illusory.  As the Socialist Alliance points out (again argued by Socialist Democracy beforehand), Irish workers are not neutral but should have ‘an international policy of solidarity with the poor and oppressed around the world.’(Socialist Alliance)  In the context of the argument over the Nice Treaty it is possible to begin to say what this means.

Socialists are in favour of the unity of the peoples of Europe.  But our unity is one created out of democracy and a struggle for justice that exposes the lies of the EU.  We are against the division of Europe and for a united continent from the Atlantic to the Urals.  A genuinely democratic Europe would seek to exclude no one.  It would also guarantee the equal rights of each nation by upholding the right of nations to self-determination.  This right applies also to Ireland and the Socialist Alliance must drop its opposition to this demand.

The unity of the peoples of Europe must be based on democracy.  A pan-European Constituent Assembly must decide the agreed means by which unity can be built, not a Brussels bureaucracy or national governments who have no particular mandate on these issues and don’t seek them either. For socialists this would be the first step in the creation of a Socialist United States of  Europe.

Like all such tasks a beginning must be made at the national level by opposing nationalist and racist arguments and supporting international organisation of workers who come into conflict with multinational companies or states applying EU rules to privatise state companies.  Socialists must set an example in their own organisation.  In this respect we lie far behind our class enemy.  While governments across Europe call on Irish workers to vote yes to Nice there is no similar organisation of socialists across Europe using the opportunity for a popular vote in Ireland to scupper their plans.  Even within Ireland the majority within the Socialist Alliance shamefully opposes a nationwide Alliance.

Over 150 years ago Karl Marx was calling on workers of all lands to unite, long before most nation states that exist today had been created.  Today socialists must ensure that their struggle has at least as wide and farsighted a vision.



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