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