THE LEFT AND EUROPE by Anthony Coughlan, September issue, Village Magazine, Dublin
The political Left, whether social democratic, communist or trotskyist, has always found the European Union problematic. This is because superanational EU “integration” poses the issue of national independence and national democracy so acutely, which many on the Left find embarrassing. They prefer to concentrate on economic issues, for on political ones like national independence they fear being found on the same side as the Right. Their political sectarianism makes that hard for them to cope with.
The EU shifts a myriad of government functions from the national level, where they have traditionally been under the control of democratically elected parliaments and governments, to the supranational, where the bureaucrats of the EU Commission have the monopoly of legislative initiative and where technocracy rules. Should the Left oppose or support this process?
The classical socialist position is clear. It is that Leftwingers should eschew “economism” and should seek to give a lead on democratic political questions as well as economic ones. They thereby put themselves in the best position to win political hegemony in their respective countries and to implement leftwing economic measures in due course when their peoples desire these.
Marx and Engels took it for granted that socialism could only be achieved in independent national States. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848 they wrote: “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.” They supported Irish independence from Britain. Engels wrote to his friend Kugelman: “There are two oppressed peoples in Europe, the Irish and the Poles, who are never more international than when they are most national.”
Their Irish follower, James Connolly, showed by his political practice in allying himself with the radical democrats of the IRB in the 1916 Easter Rising that he regarded the establishment of a fully independent Irish State as the prerequisite of being able to achieve the socialist measures that he advocated. While awaiting execution he speculated on how the international socialist press would interpret the Dublin rebellion: “They will never understand why I am here. They will all forget I am an Irishman.”
Outside Europe the proposition that the Left should be the foremost advocates of national sovereignty would be taken as self-evident. The strength of communism in Asian countries like China and Vietnam rests on its identification with nationalism. The appeal of the Left in Latin America is largely based on its opposition to Yankee imperialism. Only in Europe do so many Leftwingers regard the defence of national independence in face of EU integration as “right-wing” and therefore by definition reactionary.
This is primarily due to the fact that the main countries of Western Europe – France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy etc. – were all imperial powers in their day and historically their mainstream Labour Movements identified with that imperialism and its colonial accompaniments. With honourable if marginal exceptions, the national Labour Movements in these countries supported their respective national bourgeoisies in going to war with one another in World Wars 1 and 2.
In the second half of the 20th century transnational capital became predominant over national capital in the advanced industrial world. In Europe continental social democrats now shifted to backing European-based transnational capital in supporting its main political project, the construction of a supranational power, the EU/Eurozone, in which the classical principles of capitalist laissez faire – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour – would for the first time in history have the force of constitutional law.
In Britain and Ireland Labour initially dissented. The political tradition in Britain is that all the main issues of national policy are decided inside the Tory Party, with the rest of society having bit parts. Joining the EEC became the central goal of Conservative policy from 1961. The Labour Left originally opposed this, as indeed in this country the Irish Labour Party opposed Irish membership of the EEC in our 1972 Accession referendum. Under Michael Foot’s leadership British Labour advocated the UK’s withdrawal from the EEC in the 1983 general election.
Then in 1988, with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street, Commission President Jacques Delors, a French socialist, wooed the British TUC at Blackpool and Ireland’s ICTU at Malahide and promised them labour-friendly legislation from Brussels which they would never get at home. The Trade Union leaders embraced “social Europe” and much of the Labour Left followed them, in some cases becoming missionaries for the grand “project”. As the downside of the EU/Eurozone became clear in recent years, Euro-scepticism began to grow on the political Right. Now some on the Left are starting to follow the Right in that too, in Southern Europe and maybe in Britain.
In France and Italy the central role of communists in the war-time Resistance and their consequent appeal to national sentiment gave these countries mass communist parties for three decades after World War 2. A key factor in the subsequent decline of these parties was their embrace of the EC/EU in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the tenets of “Eurocommunism”.
In France this volte-face was necessary to allow Communist Ministers join Francois Mitterand’s socialist government in 1981. I recall the labour historian Desmond Greaves remarking at the time; “This will revive fascism in France.” That was before anyone had heard of Le Pen.The French CP, which had one-quarter of the seats in France’s National Assembly in 1956, has 2% there today. Many former French workingclass communist voters now vote for the National Front.
Leftwingers in the trotskyist tradition tend to be upholders of EU supranationalism as “objectively progressive”, while stigmatising concern for national independence as nationalism and “rightwing”. This goes back to Trotsky’s famous dispute with Stalin in the 1920s over whether it was possible to build socialism in one country – that being Stalin’s view – or whether it required a more general transformation, world revolution, as Trotsky thought. The EU is assumed to provide a more favourable field for socialism because it is at once bigger and it is trans-national, although it is hard to see how socialist-type restrictions on capital can come from a body one of whose constitutional principles is free movement of capital.
The EU institutions and their national extensions are populated with people who were on the trotskyist Left in their youth and who feel no qualms at the EU’s assaults on national democracy. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Portuguese Commission President J.M. Barroso are among those with such a background who have advanced supranationalism. Left-sounding arguments for the EU go down well in circles where “socialism” is no way a realistic danger, but where “nationalism” very much is – that is, the nationalism which resists losing national independence and democracy.
Leftist rhetoric, radical-sounding, has helped grease many a lucrative EU career path.
Leftist Europhilia of this kind has been influential in the ideological collapse of Greece’s Syriza, which made its leadership adopt policies the opposite of what they were elected on. While loud against “austerity” Messrs Tsipris, Varoufakis and Tsakalotos continually proclaimed themselves believers in the EU, which they seemed to think could be transformed into a force for cross-national solidarity and Euro-Keynesianism by dint of rhetorical argument.
When it came to the crunch they lacked the courage to go for a “Grexit”, a repudiation of Greece’s mountainous debts and a devaluation of a restored drachma. Yet only such a policy can revive Greece’s lost competititiveness, stimulate its home demand and bring back economic growth, for Greece’s third bailout will not work.
The dissenters in Syriza are now advocating such a course, as are the Greek communists and others. The Syriza collapse is educational for Leftwingers everywhere. It illustrates the old truth that the establishment or re-establishment of national independence – which means a State having its own currency and with it control of either its interest rate or its exchange rate – must be central to any meaningful campaign against neoliberalism and banker-imposed austerity, not to mind “socialism”, however one might define that.
(Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin)
- EU Political Union: Be careful what you wish for. EuroIntelligence.com
- The Return of the Ugly German. Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor 1998-2005
- Moving on from the Euro. Kevin H O’Rourke, Professor of Economic History, All Souls College, University of Oxford; Programme Director at Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).
- Blitzkrieg? Finian Cunningham
- Greece should prepare for Grexit – and then not do it. Economist Charles Wyplosz
- Greece and the European Union: First as Tragedy, Secondly as Farce, Thirdly as Vassal State. Prof. James Petras
Media statement / Wednesday 27 June 2012
“There is no example in history of a lasting monetary union that was not part of one State.” – Otmar Issing, former chief economist German Bundesbank, later governor of the ECB, c.1999
“That in what pertains to the control of credit the constant and predominant aim shall be the welfare of the people as a whole” – Irish Constitution, Article 45, Directive Principles of Social Policy
“A federalised banking union: Europe too has a ready model across the Atlantic … The logic of federalizing this [banking] function is as powerful in Europe as is has always been in the US. ” – Irish Times editorial, 7 June 2012
“The United States or Australia and New Zealand are immigrant societies and therefore they still accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others. And that’s precisely what the European Union, in my view, should be doing its best to undermine.” – Peter Sutherland, House of Lords Migration Committee, BBC News, 21 June 2012
* * *
We live under a system of finance capitalism in which the interests of peoples and of States are subordinated to those of bankers by the bulk of national politicians.
Politicians in the peripheral countries of the Eurozone shifted the bad debts of insolvent banks on to the shoulders of national taxpayers to prevent those banks going bust and to ensure that the German and French banks which were responsible for most of the improvident lending would get their money back.
They now want to shift control of banks and banking to the supranational level so that the big banks in the big EU countries can more easily gobble up the small banks in the smaller, while simultaneously taking another step on the road to the fiscal and political union the Eurofanatics have been dreaming of for decades.
An EU banking union would deprive national States of the ability to make banking and credit creation serve national developmental goals.
It would make it impossible for the State to insist that Irish banks should subscribe to its State debt.
Having given up the power to issue money by joining the Eurozone, advocates of a banking union in the EU would pass control of credit in Ireland to banks outside the country completely.
Will the rest of the Irish media follow the lead of the Irish Times in supporting this latest lurch towards economic and political catastrophe?
It is par for the course that the career federalists and ex-Trotskyites who form Irish Times editorial policy on Europe should show their anti-national animus by supporting every move to strip the Irish State of all classical State functions.
With the sole exception of the great Douglas Gageby every editor of that paper has shared the national self-contempt which makes them identify with foreign rulers more than with their own people. In the old days it was the British Empire. Today it is the aspiring Eurozone empire. They and those around them can thereby flatter themselves they are superior to the local “Paddies”.
But will the rest of the Irish media and the Irish political class follow the Irish Times further down the road to economic and political catastrophe?(Signed)
Director The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre
24 Crawford Avenue
Tel : 01-8305792
Today – Wednesday, & Tomorrow – Thursday
The Government will seek Dail approval of:
The Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU Treaties which authorises the setting up of the permanent Eurozone loan fund, the European Stability Mechanism
+ A motion to approve the ESM Treaty which is authorized by this amendment
+ A motion to approve future Government spending on the ESM,
TODAY – WEDNESDAY, AND TOMORROW – THURSDAY.
A guillotined debate on the second reading of the latter Bill will take place TOMORROW.
This means that the whole business of signing up the Irish State to the ESM Treaty for the Eurozone and committing us to significant expenditure to help bail out Spain and other Eurozone countries in the coming period, could go through all stages in the Oireachtas BY THE END OF NEXT WEEK – with minimal debate in the Irish media over the long-term implications of these steps or awareness of what this all means amongst the general public.
The ESM Treaty can be downloaded from the internet – http://www.european-council.europa.eu/media/582311/05-t…2.pdf
The relation of the ESM Treaty to the Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU Treaties authorizing it and to the Fiscal Treaty which Irish voters voted on last Friday is set out in the publication “A Tale of Two Treaties” by Cork solicitors Joe Noonan and Mary Linehan.
This can be downloaded from the internet at: http://taleoftwotreaties.tumblr.com
The letter below to the Ambassadors in Ireland of those EU States which have not yet ratified or approved the ESM Treaty or the Article 136 TFEU amendment sets out the reasons for regarding the ESM Treaty as it stands as illegal under EU law and in violation of the Irish Constitution.
A reformatted standalone version of this as explanatory text, is available here – https://nationalplatform.org/2012/06/06/4-reasons-the-esm-treaty-is-illegal-2/ – “4 Reasons why the ESM Treaty is illegal”.
If these measures are pushed through the Oireachtas this week and next in the way the Government proposes, the only way this profound illegality and unconstitutionality can be prevented is by President Higgins referring the relevant Bill to the Supreme Court for adjudication or by Deputy Thomas Pringle’s legal team securing a relevant injunction to stop it pending a Court hearing of the issues.
Reasons to believe that the ESM Treaty as it stands is illegal under EU law and therefore unconstitutional in Ireland:
The proposal to ratify the European Stability Mechanism Treaty as it stands and to approve the Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU Treaties as authorizing the Stability Mechanism envisaged in the ESM Treaty, are unlawful under the EU Treaties and are therefore unconstitutional in Ireland and the other EU Member States.
There are constitutional challenges to the ESM Treaty and the Article 136 TFEU amendment in Germany, in Estonia and in Ireland. In this country independent Dáil Deputy for Donegal Mr. Thomas Pringle has launched a constitutional challenge on these matters which opens in the Irish High Court on 19 June.
Deputy Pringle’s lawyers are seeking a constitutional referendum in Ireland on the ESM Treaty. They are also claiming that the EU Treaties should be amended under a different provision of the Art. 48 TEU treaty revision procedure than that currently used of the ESM Treaty as it stands is to be lawfully ratified under EU law.
Deputy Pringle’s legal action is seeking to defend the principle that the EU is an entity governed by the rule of law in face of a political attempt to change the EU treaties by subterfuge and to open a way to transforming the present EMU into a fiscal-political union for the Eurozone.
While my colleagues and I are not involved in Deputy Pringle’s action, we and many other Irish people share his concerns that the integrity of the existing EU Treaties and the Irish Constitution be upheld in face of the attempt by some Eurozone Governments effectively to take the Eurozone captive for their own ends and to organize the Economic and Monetary Union on quite different principles from heretofore by means of this ESM Treaty. We have respectfully requested several ambassadors therefore, to urge their Governments not to proceed with their country’s ratification of the ESM Treaty or approval of the Article 136 TFEU authorisation, until the Irish Courts have ruled on the issues raised by this constitutional action.
The reasons which lead us to believe that the ESM Treaty as it stands is illegal under EU law and unconstitutional in Ireland are the following:-
1. Article 3 TFEU of the EU Treaties which have been agreed by all 27 EU Member States provides that monetary policy for the countries using the euro is a matter of “exclusive competence” of the EU as a whole.
It is not therefore open to the 17 Member States of the Eurozone to attempt effectively to diminish the competence of the Union and to establish among themselves a Stability Mechanism entailing a €700 billion permanent bailout fund to lend to Eurozone governments as envisaged in the ESM Treaty. This ESM fund, to which Ireland would have to make significant contributions for the indefinite future, would trench profoundly on monetary policy for the euro area.
The Stability Mechanism envisaged in the ESM Treaty is effectively an attempt to find a way round the “no bailouts” provision of Article 125 TFEU, whereby it is forbidden for the EU to take on the debt of Member States or for Member States to take on the debt of other Member States.
It also breaches other EU Treaty articles. The ESM Treaty if ratified as it stands would effectively amount to an attempt to open a legal-political path to what France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy called for last November, namely “A Federation for the Eurozone and a Confederation for the rest of the EU“.
A radical step of this kind, which would transform the Economic and Monetary Union from what it has been up to now, may only lawfully be taken by means of the “ordinary” treaty amendment procedure of Art. 48.2 TEU. It cannot lawfully be done by means of a mere Decision of the European Council of Prime Ministers and Presidents under the “simplified” treaty amendment procedure of Art. 48.6 TEU. The latter procedure is meant to deal with minor technical amendments to the treaties, but is currently being used by the governments of the 17 Eurozone countries in an attempt to alter radically the character of the EMU by ratifying this ESM Treaty as it stands.
2. How can it be lawful for the ESM Treaty to permit a permanent ESM loan fund to be established for the 17 Eurozone countries when the express terms of the Article 136 TFEU amendment, agreed by all 27 EU Governments, authorises a Stability Mechanism only if that is established unanimously by the Eurozone States, as the general provisions of EU law require,
“The Member States whose currency is the euro may establish a stability mechanism to be activated if indispensable to safeguard the stability of the euro area as a whole” (emphasis added).
The Art. 136 amendment to the EU Treaties does not say that “Member States”, meaning some of them, may establish a Stability Mechanism, but rather “The Member States” , namely all of them (In French Les Membres rather than Des Membres).
Yet the ESM Treaty which has been concluded among the 17 provides that the Stability Mechanism it envisages may come into being once States contributing 90% of the capital of the proposed fund have ratified the treaty.
The eight largest Eurozone States, a minority of the 17, can therefore establish this Stability Mechanism, while other Eurozone States that may need assistance from it badly are excluded.
How then can this be a Stability Mechanism “for the euro area as a whole“, as article 136 TFEU, which still has to be constitutionally approved by all 27 EU Member States, requires?
Likewise the so-called Fiscal Treaty – the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the EMU – on which Irish voters have just voted and which cross-refers to the ESM Treaty, provides that it can come into force when it is ratified by 12 Eurozone Members.
Does not this treaty also require unanimous ratification by all 17 Eurozone Members before it can be lawfully binding on them under EU law?
3. How can the ESM Treaty be lawfully ratified by July 2012, as is the stated intention of the 17 Eurozone governments concerned, when the Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU Treaties authorising a Stability Mechanism does not have legal effect, once if has been constitutionally approved by all 27 EU Member States, until 1 January 2013?
Does not this mean that any treaty purporting to establish an ESM before 2013 must be legally void? ESM Treaty No. 1 which was signed by Eurozone Finance Ministers in July 2011 but was never sent round for ratification, conformed to the 2013 time-frame set by the Art. 136 TFEU authorisation, whereas ESM Treaty No. 2 which was signed by EU Ambassadors on 2 February 2012 does not.
This shows again how the exigencies of a political response to the financial crisis by some Eurozone States puts them in breach of EU law and therefore of the Irish Constitution.
4. EU Member States may only sign international treaties that are compatible with EU law. The EU Court of Justice has made clear that intergovernmental agreements cannot affect the allocation of responsibilities defined in the EU Treaties.
The provisions of the ESM Treaty and the Fiscal Treaty which involve the EU Commission and Court of Justice in the implementation of the proposed ESM go well beyond what is permissible under the current EU treaties and are therefore unlawful.
Copies of this article are being released to the Irish and international media for their information regarding the concerns which are widely shared in this country that the proposed ESM Treaty is in violation of EU law and in breach of the Irish Constitution.
Director, National Platform EU Research & Information Centre
First published online @ http://www.indymedia.ie/article/101936
You may find of interest the remarks below of Mr Dick Roche TD when a backbencher in 2001 and before he was promoted to Minister for Europe, regarding the proposal to re-run the Nice referendum.
They provide a piquant contrast to some of his recent statements.
The voter turnout in the 2001 Nice referendum was 35%, in contrast to the majority turnout in the 12 June Lisbon referendum.
“THE IRISH PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN.”
Mr Dick Roche TD on why it would be a “democratic affront” to re-run the Nice Treaty referendum without making changes to the Treaty… spoken when he was a Dail backbencher in 2001 and before he was made Minister for Europe
“It is foolhardy to talk about another referendum at this stage unless something fundamental changes. To attempt to rerun a referendum as a means of reversing the democratic decision taken by the people would be rightly regarded as an affront. Something fundamental will have to be changed in the Nice treaty before we can even contemplate putting it before the people again.”
– Dail Debates, Vol. 358, pp. 1058-1061, 21 June 2001)
Below are some further excerpts from the same Dail speech of Mr Roche, backbencher)
“So far as the Nice Treaty is concerned, the Irish people have spoken and, like it or lump it, the Commission and its President have to accept it. They should do so with more good grace than they have shown in the recent past?
The Nice Treaty, no matter what its good intentions, is a document that has been democratically tested in only one Member State, and that is Ireland. It failed to meet the democratic test in this nation. It is an arrogance for any politician, either here or any Commissioner in Europe, to ignore the fundamental fact that the Irish people have spoken with some clarity on the matter. Yet last night the President of the Commission suggested that somehow or other the Irish people’s will can be undone. If the Commission, its leaders or the Governments of other European states decide to sweep democracy aside, we must ask on what basis is the future of Europe to be built?
Over the past two days I attended a meeting of the interim European Security and Defence Assembly. I was amazed and gratified in equal measure at the response by European parliamentarians from 28 different European nations to the Irish referendum. It was an interesting and extraordinary eye-opener. There was no finger-wagging or suggestion that our people had been wrong or were confused; rather there was a degree of admiration for the decision the Irish had made. Speakers from the United Kingdom to Slovenia to Greece spoke on the issue. They indicated their support for the right of the Irish people to make a decision on this matter. They were by no means all Euro-sceptics. Speakers from a number of countries both within and outside the Union indicated that the Irish people by its vote reflected a common view and concern that now exists both within the EU and in those states most proximate to the EU. Members from the EU states who contributed directly in the debate or who spoke privately to the Irish delegation members indicated that it was their view – I made an effort to do a straw poll – that referenda on the Nice Treaty as it currently stands, if held in other member states, would meet with the same public response as in Ireland.
There is something distinctly odd about democratic states attempting to take decisions that are out of line with the sentiment of their citizens. The gulf that exists between the citizens of Europe and the institutions, the commissioners and the bureaucrats who are now driving the Union, is nowhere more visible than in the area of peace, security and defence. In the run-up to the Nice Treaty the European Council decided, quite incredibly, that somehow the European Union could now take charge of peace, security and defence issues across the continent of Europe both within and outside the Union?
The issues raised by the rejection of the Nice Treaty in the referendum are of a fundamental nature. I have listened with some dismay to today’s debate and the debate that has taken place in the weeks since the referendum. Many in the political leadership of the nation are more focused on making a political point about the referendum than on truly addressing the core issues behind the judgement passed by the people?
It is foolhardy to talk about another referendum at this stage unless something fundamental changes. To attempt to rerun a referendum as a means of reversing the democratic decision taken by the people would be rightly regarded as an affront. Something fundamental will have to be changed in the Nice treaty before we can even contemplate putting it before the people again?
The Nice treaty is a complex document which intends to achieve complex things. It was sold to the Irish people as a means of providing for the enlargement of the European Union. Last night Mr Prodi made it very clear that was not what the treaty is about. He did not, however, make clear precisely what it is about. He was saying, therefore, that the enlargement process could be achieved without the Nice treaty.
I mentioned the assembly I attended yesterday and the considerable interest shown in the decision of the Irish people. Some thought-provoking contributors indicated that the opportunity afforded the Irish people should also be offered to the citizens of other member states. Maybe then Europe would get a clear message about what the people of Europe expect in the coming years.”
– Dick Roche, 2001