Promoting greed over need - Lisbon & Neo-liberalism

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Speech given by Daithí Mac An Mhaistír (éirígí) at a meeting organinsed by Anti-War Ireland, in Cork City on Thursday, 27th March, 2008.

"The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe ."

The Lisbon Treaty is the culmination of a long process of economic and political integration that has its roots in the Schumann Declaration , of May 9 th 1950, on the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, from which the words I have just quoted are taken.

The truth is that the Lisbon Treaty is quite clear about its economic intentions for Europe. It is quite clear that it favours the principle of profit over people. Valery Giscard d'Estaing may have asserted that the EU Constitution proposals, rejected by the French & Dutch in 2005 for the very reason that they represented an attack on the notion of a 'social' Europe, would be retained, hidden and disguised in some way in the Lisbon Treaty [Le Monde, 2007].

But, thanks to the Trojan work of a number of people here and in Europe we have the evidence to present to the working people of Ireland that this is a treaty that does not have their interests at heart.

Jonas Sjöstedt is one of those people. His paper, entitled The Lisbon Treaty - Centralization and Neoliberalism , very clearly outlines how the adoption of Lisbon will compound the ever-increasing erosion of economic and political sovereignty that the European Union project represents. The CAEUC's document Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe (available for download at is another authoritative text on the various aspects of the Treaty, including the one that we are dealing with here presently - that of the likely effects of so-called 'trade liberalisation' on the lives of working people throughout Europe. This paper draws heavily from both documents. I would encourage you all to source both and read them.

The Lisbon Treaty, like all EU treaties before it, promotes the need, and therefore greed, of private business over the needs of people.

Debacles such as the privatisation of Eircom and massive water charges for schools are only a taster of what is to come if the Lisbon Treaty is passed.

In real terms this treaty means that private corporations will be evermore facilitated to make vast profits from essential services such as healthcare and education. This is not scare-mongering.

This treaty continues a policy dating back to the 1980's whereby 'restructuring' of essential public services such as water and sanitation, public transport, energy, post and telecoms has taken place. This 'restructuring' has led to the widespread conversion of these public services into private businesses. The Lisbon Treaty is now taking aim at the crucial public service areas of health, education and social care. Neo-liberalism is EU policy, and it is pushed further by this renamed constitution. ( Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe , CAEUC).

In this regard, Lisbon will authorise the EU Commission to enter negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the objective of promoting, (and I quote) "the achievement of uniformity in measures of liberalism", and, the (I quote) "progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment" ( Article 188 )

Subsequent to Lisbon, these negotiations will be conducted, for the first time, on the basis of a removal of the right to unconditional veto in the areas of health and educational services that members States once held.

The simple fact of all of this is that the Lisbon Treaty would make privatisation of our health and social services easier.

Consider, if you will:

  • How EU treaties all state that the free market, in goods, capital, services and labour etc., take precedence over all other concerns
  • How, in the EU, a company's right to sell goods is more important than environmental or consumer protection, or worker's rights (as in:
    1) the case of Vaxholm - Laval, where the ECJ gave limited protection to the right to strike in pursuit of the 'minimum', yes, minimum, worker's rights - crucially however, providing that this strike action didn't preclude the free movement of goods and services ), and
    2) Where the ECJ struck down the Volkswagen law in Germany - in place since 1961 (which put company policy in State hands), opening up the way for a hostile takeover by Porsche.

Both of these cases clearly show how "the ECJ prioritises freedom to buy companies, move capital and maximise profit. Employment, control of production and the environment take second place". ( Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe , CAEUC).

  • Consider how member states will be severely limited in their ability to legislate for any measure that is considered to be an obstacle to the free movement of goods, services and labour.
  • How this, in turn, clearly limits laws that are intended to improve the environment (as we shall see later) or consumer protection.
  • How this is particularly serious given that countries will be actively prohibited from leading the way and showing that it is possible to implement better laws in pursuit, again for example, of environmentally sustainable development.
  • "It puts new measures into treaty law - which is impossible to change - rather than domestic law, which can be changed by a change of government". ( Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe , CAEUC).
  • This is an important point, and therefore should be re-stated: The EU will introduce a whole range of new laws (given the huge increase in its 'competencies') that cannot be changed, and will prohibit National parliaments introducing laws that contradict them.
  • The EU's internal market is considered so crucial that there is even a special article, ( Article 297) , that states that the internal market must be upheld even when countries are at war.
  • The EU advocates, as an explicit goal in the Treaty, a policy of deregulation and privatization in pursuit of the objective of an internal market with free competition.
  • What this means is that, in effect, the EU demands the deregulation of sectors such as the postal system, ports, railways and telecommunications.
  • With respect to the service sector, there are several explicit demands for deregulation included in EU treaties.
  • The EU's Services Directive, which gave rise to the scandal at Irish Ferries, has a solid foundation in the proposed Lisbon Treaty.
  • The treaty also states that: "All restrictions on the movement of capital between member states ... and third countries shall be prohibited" ( Art 56 ).
  • Even with respect to economic policy, the treaties lean sharply to the right. The rules for economic policy and the single currency have a pre-eminent goal: stable prices.
  • This means that other goals, such as social welfare and employment always take a back seat.
  • Neither does the Lisbon Treaty institute any democratic control over monetary policy.
  • To fulfill the single currency's requirements, the EU virtually always demands that Member States cut their public spending.
  • On the whole, the Lisbon Treaty limits the possibilities to pursue a progressive policy in several crucial areas. With respect to equality, employment or the environment there are only very small or no improvements included in the text. The goal of full employment is added to the treaty's paragraph on goals, but in the chapter on employment the goal is then reduced to high employment.

What the people who will vote on Lisbon need to know is that the water charges that Mary Hanafin & Bertie Ahern lamented they could do so little about, came from Europe (1999). The postal and electricity directives also are also similarly designed to place these essential services and resources under so-called 'free-market', and not, democratic control

And what about the crucial public services areas of health, education and social care?

What does Lisbon have to say about these?

Will the Treaty ease the concerns of the thousands who will march this Saturday for a decent health service?

Will the proposals contained in Lisbon advance the cause of an accessible and just health system based upon need?

For the fist time Lisbon will remove the requirement that trade deals involving health, education, and cultural and audiovisual services be unanimously agreed to i.e. - the right to veto is removed ( Art 188c.4) , other than in exceptional circumstances.

These exceptions being where, a) in the field of trade in cultural and audiovisual services, where these risk prejudicing the
union's cultural and linguistic diversity, and b), in the field of social, educational and health services, where these agreements risk seriously
disturbing the national organisation of such services and prejudicing the responsibility of member states to deliver them."

What the 'risk of seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services and prejudicing the responsibility of member states to deliver them' actually means is very ill-defined, and, if the ECJ's interpretation of its duty to uphold worker's rights is anything to go by (i.e. - upholding the right to strike in pursuit of the implementation of 'minimum' wage agreements only), then Lisbon holds out all the possibility that these protections will not amount to the proverbial 'hill of beans' for working people.

And why should they?

When EU Commission President Manuel Barroso likened the developing EU as a creation "to the organisation of an empire", we must remember that in empires, it is the bureaucrat, businessman and politician who prosper.

Not you or I

Lisbon and the Environment - 'Promoting' Change, Rewarding Business

When we come to the environment and what the Lisbon Treaty has to say in this regard, we again see rhetoric and vagueness but very, very little by way of substance. And to be honest - we shouldn't really have expected much more.

The Lisbon Treaty section on the environment includes a brief passage on the special significance of climate change. This article ( Art. 191.1 TFEU - consolidated text produced by the Institute of International European Affairs ), if adopted, would commit the EU to "promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change" .

But no new authority to make decisions in this area has been introduced in the Treaty. All measures such as they exist, derive from previous EU treaties and policies.

One interpretation of the climate change reference - that of the 10 th report of the British House of Lords Select Committee on European Union ( 10.11), - notes that "the introduction into the Treaty of a specific reference to climate change is of strategic rather than legal significance."

So - on the one hand we have vague and very brief references to 'promoting' measures to combat climate change while at the very same time EU policies in the areas of agriculture, transportation and trade do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed the recent announcement by the EU Commission that EU states will have to make a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 makes huge concessions to cement, steel and aluminium companies.

Indeed, EU priorities were summed up by EU enterprise commissioner Guenter Verheugen when he said: "I am all for setting an example for the rest of the world. But I am against committing economic suicide." ( Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe , CAEUC).

This is the conflict at the heart of EU deliberations on the environment. This conflict has not been addressed in the Treaty:

"The EU favours big business over sustainable development. Market-led policy gives rise to logging of the rainforests, plantations for biofuel and ranches for cheap beef. Despite a genuflection to climate change, the Lisbon Treaty would further undermine sustainable development.

Protocol Two of the Lisbon Treaty establishes the European Atomic Energy Commission (Euratom). This prioritises nuclear energy over renewables. The Irish people have consistently rejected nuclear energy, but this treaty, like its predecessors, commits the EU to promote nuclear power". ( Vote NO for a Democratic, Social and Demilitarised Europe, CAEUC).

It is estimated that we are contributing in the region of 8 million euro annually to EURATOM. Why does it make more sense to contribute 8 million in Irish taxes to the development of nuclear energy sources rather than to the development of renewables?

Again, we need to understand that nuclear energy, like oil, is the preferred energy of big business: defined as it is by short-term gain at the expense of long-term sustainability and security.  

The flip-flopping of the Green Party with regard to the EU Constitution, and then the Lisbon Treaty, rejecting the former whilst accepting the latter, is very instructive of how policy can be jettisoned and those with an agenda for change can very easily and rapidly become servants of power.

I would strongly encourage Green Party members to do the honourable thing and vote against Lisbon.

On the whole, no improvements of any importance have been made in the Lisbon Treaty in the area of environmental protection.

According to Friends of the Earth, " The EU's common agricultural policy has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s. Over the years, the goal of increasing productivity in agriculture (Art. III-227.1a) has led primarily to increased large-scale farming and the use of chemical pesticides. Additionally, agricultural policy has led to surpluses and dumping, and to skewed competition on the world market, which has first and foremost had an adverse effect on the small farmers of the developing world."

Moreover, and most importantly - 'any internal actions on environmental problems would have to be reconciled with the EU's rules on the taking of action "which distort or threaten to distort competition" ( Art 87 TFEU ), and the EU policy of safeguarding the internal market and sustaining the energy market.' (What the Lisbon Treaty Would Do - 17th March, 2008), The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre)

This is very important - again, we see that whether we are talking about worker's rights, public services or climate change - it is the rights of the 'market' and Capital that take precedence over the rights of people.

Should we really be surprised by this fact, and the consequent contempt within which the people of Europe are held by their political leaders?

Should we really be surprised that politicians serve the interests of Capital over those of people and the air they breathe?

The clearest indication of how little indeed the rights of the peoples of Europe figure in the deliberations of the 'Euroclass' is epitomised perfectly by the arrogance with which these bureaucrats and politicians approach, obfuscate, and finally dismiss the principle of democracy itself - such as it applies to the European Union construct and its workings. 

When Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 2007 stated that "Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly" ... he was reflecting an attitude that epitomises, as Vincent Browne has recently written, "the modus operandi of the European Union - scorn for everyone" .

In the same article Browne goes on to state that this scorn is held "even for the Euro fans themselves - but they are so besotted they don't care.
.... The rest of us should". [Irish Times, Wednesday, March 5 th 2008]

This scorn for democracy is, (the nature of the Treaty's proposals notwithstanding), the primary reason for éirígí's decision to dedicate itself to wholeheartedly opposing this 'Reform' Treaty.  To do so is to stand on the side of democracy and a vision of Europe wherein the people are sovereign; wherein politicians are the servants of the citizens of their respective States. Saying NO to Lisbon is to say yes to the possibility of a democratic Europe, to the possible realisation of James Connolly's notion that an "internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples", (... something that) "cannot be realised through the subjugation of the smaller by the larger political unit" (James Connolly, Forward , 1911)

This is the only vision for Europe that éirígí can countenance. 


Go raibh maith agaibh

Daithí Mac An Mhaistír

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