The UK/US Presidency of the EU

01 June 2005
Article
 
Hilary Wainwright

The UK/US Presidency of the EU
Hilary Wainwright
TNI Website, 15 June 2005 (Published in Italian in Carta, June 2005)

To work out the meaning of the UK Presidency you don't need to hire Sherlock Holmes; just read the Wall Street Journal of 16th October 2003 where UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown explains New Labour's agenda for Europe: `economic reform should be embraced with even greater speed. The right response to global competitive pressure is to liberalize, deregulate, and remove the old state aid subsides, agree an open competition policy, and remove barriers that hamper companies crossing borders. ... Europe must embrace labor market flexibility... .we should recognize that a strong transatlantic economic partnership - and a pro-European, pro-Atlantic consensus-is critical to long term prosperity.' In addition to making it clear that New Labour, like Mrs Thatcher, has no time for the idea of a `Social Europe,' this statement by Tony Blair's heir apparent, clears away any illusions that Brown is in reality any more `left wing' than Blair.

20 months and two dramatic rejections of entrenching Anglo-American, neo-liberal economics in European institutions on, the agenda is still the same; indeed it has turned from an agenda to a mission. Blair talked recently of his `struggle' for the opt out from social regulations on working time. Brown responded to the `no' votes of France and the Netherlands by announcing that the government will `stand together with business to put the case for economic reform in Europe.'

New Labour are very relieved they can avoid a referendum on the constitution. They would almost certainly have faced a strong - and not very progressive `no.' They are unlikely to use the UK presidency to revive the idea of a constitution. But they will not accept `no' as an answer on the mission to dismantle what remains of social Europe. They and the British diplomatic service are past masters at achieving things through the back door that have been turned back by democratic pressure at the front.

They will use the clout of the Presidency to try to push through the Bolkenstein directive on marketising public services and to dismantle labour legislation and create the conditions for `flexibility' (precarity). The neo-liberal constitution would have made this easy with its streamlining of central decision-making. Britain might well now have to negotiate the vetos of France and Germany. But most decisively, it will face a European citizenry contaminated especially by the French campaign, that is more alert than ever before to the manouvres of their ministers and officials in the corridors of Brussels. No longer, after the exposures of the French campaign, including of the secret Bolkenstein deal itself, will Ministers and officials be able to hide behind `the Commission'.

I would like to be able to say that the European character of French `no' campaign will in particular contaminate dissident Labour Members of Parliament who now with Blair's reduced majority, have real strategic leverage. But the mechanisms of the British parliament for making Ministers accountable for their negotiations in Brussels are very weak indeed. And at present there is no sign that left MP's will stand together to change this. There is a shift however, in the trade unions towards a strong European stand against New Labour's crusade to convert the continent to the American model. But only a continuation of the process of cross border organising begun through the European Social Forum will make sure that the criminal is stopped at home as well as in the rest of Europe.