In May 2005, the European Union’s constitutional debate marked an important juncture in the shaping of its future. Will the EU pursue a neo-liberal course, or seek to reinvigorate a distinctively European social model? Will EU militarism complement the existing US hegemony or constrain it? Can Europe’s institutions be democratised? And what is the basis of European citizenship? The annual TNI Fellows meeting brought together around 35 activist scholars from across the world to debate these issues, and to think through the global implications of European practice on a range of fronts: including trade, militarisation, regional integration, and the practice of its social movements and political parties.
Europe between East and West. Relations with the US, Russia and China
This session discussed the differences and commonalities between the EU and US approaches to their external relations with China and Russia. The EU is now the largest supplier of foreign technology and investment in China, with some EU members also engaging in military exchanges with the People’s Republic. These developments could be read as part of an effort to improve EU-China relations, driven by a common concern to constrain US power. But there are several arguments against this view. Chinese moves towards multilateralism are qualified by its caution about becoming politically engaged in international conflicts. The EU and US trade positions share a neo-liberal bias and, with the opening of Chinese markets, the US is also an important source of foreign investment. And talk of EU foreign policy may, in any case, be a misnomer. As EU members do not share one set of common interests, the EU’s external relations are complex and often highly contested between them – one factor in its inability to act as a counterweight to the US.
The EU and USA also compete in their political relations with Russia, although they promote the same neo-liberal economic model. Whilst it is often argued that Russia needs foreign investment, the country is actually a net exporter of capital. European investments are being made in real estate, oil and manufacturing, but Russian companies are at the same time going multinational. The true scale of capital outflows from Russia to the EU is concealed because significant amounts pass through grey and black markets. What Russia needs are not-for-profit investments in basic public services and goods, including housing, water and education. But the World Bank’s push to commercialise these sectors makes that outcome less likely, and compounds the country’s problems.
The EU’s military capability has developed rapidly since 1997, when the Amsterdam Treaty first paved the way for an EU security policy. The European arms industry, sensing a chance to widen its market, has since engaged in concerted lobbying. Industry lobbyists not only have access to decision-makers – in many cases, they are the ones making the decisions. Policymaking tasks are often devolved to councils of experts and secretive advisory groups drawn largely from the industry. The clauses on defence in the proposed EU constitution arose in this way. Lucrative dual-use technologies are also being developed with EU funding. There is a need for far more transparency around lobbying at EU level, to rebalance policy in favour of citizens’ interests rather than those of the arms companies.
Europe and the South: the push for regional integration
While it may be tempting to see the EU as a counterweight to the USA, their actions on the global economic stage have much in common. Trade functions as a mechanism of control. Market openings are forced at a multilateral level, including via WTO negotiations, but the EU also uses plurilateral mechanisms such as the OECD and the Quad (US, EU, Japan and Canada) to similar effect. The EU and US compete in the push for bilateral market access, holding up certain agreements (US-Chile, EU-Mexico) as models, since their terms invariably go beyond those achieved at the WTO. There are few democratic mechanisms to rein in EU policymaking, since the European Commission rather than member states has power of initiative in trade negotiations.
There is a need for political pressure to redress this imbalance. Civil society organisations, including the peace movement and even some trade unions, are often ambiguous in their responses or fail to engage with the EU’s aggressive trade liberalisation in the South. Different
Europe and Islam
This session examined issues of European identity in relation to Islam and violence. There is no evidence that Islam breeds more violence than secularism, although it has sometimes been used as a pretext for politically motivated violence. The main source of violence in modern times is the nation-state, and attempts to found nation-states: even the majority of suicide bombings in the world are for secular reasons. So it is important to disentangle Islam and violence in current debates about European identity. European identity should not be seen as fully separate from Islamic identity, with Muslims expected to "integrate" in order to attain citizenship. European and Muslim identities are complex, contested and overlapping. Any debate on Europe and Islam should recognise this at the outset, and discussions on the "war on terror" should look towards wider political and economic explanations of violence, starting with questions of state actions.
European Left Politics Today
The anti-war movement in Europe did not stop the war on Iraq, but it has arguably helped to consolidate a European Left – which is also visible at the European Social Forum (ESF). The emerging European social movements do not eclipse the role of political parties, but seek a new relationship with them and have developed innovative organisational forms from which the parties could learn.
However, these social movements are predominantly Western European. The new left remains weak in Central and Eastern Europe, for historical reasons. In Hungary, for example, most privatisation measures are passed by the socialists, with opposition led by a nationalist and anti-modernist right. This limits the space for progressive social movements, although there are some efforts now to broaden the current of globalisation-critical and environmentalist movements.
What measures can the left take to ensure that it is not condemned to being a permanent opposition in Europe? Social movements should be attentive to the dangers that they can be too self-referential, and insufficiently practical. Parties still have an important role in conveying political demands at a state level. But where that path is currently closed off, progress can nevertheless be made at a European level and in the local arena.
The EU Constitutional debate
This session took place on the eve of the "no" votes in The Netherlands and France on the EU constitution. The speakers addressed the topic from the perspective of the progressive "no" campaigns in the two countries, in which they played leading roles. Underlying the popularity of the "no" case was resentment at neo-liberal reforms and distrust in government. It was also argued that the constitution was undemocratic. The constitutional treaty set out detailed policies in its 480-pages, which would effectively have subjected future generations to the pro-market political and economic choices of the present. The Convention which devised the document was itself an unelected body.
The text of the constitutional treaty was profoundly promarket, with the clauses on fundamental rights making no mention of workers’ rights. There was also concern about the militarism clauses, which would have committed member states to "improving their military capabilities" year on year – a code for increased defence spending. Even the democratic gains that were offered in terms of the transparency of the Council of Ministers were tokenistic, given that the vast majority of EU decisionmaking happens in committees that would remain closed.
The debate in France, in particular, succeeded in mobilising a nationwide political movement, and in both countries the discussion opened a space to debate the political