Latest Bulletin:
August 2005

EU leaders sign Constitution in Rome
Bulletin 6 - 02 November 2004

Main points:

1. EU leaders sign Constitution in Rome
Jack Straw signals start of Government campaign with new pamphlet

2. Opposition to EU Directive on Services grows
BMA and Unions say Directive will weaken health and safety legislation

3. Buttiglione resigns as Barroso plans reshuffle
More changes likely as Barroso hopes to end Commission crisis

4. Campaigners launch European ‘no’ campaign
Europeans unite to argue that the Constitution is the wrong way forward

5. UK agrees to “Hague Programme” on asylum
Government opts-in to being outvoted on key policy area

6. France and Czech Republic to delay referendums
Governments delay referendums for fear of ‘no’ vote



1. EU leaders sign Constitution in Rome

European leaders met in Rome last Friday to sign the European Constitution. Tony Blair and Jack Straw were present to sign on behalf of the UK Government. Now that the Constitution has been agreed, it will be up to the 25 member states to ratify it within two years. Different member states will ratify the Constitution in different ways, but at least 11 are committed to holding referendums on the issue, while another two or three countries are considering doing so. The Constitution will face concerted challenges in several countries including France, Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio from Rome, Jack Straw pointed to the likely timing of the UK referendum. He said, “No precise date has been accepted and it depends partly on the parliamentary process, [but] it is likely to be in early 2006.” This would follow the end of the UK’s Presidency of the EU, allowing the Government to use the Presidency as a platform for the ‘yes’ campaign.

Opponents of the Constitution reacted to the signing. Ian Davidson MP said, “We support the EU because it provided a bulwark against Thatcherism in the 1980s. But now we have a neo-liberal Constitution and a Commission threatening to bring Thatcherism in through the back door. There are hundreds of Labour MPs, councillors and grassroots activists who will work hard to stop that happening”. Caroline Lucas MEP said, “This ceremony is a dark day for the EU. Blair has travelled to Rome to sign the Constitution – the first step towards adopting the flawed, unpopular treaty – but he has promised the British people a referendum at which Greens will be campaigning hard for a ‘no’ vote”.

The Government also launched a new pamphlet on the European Constitution. The publication confirms that the Constitution would enshrine NATO as the cornerstone of UK defence policy, and says that the Constitution “should help encourage other European countries to spend more on defence”. It also clearly states that the Charter of Fundamental Rights, “does not create new rights, but simply highlights existing ones” and that it “does not in itself establish any new powers or tasks for the EU… [but] requires the EU and its institutions to take full account of national laws and practices in many of the most sensitive areas.”

A Labour Government should not boast that it has neutered any chance of new rights for workers in the EU Constitution. Progressives want to see a European Constitution which gives us the democratic tools for delivering a social Europe – this Constitution doesn’t do that. It centralises power, locks in a commitment to “open, free markets”, and fails to reform flawed policies on agriculture and trade. We believe that progressives from around the EU should work together to block this Constitution in order to start the process of reforming the EU.

2. Opposition to EU Directive on Services grows

The EU’s Directive on Services has come under renewed fire. The Directive aims to make cross-border investment in services within the EU easier for businesses, but has led to fears that labour standards could be undermined, and that public services could also suffer. Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson said this week that, “UK health and safety standards are hard won and this Directive threatens to dilute those high standards and compromise British workers and public safety without any redress to UK law or regulatory bodies.”

The British Medical Association also criticised the Directive. Dr Edwin Borman, head of the BMA’s International Committee, said, “These new proposals undermine every member states’ right to decide what is in the best interests of its patients and its healthcare systems. In the UK, clinical guidelines, referral schemes, licence to practice procedures and many other safeguards could be removed – deemed as barriers to the internal market – if this Directive is adopted. Our concerns should be met if patient safety is to be guaranteed and standards assured across the NHS.”

The Directive on Services, which is currently in draft form moving through the Commission process, aims to smooth the way for companies to provide services in various EU member states. It is built around the “country of origin” principle, which allows companies wishing to provide services in more than one country to conform only to the rules and regulations of their “country of origin”. For example, people working for an IT company based in Latvia which set up in the UK would not be subject to UK health and safety protection.

Derek Simpson is right to voice concern about the Directive on Services – unions and Labour representatives all agree it would be bad for working people if this Directive goes through without being radically transformed. Although the draft Directive may still be amended, the Commission’s dogged defence of the proposed legislation is indicative of the way in which the EU has moved away from promoting a social model in the last few years.

3. Buttiglione resigns as Barroso plans reshuffle

The ratification of José Manuel Barroso’s incoming Commission by the European Parliament was delayed last week, after MEPs refused to accept the inclusion of Rocco Buttiglione. Barroso dramatically withdrew his nominations at the last minute amid enthusiastic scenes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Socialist and Green MEPs were joined by the Liberal group in opposing Buttiglione’s candidature because of his homophobic comments, and anti-choice views on abortion.

Many MEPs and commentators have seen the rejection of Rocco Buttiglione as a victory for the European Parliament. Chris Davies, leader of the Lib Dem group of MEPs, said, “This European Parliament has been accused of lacking teeth. Today it bit back”. However, others suggested that as the Parliament can only reject or accept the entire Commission, it had not increased its influence over the make-up of the new Commission team.

José Manuel Barroso told journalists after his announcement that he now expected to propose a new Commission to MEPs, “within the next few weeks”, however a new Commission line-up could be proposed as early as Thursday. In the meantime, the current Commission, headed by Romano Prodi, will continue in office. Barroso has a headache in reshuffling the Commission he had originally proposed. Buttiglione has now tendered his resignation, removing the main obstacle, but leaving Barroso with the task of removing at least one social democrat from the team to keep the Parliamentary conservatives on board.

Ingrida Udre, the Latvian Green, has already been asked to stand down. She will probably be replaced by Andris Pigbalgs, a Latvian EU civil servant. Conservatives in the European Parliament are also gunning for Hungarian Socialist Laszlo Kovacs. EPP-ED sources said this week, “if Buttiglione jumps then Kovacs has to go as well” (Le Figaro, 2 November 2004).

With Udre and Kovacs on their way out alongside Buttiglione, the Commission remains as dominated by the Right as before – and could get even worse. The reshuffle may also end Barroso’s hopes of having eight women Commissioners – his only progressive achievement to date. Leaving Commissioners like Neelie Kroes, Peter Mandelson, Stavros Dimas and Charlie McCreevy in key economic positions will confirm that Barroso intends to put a right-wing, privatising agenda in place.

4. Campaigners launch European ‘no’ campaign

A new pan-European, cross-party campaign was launched this week to bring together groups and individuals campaigning for ‘no’ votes in the numerous referendums taking place around the EU on the proposed Constitution. The European No Campaign (ENC) was launched last week alongside the signing of the Constitution in Rome, and aims to maximise the ‘no’ in every country holding a referendum.

The ENC aims to, “participate in mutual conferences, to organise media events and to exchange information” and is supported in this country by the Centre for a Social Europe, the Vote No campaign and MPs, and by politicians, academics, campaigns and NGOs from eleven other EU countries. The ENC has a website online which has news updates from around the EU and more information on the campaign. The address is www.europeannocampaign.com

Reacting to the launch, Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Centre for a Social Europe, said, “The EU Constitution is a step backwards for democracy in Europe – so it is vital that the campaign against the Constitution and for EU reform is put forward across borders.”

5. UK agrees to “Hague Programme” on asylum

The UK Government has agreed to European Union proposals to extend qualified majority voting (QMV) in the policy area of asylum and immigration. The “Hague Programme” was agreed as the basis of policy within the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (formerly known as Justice and Home Affairs), and includes the shift to majority voting. The proposal excludes some of the standards that were explicit in the previous programme (known as “Tampere”), such as fair treatment of third-country nationals.

The Government made much of the opt-out that it has from asylum and immigration policy, but the situation is more complicated than has been implied. While the UK technically has an opt-out, it has previously chosen to opt-in to legislation on internal security and asylum. Once the UK has opted into these areas of policy it is difficult to see how it could opt-out again as no provision is outlined to do so.

Also among the proposals agreed by ministers in the meeting held on 25 and 26 October were plans to introduce a European system for biometric passports containing facial data and fingerprints of the passport holders. It also proposes the introduction of a committee on internal security, which would pre-empt the ratification of the EU Constitution. This Committee may be controversial – independent human rights group Statewatch has said that, “There is no effective system of accountability for the standing committee on operational cooperation in internal security planned by the new Constitution.”

6. France and Czech Republic to delay referendums

Both France and the Czech Republic have indicated that they may delay their referendums on ratifying the EU Constitution. On Friday (29 October) French Prime Minister, Jean Pierre Raffarin, said that to hold the referendum in the next six months, as had been planned, would be, “very difficult”. It had been widely thought that the French Government would seek to hold the referendum as soon as possible to avoid a ‘no’ campaign gaining momentum. However, the French Constitutional Court will have to examine the European Constitution before it is put to a referendum, which could set the timetable back.

In the Czech Republic, it appears that the Government is going to delay the referendum precisely to maximise the chances of a ‘yes’ vote. While the Government of Stanislav Gross supports the Constitution, President Vaclav Klaus is fiercely opposed – he even sent the Prime Minister to sign the Constitution rather than doing so himself. The Czech Government believe that late ratification will mean greater pressure for a ‘yes’ vote if all, or most, of the other EU member states have already ratified.

 

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