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The Truth about the Future European Treaty, Part 3, by Francis Wurtz, MEP(1)

Translated Thursday 13 September 2007, by Steve McGiffen

The enumeration of the principal institutional reforms foreseen in the future European treaty was perhaps a little indigestible in the middle of summer, in my last article... But it was the heads of state and government of the European Union who chose this period to decide our future on the sly. And we are committed to shedding some light on all of that, even if this might seem somewhat irksome.

These reforms, drawn from the former Constitutional Treaty, are not all of the same genre. Some of them represent improvements, such as the augmentation of the role of the European Parliament, or the (slight) lengthening of the time allowed to national parliaments for the examination of European Commission texts in order to confirm that these do not encroach upon national prerogatives (this is respect for ’subsidiarity’).

But many of these ’innovations’ could lead to seriously perverse effects if you look at them from the framework of the present vision of European construction, a vision which is neoliberal and ever more distant from the citizens when it comes to essential decisions. For example, the new post of ’President of the European Council’ is presented as a guarantee of stability, because one and the same person would be in post for two and a half years, or five years, while each country in its turn presides over the Union for six months. Why not? All the more so as, according to the texts, this ’president’ would have no power other than to represent the Union under the supervision of the heads of state and government.

In reality, everything will depend on the conception of Europe which the most influential countries want to see prevail. So, the rumour is circulating that the first holder of this post could be.... Tony Blair. In that case, wouldn’t his powers have a completely different impact to what the ’texts’ tell us? Does this tendency to presidentialise the European institutions – equally illustrated by the strengthening of the powers of the President of the European Commission – represent an asset for or a danger to European democracy? This can be judged by assessing the effects of the presidentialisation of the political system in our own country, its effects on French democracy.

Another example: the extension of the policy areas within which decisions will be taken by a ’qualified majority’ of member states is presented as an element aimed at ’improving the functioning’ of the Union. But everything depends on the area with which we are dealing. So, for a member country to find itself in Brussels’ bad books for ’excessive deficit’, or because it is suspected of conducting an economic policy ’not conforming to the major European orientations’, a vote of half of the member states to that effect would, according to the new treaty, be sufficient (compared to the majority of two thirds currently required). This is therefore a matter, above all, of strengthening a means of pressure in favour of an ’orthodox’ economic policy.

It is significant that, in the area of fiscal policy (for example on company profits), the new treaty foresees in every case that any and every measure of European harmonisation of rates (the intention being to prevent countries from attracting employment to the detriment of a neighbour by reducing ever further the taxes imposed on company profits) requires the unanimity of the member states. If only one government should be against such a harmonisation, then fiscal competition can continue! In this case, it is curiously enough no longer a question of ’improving the functioning’ of the Union.

What can therefore be seen is that, in relation also to these institutional reforms, a broad public and pluralistic debate is necessary before any definitive decision is taken by the 27 heads of state and government. All the more reason for the questions (an ’open market economy in which competition is free’, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, European defence, etc) which were at the heart of the battle for the referendum of 2005 – and which our fellow citizens must know clearly what has become of them in the new treaty. We will deal with this on 15th August.

(1) President of the Group of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

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