The Lisbon Treaty - Centralization and Neoliberalism

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by Jonas Sjöstedt (February 2008)
Röda EU-tema number 10is published by the Swedish Delegation of the GUE/NGL

Respect the Will of the People!
Preface by Jens Holm and Eva-Britt Svensson

In the summer of 2005, the voters of France and the Netherlands said no to the proposed EU Constitution. In both countries debate had been intensiv and voter turnout was high. After the vote in the two countries, most other countries discontinued their efforts for ratification of the proposed constitution. Public opinion surveys indicated that voters in several other members
of the EU, including those of Sweden, would have rejected the proposal had they been given the chance.

The referendums on an EU constitution provided the EU with the opportunity for debate and self-criticism. We were hopeful that consideration would be given to criticism of the proposal, which, to a large extent, had come from the left. It was a criticism focused on the EU’s democratic weakness, its altogether too centralized power structure and its neoliberal character. The referendumsgave those in power within the EU the chance to show sensitivity and create a better Union. Unfortunately this has not happened. The proposed Lisbon Treaty that this document describes has, for all practical purposes, the same content as the rejected constitution. Few changes have been made, and where they have, they are most often symbolic. For example, the paragraph concerning EU laws’ precedence over national laws has been transformed into a binding protocol. The title for the Union’s foreign minister has been changed, but the position remains. The name for the text itself has been changed from constitution to treaty. But the content is the same. These changes have been made in order to be able to claim that the content has been changed and to make it easier to ride roughshod over public opinion in the member countries. The powers that be within the EU do not want to hear whether or not their voters want the new treaty this time either. They are doing everything in their power to avoid referendums and, thereby, serious debate on the issue.

In different countries the new treaty is described in different ways. In most quarters, not the least of which is in EU institutions, it is admitted that the new treaty is to a large degree identical to the rebuffed constitution. In France and the Netherlands, on the other hand, the governments maintain that significant changes have been made in the new text. For the ordinary voter it is not that easy to judge the content of the text that is to be the EU’s new constitution. The text is very nearly indecipherable, detailing changes in previous treaties, protocols and waivers and with references to other texts. It is a democracy problem in itself when a text that is to take precedence over our national constitutions is a virtual textual morass. Therefore, documents like this one are needed to clarify what the text actually means. We hope that this document will be a guide for citizens who want to understand what the new treaty really means.

Just as was the case with the previous proposal for a constitution, the Lisbon Treaty is a text that magnifies the EU’s failings. The text’s proposals add to the EU’s problem of deficient democracy. Still more power is concentrated in the hands of the Union’s institutions and more populous Member States. The EU is militarized in a manner that is contrary to Swedish policy of being free of military alliances. The treaty makes the market economy pre-eminent over other political concerns such as the environment or workers’ rights. It eliminates Sweden’s waiver of participation in the EU’s single currency, the euro.

The list of the disadvantages of the new treaty is long. By comparison the few positive aspects are easily outweighed. All in all, the changes proposed in the reform treaty are the most far-reaching to have been put forward since Sweden became a member of the Union. They break many of the promises concerning the right of veto, freedom from military alliances, intergovernmental agreements that those in favour of membership gave prior to the vote on joining the EU.

We want a referendum to allow the voters to be able to decide whether or not they want this new EU treaty. The arguments for a referendum now are even stronger than they were during the debate on the EU Constitution. It is also a question of respecting the outcome of the previous French and Dutch votes. It is about respect for democracy – respect for the will of the people.

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