As the banker James Pierpoint Morgan said, everybody has two reasons for things they do: the good reason, and the real reason.
A new pamphlet, The Big EU Con Trick, from a “Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution” (TUAEUC) gives several good reasons “why trade unionists should demand a referendum on the EU’s Renamed Constitution”.
The new “Reform Treaty” contains many of the proposals that were in the draft EU constitution a few years ago. That constitution was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands (in 2005). Tony Blair had promised a referendum on it (which didn’t happen because the constitution was abandoned after the French and Dutch votes).
The “Reform Treaty” contains language in tune with the general neo-liberal drift of EU policy, and its Charter of Fundamental Rights is too vague to secure increased trade union rights in Britain.
Anyway, they could add, why not a referendum? Why not let people vote on something they are agitated about?
The problem is, and the text of the pamphlet makes it clear, that the “real reason” is an attempt to mobilise opposition to any closer integration of the EU.
The Reform Treaty strips away much of the text that stirred up the French referendum vote against the constitution (most of which, however, was just taken from pre-existing EU treaties, unaffected by the referendum), and just goes for tidying-up measures to enable the EU to operate more or less coherently with its much expanded number of member states (now 27).
Although the Reform Treaty does increase the powers of the elected European Parliament marginally, most decision-making under it will (as at present) come through haggling between representatives of the different governments.
Socialists and democrats have no particular reason positively to endorse the Reform Treaty. It is not our business to devise ways to make the EU easier to manage, or to approve whatever makeshifts the governments come up with.
But our criticism is in the name of a united, federal, democratic Europe, with sovereign powers for a democratically elected European Parliament. We want the barriers between countries in Europe to be reduced. Our criticism of the EU is not that it is bringing down those barriers, but that it is doing it slowly and bureaucratically.
We oppose the neo-liberal drift of EU economic policy; but we oppose it in the name of a Europe-wide working-class socialist policy, not in the name of championing the autonomy of the different national governments (which are just as neo-liberal as the EU, or in Britain’s case more so!) against European coordination.
Pretty much all the French left other than the Convergences Revolutionnaires faction jumped (wrongly, we believe) onto the anti-constitution bandwagon at the time of the 2005 referendum. And they rejoiced when the vote went against the constitution. At last, after years of political defeat, a political victory for the left! A new left-wing majority had been assembled around the “no” campaign!
The two years since have shown how false that rejoicing was. Far from French politics being shifted to the left by the referendum, it has been allowed to move to the right by the fact that the left was running down the wrong road. In this May’s presidential election, a hard-edged right-wing candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, won, and his challenger was the most openly right-wing Socialist Party candidate for many years.
The idea that the trade unions and the left in Britain can move forward by hitching a lift on the Tories’ Reform Treaty referendum campaign - and given the relationship of forces, that is what is, the union/ left contingent tagging along with something shaped and directed by the Tories - is equally illusory.
In the fresher days of left-wing anti-EUism, in the 1970s, left anti-EUers at least had the courage to say plainly what they wanted - British withdrawal from the EU, and a World War Two type siege economy (“Alternative Economic Strategy”) - and would make an effort to claim that their motivation was quite different from that of the right-wing anti-EUers (of the type of the Sun, or the Tories, today). TUAEUC cannot even summon up the energy to make that claim. Instead, the back page of its pamphlet boasts that a parliamentary Early Day Motion propounding its views (and initiated, shamefully, by the otherwise left-wing John McDonnell) “has already gained signatories from all the three main parties”. Why wouldn’t it? It’s Tory party policy.
TUAEUC is, fortunately, an anaemic body. Although it has been going for over two years, its website is still advertised as “coming soon”. No list of affiliates is given in its pamphlet, or available anywhere else I can find, but the main sponsors seem to be RMT, CYWU, and the Bakers’ Union.
• TUAEUC: PO Box 46295, London W5 2UG.