European Union: Larger than Life

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The froth surrounding the potential 'rebranding' of the European Union should not distract from the real economic and political issues being hammered out behind closed doors.

The proposed expansion of the union--adding ten member states to the current 15--has been couched in the idealist language of uniting east and west Europe. What lies behind it is a harder-headed assessment of extending the influence of European capital on the world market.

The planned addition of the ten central and eastern European nations is not primarily based on their economic weight--their total gross domestic product (GDP) is similar to that of the Netherlands. Rather it signals an assertion of a sphere of influence which cuts across that of Russia's historic designs. It would place the EU in an improved geo-political position as an imperial challenger to the militarily dominant but economically comparable US.

The biggest barrier to this is the competing interests of its national ruling classes. The dispute between Tony Blair and French president Jacques Chirac over the Common Agricultural Policy is a recent example of this. Behind the celebrations of the Irish ratification of the Nice Treaty (the first referendum not having given the required rubber-stamp) comes a heightened jockeying for position--each government aiming to shape the agenda around their businesses' needs. Hence Chirac's defence of massive agricultural subsidies which benefit France and Blair's attempts to heighten divisions in the traditional France/Germany axis of power.

The draft EU constitution of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the President of the European Convention, is an attempt to square this circle. But a more pressing concern for EU enthusiasts is the viability of the monetarist 'growth and stability pact' as the world heads into recession. The pact, which imposes a public spending cap by demanding states cut deficits to less than 3 percent of GDP, is in immediate danger of being broken by Germany and Portugal--the latter facing massive unrest as it squeezes the wages of public sector workers. European Commission president Romano Prodi has admitted that its rules are 'stupid' for their rigidity--but uses this to argue that his unelected Commission should have more power to police and enforce the same neoliberal principles. In this context the Socialist Alliance's decision to work with wider forces in the European labour movement to oppose this project of capital and war is very timely.