Repartition, not unification, of Europe
To say that the recently-concluded Nice Summit, which took place from 7-10 December 2000, lacked the grand sweep of its predecessors and may not have been as significantly fundamental as the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty (which laid the basis for the single market and the launch of the Euro) is not to diminish its importance. It builds on, and is a constituent of, the above two Treaties. Dominant sections of the European Union’s finance capital fully support the project which was the subject of discussion and decision at Nice, namely, closer integration of the European Union (EU), with a defence capability independent of NATO, and a repartition of the continent of Europe through the EU’s enlargement eastwards and the colonisation of the former socialist countries of central and eastern Europe by the major imperialist countries of the EU, in particular by German imperialism.
The above real purposes of this project are being hidden from the public eye with a deluge of propaganda by authoritative spokesmen of finance capital, for instance the
in Britain, whose leader writers and influential columnists present it as almost an act of altruism designed to
“overcome Europe’s division”
“the post-cold-war reunification of the continent”
, and thus carry through the EU’s mission of extending
“prosperity and security to the rest of the European continent”
of 7-8 December 2000).
The Nice Summit was mainly concerned with the distribution of power in an enlarged Union, to which each of the current 15 members went determined to preserve, and strengthen if possible, its position prior to enlargement. Therefore, with the overall perspective of creating a powerful imperialist bloc, the Summit was characterised, not surprisingly, by the pursuit and defence of national interest and the politics of carve up and power grab. There were angry exchanges between small and big countries and ill-concealed, ill-tempered, altercations among the larger states over questions such as majority voting and national vetoes, institutional reforms and voting weights.
Enlargement of the EU, if it goes according to plan, will increase the number of members from the present 15 to 27 or even 30. If the enlarged EU’s decision-making mechanisms are not to be paralysed, and if in the enlarged EU the present membership, especially the larger member states – Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain – are not to find themselves routinely outnumbered and outvoted by a flood of small states from eastern and southern Europe, the need for institutional reform is self-evident. The big countries agreed that the way to preserve and strengthen their positions was to give up the right to a second member of the Commission in return for increased votes on the decision-making Council of Ministers. In doing this they roused the fury of the small states, whose representatives reacted with passion and anger in defence of their rights. The original proposals put forward by France (the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency and the host at Nice), on the composition of the Commission and the e-weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers, opened an
between small and large states – with the Portuguese prime minister, Antonio Guterres, speaking of an
“institutional coup d’état”
. The Belgian prime minister threatened to veto the entire proceedings over the number of votes Belgium had been given in the Council. Sweden, one of the small countries, demanded the acceptance of Simple Double Majority (SDM) – i.e., that a majority of nations representing in addition a majority of the EU’s population must vote in favour of a resolution before any decision could be made on the basis of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV).
The small states accused France of hypocrisy and double standards for its rejection of the formula of voting strength in proportion to population size in order to protect its parity vis-à-vis Germany, but at the same time seeking to impose this rule on Belgium. M. Chirac had great difficulty justifying the unhitching of previously sacrosanct parities between Belgium and the Netherlands, except by reference to
“the burden of the past”
, which, he asserted, necessitates “
strict equality between France and German”.
Although M. Chirac received the most criticism for his rough treatment of the small countries at Nice, the other members of the ‘Big Four’ and Spain did absolutely nothing to stop him, for they were
“… all equally anxious not to dilute their power, to prevent themselves from being ambushed by an alliance of ‘smalls’ and to insulate themselves from the dilution of power through enlargement … this more complex alliance of the ‘bigs’ is replacing the Franco-German axis”
, 12 December 2000).
No matter what public statements are issued to convey the impression of minor differences of opinion among the members of a single family, even bourgeois journalists feel obliged to admit that it
“has not been a pretty sight in Nice”
. The pitched battles outside the conference hall between anti-globalisation demonstrators and riot police has been fully matched inside by angry exchanges among the participants in this Summit.
Issues to be negotiated and the results
The issues which were the subject of negotiation at Nice go to the heart of national sovereignty, the balance of power between small and large states, AND as between the large states. The main issues were as follows:
Extension of QMV in the decision-making Council of Ministers to 50 policy areas which are presently decided by unanimity;
Limitation of the size of the European Commission;
Re-weighting of the votes of member states in the Council in proportion to their population sizes; and
that is, making it easier for groups of countries to proceed with specific projects of greater integration.
All these items were postponed to a future date when the last treaty-changing Summit in June 1997 in Amsterdam ended in deadlock. For nearly a year preceding the Nice Summit, representatives of the 15 member states had been attempting to resolve the ‘Amsterdam leftovers’ in an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).
At the end of the Summit, Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, made no attempt to hide his disappointment at its failure to pursue the Commission’s integrationist agenda for a much larger extension of QMV and a reduction of the veto in EU law making. The Treaty agreed is doubtless much more modest than either the Commission or the Euro-enthusiasts desired. All the same it has given the go-ahead for the enlargement of the EU eastward and made some important changes in its institutions and decision-making mechanisms. Among the institutional reforms are: a small increase in majority voting, accompanied by a reweighting of votes in favour of the larger states, and a commitment, expressed somewhat vaguely, to reducing the number of members of the Commission. The larger states will find it easier to block decisions, either by national veto or by means of a
, while the smaller countries are still holding fast to their right to be represented on the Commission.
Under the new arrangement, for issues requiring only QMV, a decision may only be made if it is backed by at least 71% of the votes – rising to 73% when all 12 candidate countries have been allowed into the EU. This is not very different from the existing dispensation, with the important proviso that under the new Treaty the larger countries are given proportionately a greater number of votes. Two further provisions have been inserted – one to appease the smaller states and the other the big brothers. The mechanism favouring the smaller states is the one whereby a majority of countries may block a decision irrespective of the weighted vote. The larger countries, on the other hand, are allowed to query a decision and only let it go through if countries representing 62% of the EU’s population support it. The net result of this provision is that Germany and any two of the next largest states (the UK, France or Italy) could collectively block any decision.
Under the compromise deal, Britain retains its veto on tax and social security, borders, Treaty changes and EU budgets. As a price for clinging to its veto on these questions, Britain has consented to the clause on
, under which some countries are allowed to proceed with integration at a rate faster than others who are either unable or unwilling to do so. Maastricht, with the launch of the Euro, established this principle. Nice takes it a step further. In view of this, the
“prospect of division”
, says the
leader of 7 December, “
between a hard continental core committed to ‘ever closer union’ and a wavering periphery encompassing the UK and Scandinavia is not as fanciful as some may believe.”
In view of the enhanced political strength (to correspond with its political might) with which Germany has emerged, of which more anon, such a prospect is anything but fanciful. Britain, however, was successful in getting defence excluded from the enhanced co-operation clause sanctioned by Nice.
Although agreement on QMV for trade in services was reached, France managed to retain the veto in cultural areas such as film, music and education. Germany, whose population is 40% larger than that of the other three big states – France, Britain and Italy – withdrew its demand for more votes in the Council of Ministers, partly out of a desire not to upset its traditional relations with France, and partly in return for the promise of another IGC in 2004 to review the present division of powers between the EU, the member states and regions – a euphemism for further and faster integration.
To the great annoyance of Germany and other net budget contributors, Spain successfully kept its veto on decisions concerning the level of EU cohesion funds (subsidies for the poorer members to help them catch up) for the period beyond 2006 – a decision likely to prove very costly to the EU budget.
All the same, the Nice Summit successfully removed the veto in 29 Treaty articles of the 70 still subject to a unanimity requirement. The most important changes related to immigration and asylum, trade in services, senior appointments and the measures for streamlining the operation of the Court of Justice. A broad consensus was also reached on the future shape of the Commission (one member per state till enlargement from 15 to 27) and the conditions for launching
, allowing small groups of member states to forge ahead of the rest with greater integration. The EU’s widening remit now extends from money and trade to defence and immigration.
Re-emergence of a powerful Germany
The decisions at Nice, which are seemingly so modest, have put their seal of approval on a new geography of Europe, which, says the
of 8 December
“will also change its geometry.”
Not only does Germany emerge as the most powerful nation, but it has also freed itself of French domination, which has characterised the relationship of these two countries since the founding of the EU. The
“Consider some of the more striking differences between the old and the new. At present Germany, the EU’s most powerful nation, lies at the Union’s eastern edge. After enlargement, it will sit at the centre. Berlin, we are again reminded, has always looked eastwards.
“The impact will be felt on the Franco-German relationship. For 45 years, French assertiveness and German guilt have served as the Union’s fulcrum. The two nations are still the essential point of balance. But their disputes in Nice over their respective voting strengths are a pointer to the future. The chemistry has changed. Germany is less deferential, less beholden to its past. France can no longer presume to dominate the partnership” (Philip Stephens,
However modest, at first sight, the results, the Treaty agreed at Nice doubtless marks a significant shift in Europe’s geopolitical map, with the Franco-German alliance (until recently the driving force of the EU, but now adjusting to an assertive unified Germany with a population of 80 million and a powerful economy) at the centre of this shift. There are few takers these days for
“…traditional French arguments about the need to lock Germany into a democratic Europe under a firm embrace from Paris … The generation of politicians now in Berlin feel Germany’s debts from its Nazi past have been paid of”
, 12 December 2000, ‘Power balance swings in favour of Berlin’).
Although correct about the geopolitical shift, the bourgeois writers are barking up the wrong tree in attributing this shift simply to the new generation of German politicians freeing themselves from the guilt of Germany’s Nazi past. On the contrary, it has everything to do with the momentous changes wrought by the counter-revolutionary current which swept over eastern and central Europe, resulting in the collapse of the USSR and other countries of the former eastern socialist bloc. With that collapse, Germany, already powerful economically, has increasingly become an important player in the European political arena, no longer feeling beholden, as in recent times, even to US imperialism, let alone the much weaker French imperialism. Gone are the days of the early 1960s when, during Willy Brandt’s chancellorship, an economically giant Germany played the role of a political dwarf. The Franco-German ‘axis’ personified by Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard, which surprisingly survived even the German unification in the unlikely partnership of François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl, is from now on well on the way out. Germany, lying at the heart of the EU, once the accession of new members from eastern and central Europe has taken place, will be well positioned to exploit the economic opportunities offered by enlargement.
“For all yesterday’s attempts by German officials,” says the
“to play down talk of a decisive shift in relations with Paris after the Nice intergovernmental conference, the outcome suggests the pendulum had swung significantly in favour of Berlin”
(Haig Simonian, ibid., 12 December 2000).
Although France succeeded in maintaining voting parity with Germany – indeed all the ‘Big Four’ have parity of voting – even this was more a symbolic victory, for Germany’s bigger population has been acknowledged through the allotment to it of a bigger share in the European parliament (99 members, as compared to 72 for Britain, France and Italy) and the recognition of demographic factors as an extra ‘safety net’ in voting. In addition, France had to agree, albeit reluctantly, to the German demand for a follow-up IGC in 2004. While the voting parities between France and Germany merely served as a face-saving device for the former, for the decoupling of weighted voting would have been only too apparent, the institutional changes agreed at Nice have unmistakably emphasised the shifting balance of power in favour of Germany.
The vigorous defence of national interest by the representatives of the 15 member countries, the acrimonious debates at Nice and the results, which are relatively modest compared with the expectations beforehand of those pushing for a much broader and faster integrationist agenda, suggests that the European superstate is some way off; that the EU
“in 2001 is a long way from the United States in 1787”
12 December 2000). Yet it would be foolish to underestimate the significance of the decisions of the Nice Summit, which have certainly moved the EU closer to the goal set for it by the monopoly capital of its leading members – a united imperialist Europe able to square off rival imperialist powers. Writing on the eve of the Nice Summit, Pascal Lamy, the EU’s Commissioner for Trade, made this point abundantly clear. Arguing for the removal of the veto and its replacement by QMV, especially in trade matters, he said that such a move would
“enhance European negotiating leverage vis-à-vis third countries”
. He added:
“If Europe wants to punch its weight (20 per cent of world trade), it must speak with one voice, which is not compatible with the principle of unanimity in decision making.
“Ask any other trading power”, he says, “such as Japan or the US. At least in private, they regret Europe’s proposed reform because it would reduce their chances of manoeuvring member states into blocking an EU position in trade negotiations. And it would thereby reduce the risk of our policy, on crucial parts of the new trade agenda, collapsing to the lower common denominator. Europe’s leverage in trade negotiations comes from being the world’s largest single trading entity. The EU must take all steps to preserve that …” (
5 December 2000).
If more could not be accomplished at Nice in the way of further integration, it is because the political representatives of European finance capital do not at the moment have popular support for their agenda. The populations of the various EU countries, some to a larger extent than others, are characterised by a
“mood of sullen scepticism”
8 December 2000) towards this question.
There is a growing recognition in Berlin, Paris, London, as well as in Copenhagen, that
” …the transfers of sovereignty are reaching their popular limits. In an opinion poll commissioned by the French foreign ministry, and published in Le Figaro on the eve of Nice, it was shown that 53 per cent in France, 56 per cent in Germany and 67 per cent in the UK, felt national sovereignty should be maintained, even if it meant limiting EU powers. The German figure showed a sharp rise from 48 per cent one year ago”
, 11 December 2000, ‘Europe’s meeting of unequals’).
So the leaders of the EU are proceeding with extreme caution, taking one step at a time, as it were, but nonetheless moving in the direction of a European superstate. It matters little whether that description or any other, such as the United States of Europe, is used or not.
Attitude of the proletariat
Our considered view is that the European proletariat ought to oppose with all its might the project of a united Europe under the conditions of capitalism. The concept of a ‘United Europe’ is not a new idea. It has been floated at different times by the ruling circles of different European countries in their desire to ‘unify’ Europe under their own control and hegemony. The present endeavour, this striving, of the West European bourgeoisie to created a ‘unified’ Europe is not due to sentimentality on its part, or to its devotion to the ‘idea’ of Europe, or to its desire to bring the peoples of Europe closer to each other, let alone ‘to spread peace, security and prosperity’, as is often asserted by the, in part ignorant, in part mendacious, political and ideological representatives of European finance capital. In this context we cannot resist quoting the concluding paragraph of an article written jointly by Tony Blair and Göran Persson, respectively the prime ministers of Britain and Sweden, characterised as it is by breathtaking hypocrisy, duplicity and honeyed phrases to dupe the Simple Simons of this world and divert their attention away from the real imperialist nature of the European project:
“We also share a vision of a reformed and modernised Europe – neither a super state nor just a free-trade area, but an open community of democracies based on the rule of law and values of liberty, openness and social justice, acting together to promote common interests. Our two countries will work together to strengthen and develop that vision in the months ahead, in partnership with all who share our values and hopes” (
, 21 September 2000).
This striving to ‘unify’ Europe has its origins in numerous causes of an objective character.
First, following the Second World War, while the United States emerged as the strongest imperialist power, European capitalism as a whole emerged considerably weakened. Consequent upon this change, and in strict accordance with the reduced economic and military might of the latter, the weight, role, and influence of Europe on the course of international events and world affairs dwindled markedly. This process was further strengthened by the emergence of a powerful bloc of socialist countries in and outside of Europe. Such developments could hardly have been to the liking of the European bourgeoisie. Hence its dedication to the cause of a powerful Europe, for none of the countries in western Europe had strength enough to compete alone with the US. The British bourgeoisie, partly out of delusions of grandeur, a hangover from the heyday of colonialism, and partly out of a desire to tie itself to the apron strings of US imperialism as the latter’s junior partner, initially kept itself aloof from development towards European economic co-operation. However, it soon realised the error of its ways, and, following a tortuous course of negotiations, as well as weathering French rebuffs, finally managed to join the European Common Market. The opposition Labour Party, having opposed Britain’s entry, changed its mind on coming to office. In the referendum which it was forced to hold, owing to its own internal divisions, the Wilson government recommended, and secured through a deluge of government propaganda, a Yes vote. Since then not a single bourgeois party has advocated Britain’s exit from Europe. The attraction for the west European bourgeoisie of a powerful unified Europe is intensified by the need for the development of productive forces spurred on by technical scientific revolution, the loss of its dominant positions in its former colonies, the narrowing of the national markets and the fierce competition from US and Japanese monopolies. In other words, the unified Europe that the European bourgeoisie is doing its best to create has as its prime object the creation of yet another – European – superpower, with its own ambitions and pretensions to hegemony and domination, just like those of the US.
In view of the collapse of the USSR, and the fact that the EU economy is now bigger than that of the US and that the EU accounts for 20% of world trade, EU finance capital sees very little reason to bend to the wishes and whims of US monopoly capital – the uneven development of capitalism and the re-emergence of the EU, as of the moment the biggest economy, has seen to this. And it is the duty of the European proletariat to struggle against all superpower domination and hegemonism, not just against that of the other imperialist powers such as the US.
Second, a unified Europe will lead to the further intensification and exploitation of the European working class. The EU in no way changes the essence of the capitalist mode of production. Far from abolishing the contradictions inherent in capitalism, the EU merely give rise to them in new forms and fields. Thus the EU has over the years witnessed an increase in the two problems typical of capitalism – the under-utilisation of productive capacity, and the phenomenal growth of unemployment – all of which furnish fertile soil for the intensification of the exploitation of the European working class by European monopoly capital.
That the movement in this direction is intensifying may be judged by the communiqué issued at the end of the EU’s March 2000 Lisbon Summit, which gave target dates for
“modernising welfare, strengthening innovation, liberalising labour and product markets” – all code words for privatisation, deregulation and an attack on social provi
sion – in brief intensification of exploitation of labour by capital. Significantly, these commitments are being made at a time when in most of the EU countries it is the Social Democratic parties which are in office. On the other hand, the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights endorsed at Nice replaces the ‘right to work’ with ‘freedom to work’ – a guarantee of minimum income by ‘social assistance’ and philanthropy of the type that the best workers hate. There is not even a mention of the right to take strike action. All in all, it is a charter for monopoly capital – not for labour.
Third, a united Europe is bound to present a formidable force for the purposes of further oppressing and extracting superprofits from the already oppressed and super-exploited peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is bound to make all attempts to attack and exterminate the movements for national liberation and socialism in the vast continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The planned EU 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), equipped with 400 aircraft and 100 ships, capable of being mobilised within 60 days and operating without replacements for periods of up to a year, having an independent (i.e., independent of NATO) capacity to project forces at long distances from its borders, will be nothing short of a unified European military force, irrespective of whether it is called by that, its proper description, or not. This force, sanctioned at a meeting of EU defence and foreign ministers on 20 November in Brussels, and since then endorsed by the Nice Summit, is to be endowed with such armaments and facilities as will do away with all those weaknesses revealed by NATO’s war of aggression against the Yugoslav people in the spring and summer of 1999,during which war US imperialist military dominance and European impotence alike were only too plainly, and for the European bourgeoisie only too painfully, revealed. Thus, the EU force is to be equipped with transport planes, cargo ships, guided precision weapons, electronic intelligence gathering, control and communications capabilities. It is an unprecedented departure from the military strategy of the countries of the EU and marks the beginning of the break-up of NATO. This is the reality, no matter how often, and howsoever emphatically, the EU leaders pledge that the NATO alliance remains the cornerstone of Europe’s defence, or that this new force is intended
“to contribute to the vitality of a renewed link and a genuine partnership between the EU and NATO in the management of crises”
, as the draft report on defence from the Nice Summit would have us believe. No one, least of all US imperialism, is fooled by such declarations. No wonder, then, that William Cohen, US defence secretary, publicly warned on the eve of the Nice Summit that NATO would become a ‘relic’ unless the EU’s defence plans were closely tied to NATO. US fears can hardly have been assuaged by the following statement of M. Chirac at the start of the Nice Summit:
“If Europe, for its own reasons, finds it wishes to intervene where the US would not be involved, then it has to have the means to do that.
“The idea is not to weaken but to strengthen NATO. It has to be co-ordinated with NATO, but it also has to be independent.”
The Nice Summit has approved the establishment of a military committee, a military staff of around 100 and a political and security committee.
With characteristic hypocrisy, the EU asserts that its RRF is intended
“solely for humanitarian, crisis management, peacekeeping and peacemaking exercises”.
Was not NATO’s barbarous war against the Yugoslav people waged under an exactly similar slogan? No, the truth is that it will be a rival – European – imperialist force designed to crush the proletarian revolutionary and national liberation movements in Europe and elsewhere, for imperialist humanitarianism, peacekeeping and peacemaking are no more than euphemisms for the counter-revolutionary suppression by imperialism of national liberation and socialist movements. Precisely that is why V I Lenin made the observation that:
“A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of the colonies [neo-colonies in our times]
Further, anything that helps the imperialist bourgeoisie, including that of Europe, to achieve these counter-revolutionary aims, anything that helps it continue the extraction of superprofits from Asia, Africa and Latin America, harms not only the interests of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also the interests of the European proletariat, for imperialist superprofits, by furnishing the means for bribing the upper stratum – the labour aristocracy – of the working class, foster the growth, and strengthen, opportunism in the working-class movement – thus retarding the struggle of the proletariat in the imperialist countries for its social emancipation. Let us note in passing that by and large the trade-union leadership in Britain and Europe which, representing as it does the privileged sections and being therefore tied hand and foot to imperialism, is supporting this project. Precisely for this reason the European proletariat is duty-bound to oppose the moves aimed at creating a European imperialist superstate.
Fourth, in a crisis situation, the European bourgeoisie is bound to use its combined strength for the suppression of the proletarian revolutionary movement. Thus the capitalist integration of Europe, undertaken by European finance capital, cannot be in the interests of the working class. The European bourgeoisie is seeking to unite its forces for the purpose of suppressing the revolutionary movement on the continent of Europe, for suppressing the liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America, for maintaining the flow of tribute – the imperialist superprofits and plunder – from these vast continents, and for strengthening its competitive position vis-à-vis US and Japanese imperialism. The project of a unified Europe bears all the hallmarks of its creators. This is how that revolutionary genius, V I Lenin, characterised the theories of the advocates of a united Europe:
“The United States of Europe under the conditions of capitalism is either impossible or reactionary. Certainly, it is possible for temporary agreements to be concluded between capitalists and between states. From this point of view it is also possible to create the United States of Europe, as an arrangement of the European capitalists …, but what for? Solely for the joint suppression of socialism in Europe. To create the United States of Europe under the conditions of capitalism means to organise reaction” (On the United States of Europe Slogan).
In view of the foregoing, it is clear that the aims of the united Europe presently being forged by European capital are, and cannot be otherwise under the conditions of capitalism, reactionary, and irreconcilably opposed to the interests of the working class, which can never see its future in a community of interests with its exploiters, namely, the imperialist bourgeoisie of Europe. The Europe that the monopoly capital of Western Europe is striving to create and strengthen will be a Europe of finance capital, of bankers and industrialists, and not a Europe of the working class; it will be a Europe of capital and counter-revolution, and not a Europe of the working class and of proletarian revolution. Hence, the European working class must, spurning all deception and subterfuges of the bourgeoisie, reject the slogans and project of a ‘United Europe’ presently being advocated not only by the big bourgeoisie of Europe, but also by the petty-bourgeois philistines and the ‘hired coolies of the pen of imperialism’ wo are paid to depict imperialist slavery in bright colours.
In recommending this course of action, we are fully aware, we find ourselves on the same side as a whole spectrum of political parties and trends, ranging from sections of the Troto-revisionist fraternity to sections of the Conservative Party, the Empire Loyalists of various kinds – even the BNP fascists. But it will be clear to anyone who takes the trouble to read, and grasp the meaning of this article, that our reasons for urging the European (including the British) proletariat to oppose this project are entirely different from the reasons being advanced by the other opponents, who are against the European project for chauvinist reasons, such as ‘the sovereignty of the British parliament’, the traditions of ‘British parliamentary democracy’, ‘keeping the pound with the queen’s head’ on it, etc. We reject these bourgeois and chauvinistic arguments in their entirety. Had these been the only reasons that we could discern for the British working class being opposed to the present efforts at European integraion, we would certainly not have undertaken the trouble of writing this rather lengthy piece. Doubtless there would not be wanting grouplets of cranks who, with hair-splitting methods of argument, reminiscent of medieval scholasticism, would manage to find our reasoning nationalist or opportunist or both. But that is life,since there is no law outlawing cranks, of whom, sadly, capitalism produces a lot and furnishes the conditions which allow them to grow with tropical luxuriance.