The EU Reform Treaty: Part 1

By Michael Pröbsting



Part of the general attack by the imperialist bourgeoisie


What fundamentally is the purpose of the EU reform treaty? It is to take forward and strengthen the European Union as a common economic, political and military organisation of the imperialist ruling classes of Europe, that is, of European monopoly capital.

The EU reform treaty means the advance of turbo capitalism. “An open market economy with free competition” is to be written in as a fundamental basis of the EU constitution that will facilitate the privatisation by the capitalists of state property and the dismantling of social gains.

The EU reform treaty means permanent rearmament and war. In its struggle with the USA for worldwide spheres of influence, the EU is using the means of “Americanisation”: EU battle groups, under the hypocritical excuse of democracy and human rights will undertake wars to secure raw materials and geostrategic interests.

In order to achieve this, an EU state apparatus is to be built over and above the state apparatuses of the individual capitalist nation states and it will not be subject even to the minimal bourgeois democratic standards of parliamentarism in the individual states. The EU Commission President, Manuel Barroso has himself made clear the character of the future European Union: “sometimes I compare the EU with the model of organisation of an empire. We have the scale of an empire.” (1)

The question of the EU reform treaty, therefore, is objectively of the greatest importance for the class struggle in Europe and in Austria because the treaty would mean the consolidation and strengthening of EU imperialism and its wars against the working class domestically and against the oppressed peoples externally.


The EU reform treaty: the EU Constitution in new packaging


That is why the rulers want to force this treaty through at any price. It is why they want to prevent any referendums that would threaten defeats as in France and Holland in the spring of 2005. In order to justify this to the population, they have formulated the text of the reform treaty in even less clear language than the draft constitution. The Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht admitted this openly: “The aim with the constitution treaty was to make it more readable; the aim with this treaty is to make it unreadable. The constitution aimed at clarity while this treaty must be unclear. That is a success.” (2)

In fact, the EU reform treaty is simply a new edition of the defeated EU constitution. Thus it differs from the draft constitution in only 10 of the 250 proposals. In other words, 96 per cent of the text of the defeated constitutional treaty has been taken over.3 Leading representatives of European monopoly capital justify this. EU Parliamentary President Hans-Gert Poettering explained, “the substance of the constitutional treaty has been successfully defended.” (4) Even Giscard d’Estaing, the former President of France and, as the EU Convention President, the architect of the EU constitution, compared the EU reform treaty with the defeated constitutional draft in the tone of an arrogant imperial ruler: “with regard to the content the proposal is largely unaltered, it has simply been presented differently. The reason is that the new text should not look too similar to the constitutional treaty”. The EU governments have agreed upon “cosmetic changes so that the constitution can be more easily swallowed” in order to avoid the now risky referendums. (5)

The “amending treaty” alters two existing treaties; the “European Union Treaty” (EUT) and the treaty upon which the European Community was founded, now known as “the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TFEU). (6)


Free-market economy


One important function of the reform treaty is the justification of the dismantling of workers’ rights and social gains and the extended privatisation of state property. Because of this the emphasis on the capitalist order runs like a red thread throughout the treaty with its various keywords such as “open market economy” and “free competition”. Thus, for example, article 119 says:

The activities of the member states and the union in the meaning of article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union embraces in the terms of the treaty the introduction of an economic policy which aims at the closer coordination of economic policies of member states, the domestic market and the identification of common aims and they are subordinated to the fundamental rule of an open market economy with free competition. Parallel to this, under the terms of the treaty, these activities embrace the therein anticipated measures for a unified currency, the euro, as well as the formulation and introduction of a unified monetary and interest rate policy with the objective of achieving price stability and alongside this general economic policy of the union and the observation of the fundamental rules of an open market economy with free competition.” (7)

Equally, free trade, that is trade that benefits the strongest corporations, is promoted. It is to be a task of the EU “to take forward the integration of all the countries in the world economy among other things through the step by step dismantling of all limits on international trade”. (8) Similarly, adherence to the neoliberal Lisbon Strategy is explicitly written into the treaty with reference both to the “Growth and Stability Pact” and the objective of achieving budgetary surpluses at time of economic growth. (9)

Thus we have here the treaty-based commitment of the states to advance neoliberal economic reforms and investments by corporations and, simultaneously, a commitment to massive savings in state expenditure, that is, above all, in social and health provision. Indeed, the policy is now to be made even sharper; according to Austrian Finance Minister Grasser it means not just a nil deficit in prosperous times but a budget surplus.


Privatisation of public services


In the same spirit, the EU reform treaty would mean subordinating public services to the rules of competition. Article 86 makes clear that it will be the EU commission alone that will decide over such matters. (10)

This establishes the danger that many service sectors that have for a long time been untouched by the “blessings of the free market economy” will now be privatised, beginning with water, electricity and waste disposal through to public transport. It is no accident, for example, that the section dealing with transport policy has been amended. Previously, unanimity by all member states was required in order to implement measures over a common transport policy if their implementation endangered quality of life, or the functioning of means of transport. With the EU reform treaty such matters are now only to be noted. The French anti-globalisation activist Pierre Khalfa rightly concluded that, “a defence of public transport facilities is hereby removed.” (11) Similar measures of liberalisation of the energy sector are also anticipated.


Armaments and military interventions


The reform treaty confirms and accelerates the militarist armament and expansion plans of the EU. The “common security and defence policy” will become an integral component of the union. The EU Defence Agency would now become treaty based. Equally, every member state would become obliged to develop their defence capabilities and involvement in European plans so that at the latest by 2010 they are able to provide armed units to participate as national contingents or as parts of a multinational unit in proposed missions. (12)

Armament and the formation of multinational troop units are obviously not ends in themselves but serve the military interests of EU imperialism. With interventionist units, the EU will be able to carry out military operations abroad. Chad, in which even Austrian troops are participating, is only the first taste of future colonial adventures by European imperialism. (13)

The justifications for leading such wars are consciously left broad and open. Thus, a case for war could be established even if just one single EU state were “attacked”: “in the event of an armed attack on the territory of a member state the other member states will provide all possible help and support in their power.” (14)

However, it does not even need to be an attack, it is enough if the “Values of the Union” are endangered: “the Council can commission a group of member states to undertake a mission in order to defend the values of the Union and in service of its interests.” (15)

But the ruling classes are not only interested in fighting wars abroad. They also need an army for civil war domestically. The solidarity clause in Article 188r of the Lisbon Treaty specifies the conditions, such as terrorist attack, natural catastrophe or “man-made catastrophe” in which the Union and “member states will act together, using the military means available to them to defend democratic institutions or if requested to give support to a member state’s political institutions.” (16)

It is not difficult to understand that behind these legalistic phrases is hidden the possible suppression of uprisings and unrest within the EU by a civil war intervention by EU armies. We have always emphasised that the central problem of the EU is that it is far weaker militarily than its competitor, the USA. Against a background of increasing rivalry between the USA and the EU, the ruling class of Europe needs a change of course:

However to become a power on a similar scale to the USA, Europe needs a fundamental change in its military policy. Which is why it is written into the constitution that European imperialism has the ability to undertake wars around the world in order to defend its political and economic interests (Values).” (17)

At first sight, the EU reform treaty appears to be contradictory. On the one hand it confirms close collaboration with NATO, which means that any powers within the EU that wanted to achieve any military policy independent from that of the US American competitors would not be able to carry this out fully. On the other hand, however, the powers around the German French block have opened the way to an independent military role, by the creation of their own confederation, the so-called “permanently structured cooperation”. (18)


Who is the boss?


The EU reform treaty, like the constitution before it, anticipates that the EU will be seen as an independent legal personality. The EU, or its representatives, could thus conclude treaties that would be binding on all members. (19)

In connection with this, the EU reform treaty foresees the formation of central state power structures. The ruling class sees in this the only possibility for building an effective central state apparatus that could overcome the conflicting interests between member states and force through measures against the working class. With this aim in mind, the number of decisions that can only be taken on the basis of unanimity has been greatly reduced, while the number that can be decided on the principle of “qualified majority” has increased, from 137 to 181. There has been conflict over what weight the individual states should have in this. In the end, an amendment to the advantage of the big countries was adopted. From November 1, 2014, the qualified majority will be changed to one half of the member states and 55 per cent of the population, with complicated transitional rules that will be valid until 2017.

Even more important, however, is the fact that, alongside the EU Council, that is the common representative of the governments of the member states, the EU Commission will play the central role. This is set out in the following Article: Article 9d:

1. The Commission shall promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end. It shall ensure the application of the Treaties, and measures adopted by the institutions pursuant to them. It shall oversee the application of Union law under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It shall execute the budget and manage programmes. It shall exercise coordinating, executive and management functions, as laid down in the Treaties. With the exception of the common foreign and security policy, and other cases provided for in the Treaties, it shall ensure the Union’s external representation. It shall initiate the Union’s annual and multi-annual programming with a view to achieving inter-institutional agreements.

2. Union legislative acts may be adopted only on the basis of a Commission proposal, except where the Treaties provide otherwise. Other acts shall be adopted on the basis of a Commission proposal where the Treaties so provide.” (20)

The rights of the EU Parliament, by contrast, are minimal and citizens’ initiatives have only the right to make requests to the Commission. (21)


Reactionary ideology is written into the Constitution


Alongside the principle of the free market economy, the Constitution establishes further important ideological principles of the bourgeois order. The preamble to the “Treaty of the European Union” has been amended by the introduction of the following paragraph: “created out of the cultural, religious and humanist heritage of Europe from which the inalienable and inviolable human rights such as freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law have developed as universal values”. (22)

The reference to the “religious heritage of Europe”, in other words Christianity, is noteworthy. This is a religion in whose name innumerable wars and mass murders have been committed throughout history. This means, as the Catholic Church and the conservative forces demand, nothing less than the elevation of Christianity to the status of the constitution. This apparently innocent choice of words could, if necessary, be used by the ruling class as an ideological justification for numerous attacks, for example, setting aside the separation between state and religion, and for actions against atheists, questioning the right to abortion, justification of military intervention in defence of Christianity, for example, against Islam, and so on.