Amid all the speculation about Tony Blair seeking to become the first president of Europe, any questions about democracy are put to one side. No wonder the polls show a growing contempt for politicians.
When the Czech Republic is finally browbeaten into signing the Lisbon Treaty, the carve-up of jobs will begin. There is absolutely no suggestion of elections for any of the posts that will the follow the treaty’s implementation.
Instead, candidates will be appointed to jobs like the president of the European Council or put in charge in of foreign policy after the usual horse-trading that goes on between member states. This is yet one more example of the undemocratic nature of the European Union project in particular and the general tendency towards bureaucratic forms of political rule.
Few countries were allowed a vote on the Lisbon Treaty itself and where they were, as in Ireland, voters were in fact compelled to vote twice until they came up with a “Yes”. Yet the treaty imposes sweeping changes to the way the EU is run and deepens the role of the market in the economies of member countries.
For example, public services will be subject under article 16 to new “economic and financial conditions”, meaning that services like health care and education, would be subject to the rules of competition. This will inevitably result in further privatisation.
The European Council and Commission is given 100 new powers across a wide range of policy areas and the new voting arrangements will reduce the voice of the smaller of the 27 nations. National parliaments are given minimal oversight powers but no real clout in relation to decisions taken in Brussels.
Increasingly, the EU is seen as a counterweight to the US and China when it comes to fighting for a share of world markets in a period of economic crisis. The EU, for example, is resisting proposals for a new climate change treaty so as not to be put at a disadvantage against rival trading blocs.
The spectacle of Blair being manoeuvred into position to become president only feeds the sense of disgust with the whole business and encourages an anti-European xenophobia that benefits the Tories and the far right. They are able to play the nationalist card and stoke up hostility to anything “foreign” or non-British. New Labour’s response is yet more undemocratic politics and a contrived pro-Europe attitude which is everything to do with promoting big business (and their own careers) and nothing to do with ordinary working people’s interests.
As we mark 20 years since the 1989 revolutions that swept Eastern Europe, it is the appropriate moment to consider how we renew and take that movement forward. Countries like the Czech Republic won and then quickly lost their new political freedoms to the EU while in Britain, the old political system has decayed beyond recognition.
The perspective has to be one of extending democracy in new ways across the whole of Europe to prevent the right-wing and nationalists seizing the initiative, as they threaten to do. A new democracy cannot be built, however, on the foundations of an old capitalist system but needs to be brought together with a transfer of economic, financial and political state power to the disenfranchised majority in every country. That has to be our internationalist perspective.