Latest Bulletin:
December 2005

New Commission committed to neo-liberal economic agenda
Bulletin 4 - 4 October 2004

Main points:

1. New Commission committed to neo-liberal economic agenda
Confirmation hearings see incoming Commissioners set out stalls

2. Young people and Labour voters oppose Constitution deal
Young people are skeptical about a centralising Constitution

3. Plans for asylum camps move forward
First sign of dissent as plans for reception camps are discussed formally

4. Amnesty condemn EU’s 'flimsy' arms sales controls
EU Council puts trade liberalisation before CAP reform

5. EU fails to prioritise agriculture reform
EU Council puts trade liberalisation before CAP reform

6. More French Socialists come out against Constitution
Campaign for internal poll begins with both sides neck and neck

1. New Commission committed to neo-liberal economic agenda

The incoming EU Commissioners have been quizzed by members of the European Parliament over the last few days. The Parliament is entitled to reject the entire Commission, but not to reject individual Commissioners. Incoming Commissioners take the process very seriously, and use the hearings to try and begin a good relationship with the Parliament. The hearings also help illuminate some of the views of new Commissioners.

Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who will take up the post of Commissioner for Industry, said that the "social dumping" of competitive tax cuts was not a concern of his, "I don't think that lower corporate taxes in the new EU member states are a crucial incentive for the relocation of businesses." This strongly contrasts with concern from Gerhard Schröder and Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson about corporation tax rates as low as 15 percent in some new member states.

Meanwhile, despite protestations that he is a social democrat, Peter Mandelson, who will take up the post of Commissioner for Trade, said, "For its part the Commission should give priority to Single Market completion (the Services Directive is politically difficult, but vital) and stronger enforcement; implementation of better regulation; trade liberalisation; the incentivisation of knowledge economy investment; the promotion of sustainable technologies; and the spread of best practice in labour market and welfare state reform."

Peter Mandelson’s endorsement of the Directive on Services is extremely controversial because it would allow corporations to bypass labour laws in the country of destination when investing across borders.

Margot Wallström and Peter Mandelson both intimated the Commission’s desire to be an advocate for the EU Constitution. Commissioner Wallström said, "The Commission too should also inform the European citizens in a clear and objective way on what the Constitution means, without any undue interference in the national debates."

The referendum will be closer than most pundits predict, but Blair surely did not want to be in the position that the Government is now in when he conceded a referendum on the Constitution.

The new Commission is by far the EU’s most right-wing to date. It has just six social democrat Commissioners - and this figure includes Peter Mandelson. The Commission has a crucial role in the direction of the EU, and along with the Council and the European Parliament, which both have centre-right majorities, we are concerned that Europe could travel further down the neo-liberal road to weakening social protection and encouraging privatisation.

2. Young people and Labour voters oppose Constitution deal

A new poll out last week has highlighted changing public opinion over Europe. The ICM poll, commissioned by the Vote No campaign against the EU Constitution, also examined public perception of the figures likely to front a ‘yes’ campaign when the referendum is held. In the poll, 58 percent of respondents said they don’t think Britain should sign the EU Constitution, with 28 percent saying we should sign up. Young people are more opposed than voters general, with 62 percent saying the UK should reject the Constitution. Labour voters also want to reject the Constitution, by 57 percent to 31.

When it comes to the issue of trust there is more bad news for the Government. When asked about Tony Blair, 45% of voters said that they thought the Prime Minister "generally lies" about Europe, with only 41 percent saying he "generally tells the truth". Almost a third of Labour voters thought the Prime Minister "generally lies" about Europe. The poll also tested views about Chris Patten, Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson - three of the politicians likely to lead a ‘yes’ campaign. Asked if they "tend to trust" or "tend to not trust" these politicians, Neil Kinnock had a minus one rating (trust minus don’t trust), Chris Patten a minus two rating, and Peter Mandelson a minus 47 rating.

Reacting to Europe Minister Denis MacShane’s idea that all household’s should be sent a full copy of the EU Constitution, voters agreed by 69 - 30 that all households should be sent a copy by the government - with the figures being much higher for young people.

Despite media claims to the contrary, voters - particularly young people - are not apathetic, they just want to take more decisions themselves. It is no surprise that young voters are against a Constitution which would give them less control.

3. Plans for EU asylum camps move forward

Last week, European Ministers met to discuss asylum and immigration in Europe. The ministers agreed to forge forward with the controversial proposal for ‘out of area’ reception camps. The Council of Ministers tried to label this a welfare measure saying, "The member states are speaking of reception centres and protection." However, incoming Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione, is a leading advocate of reception camps and recently called asylum and immigration "a ticking time-bomb".

Ministers pointed out that they are already sponsoring three pilot projects in third countries, including Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya, to "establish their own capabilities to intercept asylum-seekers and immigrants on their own." Amnesty Deutschland said that they have, "great, great problems" with the plans because of Libya’s own human rights record. Although there was some opposition to the plan from France and Sweden, the Council said, "The question is still whether it is possible to process asylum requests outside the EU. This must yet be carefully analysed."

Under the current arrangements, Sweden, France or any other EU country could veto these proposals. However, under the terms of the EU Constitution (Article III-166) asylum becomes an issue to be decided by QMV - meaning that countries trying to block reception camps could be outvoted.

4. Amnesty condemn EU’s 'flimsy' arms sales controls

A report from NGOs including the EU office of Amnesty International, has criticised EU regulation on arms trafficking. The report (which is available as a pdf document here) details how between 1994 and 2001 the EU was responsible for around a third of arms exports to developing countries. Recently arms export restrictions have been circumvented, in a number of ways including:

·The sale of German engines for Armoured Personnel Carriers to China and Burma (Myanmar).

·The sale of parts for attack helicopters that are used against civilian populations in Nepal

·Cooperation from an Austrian arms company with Malaysia to manufacture arms for its "aggressive" export market including civil rights abusing governments in the Middle East.

The decision leaves Mr Fabius facing in the opposite direction to the Party leader, as senior figures take different positions on the EU Constitution. Party leader François Hollande has already come out in favour of the Constitution and ex-Prime Minister Jospin is known to support it, while former Party leader Henri Emmanuelli opposes. It will be down to party members to decide the Party’s official position - that decision could go either way. Most of the party’s leadership support the Constitution and can mobilise many people within the party, but the three major left currents within the Socialist Party all oppose the Constitution and between them control 40 percent of the vote within the party.

The European Union should do more to encourage the halt of arms sales to state with human rights problems. At a time when Amnesty is highlighting this problem, it is alarming that the proposed EU Constitution would create an EU arms agency to develop military hardware.

5. EU fails to prioritise agriculture reform

Leaked papers from the European Council have revealed that Peter Mandelson will be expected to use reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as a bargaining tool to break down developing countries’ manufacturing and services sectors to European competition in upcoming WTO talks. The negotiating paper, quoted in the Guardian, reaffirms the, "importance of a satisfactory outcome as regards EU sensitivities in agricultural market access, the importance of full parallelism on the elimination of all forms of export subsidies, the need for reform in other industrialised countries, the need to preserve the reforms of the CAP". War on Want’s director of campaigns and policy John Hilary said, "This document shows the EU in its true colours, putting the interests of European exporters before the needs of poor people in developing countries" (Guardian, 4 October 2004).

6. More French Socialists come out against Constitution

The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps within the French Socialist Party have begun their campaigns in earnest in advance of the party’s internal referendum on what stance to take over the EU Constitution. The ‘yes’ camp launched their "Comité de gauche pour le 'oui'" in September, led by former Ministers former Socialist ministers Elisabeth Guigou and Bernard Kouchner. The ‘no’ camp, led by former Party leader Henri Emanuelli, and former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, held a rally this week. Over 1,000 Party activists gathered in Lorient to prepare their campaign. At the same time, the increasingly hostile exchange of views between the two sides continued, with former Minister Jean-Pierre Masseret saying, "This treaty is incompatible with socialism". The factions within the party who are campaigning for a ‘no’ vote make up around 40 percent of party members. However, although it is likely to be a close campaign, it is expected that the Socialist Party will end up campaigning for a yes vote.


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