Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"The Union shall offer its citizens an internal market where competition is free and undistorted" A citizen replies: no thanks !

I will probably vote no at the referendum on the European constitution that, in France, will take place in May. But until then I will try, like almost every one of that opinion, to understand the arguments of those in favour of that constitution. If we set aside the criticism that can be addressed to this text from the point of view of a thick conception of democracy, and stick with the social and economical problem, I cannot understand how a left-wing Yes can be argued for.

Art. I-3: The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.

Art. III-176: (… )the activities of the Member States and the Union shall
include, as provided in the Constitution, the adoption of an economic policy which is based on the close coordination of Member States' economic policies, on the internal market and on the definition of common objectives, and conducted in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition.

Art. III-292-2-e: The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to: (…) encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade

Art. III-131: Member States shall consult each other with a view to taking together the steps needed to prevent the functioning of the internal market being affected by measures which a Member State may be called upon to take in the event of serious internal disturbances affecting the maintenance of law and order, in the event of war, serious international tension constituting a threat of war.

Is it not obvious that these provisions stem from an ideology that cannot be accepted by anyone who believes that political forces should control the market? How can one believe that and at the same time vote for this constitution? Frankly, whishing for a market where competition is free and undistorted, and calling that a value, is not left-wing. I know that, without so many words, such a market is already a value of the European Union and that the constitution doesn’t change all that much to it. But now we are given, finally, a chance to reject such a polity and I, for one, will take it gladly.

6 comments:

Srdjan Cvijic said...

I respect Raphael's decision to vote "no" in the referendum about the EU Constitution, however, I wish to criticize some aspects of his argumentation, in the conclusion he argues, "I know that, without so many words, such a market is already a value of the European Union and that the constitution doesn’t change all that much to it. But now we are given, finally, a chance to reject such a polity and I, for one, will take it gladly." Fine, Paour is led by a left-wing sensibility that strives to protect the welfare state and a certain amount of state interventionism in the economy. I could subscribe to that. However, voting against this constitution means much more then voting simply left wing, it largely means supporting a populistic, nationalist vote that wants to keep Turkey out of the Union, that supports the rotten idea of the "core" Europe and that genereally breads populist nationalism covered by the discourse that is concerned by the lack of democracy at the European level. This constitution presents a step towards constructing a genuine democratic forum at the European level. Once the EU Parliament gets more power, once the EU finally acquires some state-like attributes, it will be possible to fight for the "social-Europe" at the European level. This constitution is simply a pragmatic step that could possibly lead us to both directions: towards a neo-liberal Europe or towards a social Europe. Voting no to this Consittution unfortunately cancels Europe itself. If I had a right to vote in the French referendum (and I do not) I would vote "yes" since voting "no" would certainly not change much. The left in France would scream THE CONSTITUTION LOST BECAUSE OF ITS NEO-LIBERAL CHARACTER but the prevailing feeling would be that it lost because the RIGHT-WING POPULISTS VOTED AGAINST IT...this is not good.

Euan MacDonald said...

I tend to agree with Srdj on this one; certainly, reducing the complex question of how to vote in the referendum to a simple economic left/right dichotomy does seem overly simplistic. The EU is already much more than an economic union (perhaps not so obvious from a French perspective, but consider it seems streets ahead of thew UK in terms of social rights).

Furthermore (although I am almost entirely ignorant about economics), it seems that there is a plausible argument to be made that it is becoming increasingly difficult, in the global economic climate, for a state to introduce widespread and ambitious welfare policies. It may just be that an entity the size of the EU could overcome this obstacle (the "European Rescue of the Nation State", anyone?)

Srdjan's last point also strikes me as important. A successful "no" vote, in France or elsewhere, will likely be viewed as a right-wing victory - and these things can serve to create momentum for these parties, regardless of how the vote broke down in reality. A brief glance at who I would be lining up beside in the UK if I was to vote no is, frankly, almost sufficient in itself to persuade me to the contrary. I share all of Raph's concerns about the proposed Constitution; I even add a few more of my own (not the least of which is a deep dislike for and distrust of constitutional documents in general). As yet undecided, but definitely leaning towards a "yes". Perhaps, however, Raph's "no" will save me the bother - certainly what Blair seems to be hoping...

Raphaël Paour said...

I also respect Srdjan's opinion and I whish he, as anyone who lives in Europe, could vote for or against the constitution.

However I disagree with him.

First he says: "This constitution presents a step towards constructing a genuine democratic forum at the European level. Once the EU Parliament gets more power, once the EU finally acquires some state-like attributes, it will be possible to fight for the "social-Europe" at the European level." First of all this is what we're beeing told since 1950 and I just plainly don't believe it anymore. It appears more and more like a big joke: a neo-liberal constitution is adopted but we're told not to worry that it's not for good, that we will change all that when the time is right. Neo-liberalism should not be a constitutional value and no promess can make up for it if it is. Secondly the Parliament doesn't get any more significant power.

"voting against this constitution means much more then voting simply left wing, it largely means supporting a populistic, nationalist vote that wants to keep Turkey out of the Union, that supports the rotten idea of the "core" Europe and that genereally breads populist nationalism"

"Voting no to this Consittution unfortunately cancels Europe itself". Why is that ?

It is precisely why it is urgent for non-racist voices to be heard. I would welcome Turkey in Europe any time as long as they want a social europe and I think that most proponents of the No at the referendum feel that way.

Finally, the fact that lots of racists (from all political parties) will vote against the constitution because they don't want Turkey in the European Union, is not a good reasons not against the constitution for other reasons.

Raphaël Paour said...

Sorry I posted my reply before checking for mistakes and it seems that they can't be corrected now. So what I meant to say is that most proponents of the no that speak from a left-wing perspective are not racists. At a referendum only 3 solutions are possible; the choice is restricted by definition so it's normal that people vote for the same solution for different reasons. I have no problem with voting the same way as people I despise as long as there are politicians to explain my position, to explain that it is not a no to Europe in it’s self. Personally I would welcome the end of nation states, I don’t feel French and I don’t feel closer to people that have the same passport than to people from other countries (in and outside Europe), but I don’t see why that should force me into accepting a neo-liberal constitution.

Euan says: "certainly, reducing the complex question of how to vote in the referendum to a simple economic left/right dichotomy does seem overly simplistic. The EU is already much more than an economic union."

It's true there are other things besides economical issues but don't you agree the economy is still something like a superstructure, that it's what's most important? If it's the most important thing there is no problem with deciding to accept the constitution or to refuse it on that basis.

"Furthermore (although I am almost entirely ignorant about economics), it seems that there is a plausible argument to be made that it is becoming increasingly difficult, in the global economic climate, for a state to introduce widespread and ambitious welfare policies. It may just be that an entity the size of the EU could overcome this obstacle"

That may be right but during the past 50 years that king or argument has appeared more like a rhetorical device to calm those in favour of a welfare state. Like you I guess I'm convinced that the European Union could put in place more effective social policies. That is not the problem, the problem is that this constitution and the ideology it incorporates (in the provisions cited) forbids that kind of policy. Europe could be a great social state but it doesn't want to be. Knowing that, we have to decide where we stand.

Gwydion said...

Your anti-EU Constitution argument rests upon the unwarranted assumption that a more integrated European market is at odds with “social justice” (or some other set of left-wing values). Let’s assume, however, that social justice involves improving the material well-being of Europe’s poorest citizens—who, for the most part, are now to be found in Eastern and Central Europe. An integrated market will likely benefit these Europeans quite substantially. (This is why "leftists" ought to lend their support to Bolkestein's efforts to open up the market for services in Europe.) It is thus not clear why we “leftists” must reject the EU Constitution, especially since this Constitution, if properly implemented, might help dismantle the many local national monopolies and corporatist rent-seekers (pharmacists, for instance—ever tried buying a bottle of aspirins on the Continent?) that currently prevent Europe from developing a robust, globally, competitive economy. Your type of “leftist” makes a great mistake in thinking that Europe’s poorest citizens need redistribution rather than economic growth. Clearly they need both. But they will get neither if people like you have their way.

There is a further problem with your argument: you seem to suggest that the EU Constitution privileges one economic philosophy (market liberalism) over others. But this is clearly false. The EU Constitution reads as if it were written by a fractious committee (I wonder why?). It contains a confused rambling compendium of contradictory economic commitments. Compare the following:

The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security, and justice without internal frontiers, and a single market where competition is free and undistorted. (Article 1-3: 2)

The Union shall work for a Europe of just development based on balanced economic growth, a social market economy, highly competitive and aiming at full employment and social progress.
(Article 1-3: 3)

If the EU Constitution fails in France (as you hope) and in Britain (as it most certainly will), this failure will in large part be due to these confused contradictory commitments, which allow so much scope for left and right eurosceptics to present the EU in a poor light.

Raphaël Paour said...

Thank you for your answer which is very interesting. You say:

“Let’s assume, however, that social justice involves improving the material well-being of Europe’s poorest citizens—who, for the most part, are now to be found in Eastern and Central Europe. An integrated market will likely benefit these Europeans quite substantially.”

Euan was making the same kind of point in explaining that in the UK, the social rights brought by European norms are an improvement.

So, let’s say that the question becomes: should we, in France, accept to lose some rights in order for others to gain some? It’s a difficult question for someone who isn’t nationalist and it’s true that put in those terms I wouldn’t know how to answer it.

Your remarks about the fact that the constitution contains contradictory economic commitments are also very true. But in my view that doesn’t matter too much because no matter what these types of very large provisions say, what counts are really the institutions that have the power to interpret and apply them. The institutions count much more than the general declaration of rights for what we likely happen to social rights. The power of the commission is therefore very problematic; I may be wrong but I don’t see it implementing very social policies.