New European Commission line-up complete
Bulletin 1 - 24 August 2004

Main points:

1. New European Commission line-up complete
Just six out 25 of the new Commissioners are from social democratic parties.

2. Peter Mandelson attacks failure to liberalise EU economies
New Commissioner says social protection is to blame for "economic stagnation".

3. New Commissioner backs asylum reception camps
Home Affairs Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione says asylum is a "time bomb”.

4. French left begin debate on EU Constitution
Leading French Socialists and Greens reject ‘neo-liberal’ Constitution.

5. Government confirms no new social provision in EU Constitution
Rejecting the Constitution would give workers the same legal protections as now.

6. Leading challenger for SNP leadership opposes EU Constitution
Alex Salmond says Scotland could get a better deal than the proposed agreement.


1. New European Commission line-up complete

FThe new European Commission line up was announced last week when Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso awarded portfolios to each Commissioner. The new Commission will take office on 1 November and will be the first full term of the new, enlarged Commission of 25. The Commission is more right-wing than any previous Commission, with just six of the 25 strong Commission being members of parties affiliated to the Party of European Socialists. The Commission is dominated centre-right Liberals and Conservatives

The new Commission president, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the ex-Prime Minister of Portugal, was put forward by the EU’s heads of state after they failed to reach agreement over a Commission President at the June IGC. Barroso is from the centre-right and is seen as a leading European supporter of the USA. He has gone on record to deny that he is a "free-market fundamentalist" (FT, 30 June 2004) but is seen as a politician who is committed to pushing forward a more neo-liberal market agenda in the EU.

Barroso has set aside the key economic portfolios for Commissioners who share his neo-liberal outlook. Charlie McCreevy, the Irish Commissioner has been given the Internal Market job. While Irish Finance Minister McCreevy consistently cut public spending, while privatizing large swathes of the public sector. Mariann Fischer Boel from the Danish Liberal Party, has been put in charge of Agriculture. She is not expected to push for reform of the Common Agriculture Policy.

While some commentators have welcomed the appointment of the new Commission as a fresh start for the EU, we are concerned that the Right is over-represented in the Commission. This will articulate itself in an accelerated drift towards neo-liberal economic policy and an ambitious foreign policy for the EU.

2. Peter Mandelson attacks failure to liberalise EU economies

In the new Commission, Britain’s new Commissioner Peter Mandelson, was awarded the Trade portfolio. In his new job, Mandelson will be responsible for the EU’s Trade policy and for negotiating on behalf of the EU with international bodies like the World Trade Organisation.

In an interview with the BBC to mark his appointment Mandelson claimed that the failure to implement the EU’s "Lisbon Agenda" plan for labour market reform is to blame for Europe’s poor economic performance. He said, "Whilst the goals have been very sound and very clear, the parameters, the policy direction all very clear, in very many Member States however, the policies haven’t been implemented". He went on to say "If it [the Lisbon agenda] is not [implemented], we’re not going to dig ourselves out of the relative economic stagnation and decline that Europe is experiencing in the way that we need if we’re going to pick up speed and be as good as the rest of the world". This isn’t the first time Mandelson has expressed these sorts of views. Late last year he told a Spanish newspaper that European reform should be, "based on the liberalisation of the market and free competition" (El País, 10 December 2003).

Peter Mandelson is clearly someone with wide expertise in campaigning and in managing the media. He takes a great deal of skill and experience into his new post. But Labour voters won’t thank him if he uses that ability to weaken hard-won rights at work for workers here and in other EU countries. Economic reform in the EU must be based on tackling the institutional barriers to creating jobs, not on a race to the bottom on social protection.

3. New Commissioner backs asylum reception camps

Rocco Buttiglione, the incoming Italian Commissioner, who has been given the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio, warned last week that the flow of economic migrants to the EU was a "time bomb". In an interview with Reuters, he said, "People seeking asylum for economic reasons is a growing problem". He added that, "Obviously someone who has to flee from a dictatorship that wants to kill them is offered asylum. But there are also natural disasters that mean people don't have a house to return to. Look at sub-Saharan Africa. What can be done about them? We have to talk about it."

Buttiglione, a member of the Union of Christian Democrats, which is affiliated to the Conservative EEP-ED in the European Parliament, confirmed that he will back a plan to open reception camps for asylum seekers in North Africa. Under the plan, people wishing to apply for asylum would be housed in the camps while their application was assessed. The plan is being backed by the German, Italian and British governments..

This plan almost certainly breaks the Geneva convention and a similar plan last year was condemned by the Refugee Council as “unprincipled, unworkable and amount to a shifting, rather than sharing, of responsibility”. When plans were put forward by the British Government to build “processing centres” last year, they were vetoed by Sweden. Under the proposed EU Constitution, Qualified Majority Voting would apply, meaning countries, like Sweden, could be outvoted in the future.

4. French left begin debate on EU Constitution

Senior figures in the French Socialist Party (PS) have come out against the EU Constitution. The Constitution is widely seen as unsatisfactory on the French left, and the debate is focusing on whether or not the PS should campaign for a yes despite its flaws. The main concern is that the Constitution sets in stone neo-liberal economics policies. Two mainstream left groups within the Party, led by MPs Arnaud Montebourg and Henri Emmanuelli, have rejected the Constitution, while Calais MP Catherine Génisson said, "If the referendum took place now, I would firmly reject this text, as too liberal" (Le Monde, 11 August 2004).

5. Government confirms no new social provision in Constitution

The Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, has said that the Government believes that the EU Constitution will leave the EU’s social and employment legislation "largely unaltered" (Hansard, 13 July 2004). The statement came in a written answer to Labour MP Jim Sheridan and goes further than previous Government statements on the issue. In his answer MacShane said, "The EU Constitutional Treaty's social and employment policy provisions are largely unaltered when compared to previous treaties".

Writing in the Guardian earlier this month, Denis MacShane suggested that "The EU is the only region in the world in which workers' rights are embedded as constitutional rights of citizenship. They can only be removed by Britain withdrawing from the EU" (Guardian, 2 July 2004).

Denis MacShane is right to say that the UK shouldn’t leave the EU, but he was wrong to suggest that social rights will be put at risk by rejecting the EU Constitution. The proposed Constitution is clear in describing the outcome if any country or countries reject the Treaty: the current set-up remains. Denis MacShane is right to say that the Constitution is not a step forward for social or employment rights. If trade unions reject the Constitution to demand a better deal, they won’t be jeopardising the rights we already have.

6. Leading challenger for SNP leadership opposes EU Constitution

Alex Salmond, the leading challenger for the Scottish National Party leadership, has used his personal manifesto to confirm that he opposes the current draft of the EU Constitution. Salmond, who is seen as being on the moderate left of the Party, and who is popular with the Party’s grass-roots, pledged to oppose the Constitution if it failed to repatriate fisheries policies to Member States.

In his manifesto, Salmond says that under his leadership the SNP, "will not support a Constitution that claims exclusive competence over fisheries resources. In the event that the EU Constitution is not ratified by one or more countries, we will support a recalled Convention to redraft the Constitution".

The ballot for the SNP leadership closes on August 31, and the result will be announced on September 3.

 

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