Tuesday, April 19, 2005

THIRD WAY OR.... CUL-DE SAC? By Sophie Germont

This blog entry is written by Sophie Germont, an expert EU lawyer from the European University Institute.

Following Srdjan's contribution on the diversity of French "No" voters, I will focus on the "progressivist no" that Raphaël defended hereunder. My position is that the "progressivist no" is, as much as the results of the 2002 presidential election, a symptom of the deep identity crisis within our socialist party (PS). Before exploring the arguments of the supporters of the “no”, it might be useful to precise that only a minority amongst PS officials opposes the draft Constitution (48% I believe). The objective of this discussion is thus to analyse the “progressivist no” position advocated by this loud minority and largely echoed within French society.

As a French leftist, I was naturally tempted by the "no". I have listened and read with great interest the arguments in favour of this "electroshock". The socialist "no” voters oppose the Constitution for being a neo-liberal project, insufficiently democratic, social and deprived of genuine federalist ambitions.

First, it is quite ironic that the PS, who showed much enthusiasm about the ratification of the most hardcore free market EU Treaty some years ago (You will have recognised the Maastricht treaty) opposes the improvements offered by the draft Constitution... who was the prime minister at that time again? Edith Cresson (PS).

The argument that the Constitution is a neo liberal project shows both bad faith and contradiction. How can anyone who seriously read the Constitution and know a bit about economics call it a neo liberal project? ! Most of the Treaty provisions are unacceptable for neo liberals. Most importantly, our provisions on competition contain far too many exception rules in their view. The special status granted to services of general interest under the Constitution is just counter-efficient in neo liberal thinking. I would thus simply call the Constitution a liberal project.

More seriously, let us remember the “Jospin times”, when Blair happily gathered with Schroeder, d'Alema and others to inaugurate the revolutionary "3rd way". Jospin refused to join, claiming that the French socialists would persist in fighting free market economy. The obvious contradiction between this claim and the actual orientation of the French and European Economy certainly played a role in April 2002. The PS is perfectly entitled to oppose liberalism and stay out of the "third way" but what do they offer as an alternative? Which project lies behind the "no"? As far as I understood, none. In 2002, I hoped that the French "no" to our socialist party would help for a redefinition of PS 's thinking, but we are still stuck at the same point, between the 3rd way and ....

As long as the PS does not offer an alternative to free market economy, the liberal character of the Constitution can not be retained as a valid argument against it.

Second, numerous “no” voters claim that the Constitution would not be democratic or social enough. Before exploring these issues, it is crucial to keep in mind that we are voting on the ratification of an international treaty. Thus, as far as democracy is concerned, our ambitions shall adapt to this specific context. In particular, the prevailing role of the Council of ministers over the Parliament is intrinsically linked to the sovereignty principle, dating back from the Westphalian peace. Does the PS wish to question this principle? I believe it does not. They want more co-decision procedures. Well, this is what the Constitution offers. "Progressivist no" voters also fear a stiff revision procedure. As Lorenzo pointed out, the Constitution makes it easier to amend the Constitution as it was under former treaties.

As far as EU social policies are concerned, "progressivist no" voters want harmonisation of Tax Policy and Industrial Policies. This is of course, as Lorenzo fairly stressed, to freeze competition from the East. Hearing Laurent Fabius, I believed that the draft Constitution made it impossible to lead any pan-European industrial policy. I was obviously wrong (or misinformed): I would advise everyone to read Art. III-180 of the Constitution to get this point clear. On the contrary, Fabius is right to argue that the draft treaty requires unanimity for tax harmonisation. First, it seems paradoxical to reproach the EU a "democratic deficit" and then, to claim that it should be entitled to decide on our taxes by qualified majority. Second, did Mr Fabius ever hear of Magna Charta? This is the cornerstone of the British Constitution, do we really expect any British government to give up on that? This would show a weak understanding of our partner, despite so many years of "entente cordiale", sad, really...

Finally, I was very sensitive to "progressivist no" arguments claiming that the Constitution watered down federalist ambitions. In particular, provisions on closer co-operation were crucial for those who wanted to go further. This is where the most shameful arguments appeared on the side of the “no”: I have read in numerous French newspapers that any closer co-operation would require a unanimous authorisation from the Council of ministers. This is simply a lie. I concede that the chapter on closer co-operation is tricky to understand for non-lawyers, but the Council shall definitely grant authorisations by qualified majority.

It is true that Joschka Fischer's hopeful call for a federation in 1999 seems far away. But when we think twice about it, this is by no way due to the Constitution but it is a necessary transitory period following our biggest enlargement ever. Would the PS have anything against enlargement? Would they imply that solidarity is only worth between Frenchmen?

I wish I would agree with Raphaël that a ""progressivist no" constitutes the rebirth of a European left wing movement", but I do not believe that a pan-European left wing movement ever existed. As far as our PS is concerned, I'll only believe in rebirth when they finally offer us a leftist thinking which is workable in contemporary Europe.

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