The White Paper by Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 March 2017 is a poor answer to the crisis of the European Union. In response, I am proposing that parties and movements committed to internationalism and social justice offer the following alternative to the five options Juncker outlines. I am throwing it out as a draft for discussion among social democrats, the radical left, left nationalist parties and Greens. If anybody is interested in developing it, message me…
Europe has, as Juncker says, made progress. It is home to the biggest free trade area in the world and a globally significant currency. The creation of a single market, the Euro, pooled sovereignty and increased defence/foreign policy co-ordination are, indeed, achievements to be cherished.
What threatens them is the decision — at Lisbon and before — to tie these achievements to an economic model that has collapsed globally.
The Eurozone was the only major economic bloc whose constitution delayed critical and urgent monetary loosening after 2008; the same rules mandated the Commission to spearhead an unjustified attack on the sovereignty and human rights of the people of Greece and Cyprus. Now — with the symptoms of global stagnation acute in the periphery of the Eurozone — the EU itself is caught up in an existential crisis of legitimacy for the neoliberal economic model.
Let us be frank about the risks: in 2015–2017 consent for the existing model has begun to evaporate among the working class and lower middle class of many states.
At the same time, autocratic governments in A10 countries are beginning to systemically erode democracy and the rule of law. These are Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Contrary to Juncker’s claim, the long-offered accession process for Turkey has failed to act as a pressure on greater democracy, but given the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan cover to impose a classic dictatorship, with arbitrary arrests and attacks on press freedom. Erdogan used — without any acknowledgement from the EU — 1.2 million refugees as a human bargaining tool.
Compounding the risks, Germany — the dominant power in Europe — voluntarily decreed the suspension of rules that would have slowed the influx; and then failed to impose on other EU governments a quota system to spread the load.
The risks of far right extremism, autocratic conservative governments, pogromism against refugees — together with the ever present threat of Islamist terrorism — could set Europe alight and plunge the continent into a re-run of the 1930s.
Borders are closing, minds are closing, racism is rising and nationalist parties of the right, whose project is to dismantle the EU, are gaining support.
That, not the smorgasbord of evasions and clichés offered by Mr Juncker, is the real threat to the EU.
Underpinning the whole problem is the EU’s unwillingness to promote equality and social justice. The inevitable pooling of sovereignty, and confusions about accountability, which lie at the heart of the EU project were never seriously challenged until elite-driven neoliberal politics seized on these mechanisms and used them to enforce an unaccountable project to drive forward the interests of global corporations against those of European citizens, and above all the poor, exploited and oppressed.
What follows, the Option Six Proposal, is a genuine attempt to preserve the EU and the Eurozone as global institutions.
6.1 The EU27 request the EC to draw up by September 2017 the draft of a new Treaty of the European Union, to supersede the present one signed at Lisbon. This shall be presented to the EU’s citizens as the New Deal for Social Justice and Equality in Europe. It shall be signed in September 2018.
6.2 At the heart of the new TEU shall be embodied the principle: equalisation upwards of all social rights and living standards. On signature of the new TEU, all states will be required to pass through their national parliaments legislation to raise their statutory minimum wage to XX EUROS per hour (TBC).
6.3 Within five years all signatories shall be required to adopt uniform workplace rights, partnership arrangements with trade unions and common minimum standards of welfare provision — for example: state subsidised childcare from the age of 18 months as in SWEDEN; six months statutory maternity pay at full pay; laws to eradicate bogus self-employment.
6.4 The aim of rapidly equalising minimum wage, social welfare provision is to rapidly regain consent for free movement. Alongside these economic measures the new Treaty would guarantee a uniform and fair treatment of refugees, and institute a new regime of inward economic migration to Europe, aligned with the common industrial strategy (see below)
6.5 To maintain consent for the pooling of sovereignty, the Treaty shall empower the European Parliament as the sovereign body of the EU, subordinate the Commission entirely to its decisions, remove the Commission’s ability to propose legislation and embody this right only for recognised groups in the European Parliament.
6.6 The new Treaty will make it an offence for European legislators or civil servants to speak to corporate lobbyists in any forum that is not public and open to all. Privileged and secret access shall be deemed against the spirit of the new Treaty.
6.7 The European Parliament will empower the Commission to suspend or expel from the Union any country in serious breach of the Copenhagen Treaty principles on democracy and the rule of law. Any country unable to demonstrate adherence to these principles by September 2018 should sign the Treaty only as an affiliate nation of the EU, and should lose its representation in the parliament, commission and other bodies until it can do so. Its citizens would then enjoy only qualified rights to free movement, cross border investment and property ownership. The overt aim of this proposal is to speed the political reform process in the A10 countries, and to seal the new European polity against any possibility of a recrudescence of fascism, racist populism, autocratic rule or its sibling — rule by a kleptocratic political elite.
6.8 The new Treaty will empower the Commission to aggressively enforce — both via the EU and national states — a redistributive tax code, harmonised among all signatory nations, and beginning with measures to prevent corporation tax flowing to offshore tax havens. Operating, designing or otherwise facilitating a tax evasion regime would be declared a criminal offence throughout the entire union, immediately on signature of the Treaty.
6.9 The Treaty would allow strategic state aid and nationalisation measures to take place, but within an agreed pan-European industrial strategy. If necessary, as global conditions deteriorate with threats by numerous players, the Commission could operate the industrial strategy in a way that overtly protects the jobs and livelihoods of European citizens first, others later.
6.10 All reference to the governance of the Eurozone would be removed from the new Treaty. Eurozone membership would cease to be a condition of membership or accession. The Eurozone members would then be free to renegotiate the terms of the single currency. The signatories to Option Six would pursue a strategic debt restructuring, and place the ECB directly under the control of a committee of sovereign states, ending the depoliticisation of monetary policy, which has operated in fact as a weapon by strong states against weak ones. In place of the present Stability and Growth Pact, the signatories of Option Six would then propose a radical programme of fiscal and monetary expansion, state intervention and innovation
6.11 On the basis of these new and radical measures:
- Harmonised minimum wage
- Harmonised social welfare systems
- Converged labour market regulations
- New tools to exclude states which flout the rule of law
- New tools to prevent the emergence of fascist parties
- New tools to prevent offshore tax evasion
- A pan-EU industrial strategy with preference for EU-first
- The rapid assimilation of refugees and migrants
The member states would re-commit to the project of a converged social market economy, with free movement and open-ness to migration from the outside world.Of course it is possible that some states would be unable or unwilling to gain consent for the new Treaty in their parliaments. In that situation, a transition mechanism should be created whereby they remain members of an expanded EFTA and EEA. Membership of other EU bodies, for example Euratom, Erasmus etc would be generously offered by the “core” group of countries as a way of encouraging civil society in these peripheral countries to adopt the goal of full Treaty signature.
In short, this is a major re-set of the project designed to restore consent for the high level of pooled sovereignty needed for the EU to survive the critical period ahead. We undertand it is likely the core “social justice and democracy” group will be smaller than 27 countries.
However the scale of the threat to both economic wellbeing, social harmony and political democracy makes it necessary for the labour and social justice movements of European Union to demand this major re-foundation. Otherwise many of those who experience the EU only as a loss of sovereignty, loss of power to corporations, and loss of the rule of law to privileged elites may conclude “sixty years is enough”.
We want them commit to another sixty years of Europe, but it can only be rationally done on the basis of social justice, growth and the rule of law.
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Columnist for The Guardian
First published at the author’s Mosquito Ridge blog.