Writing exclusively for The University Observer, Joe Higgins MEP explains that Lisbon attacks workers’ rights and further militarises the European Union.
The debate on the Lisbon Treaty has been marked by a complete absence of engagement by the Yes side. Those in favour of Lisbon have refused to debate with either the arguments of serious No campaigners (preferring to ridicule the likes of Cóir) or the actual text of the Treaty. Instead, the establishment have tried to engage in a campaign of empty generalities – encouraging us to vote Yes variously for jobs, the economy and for Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to state clearly that the vote on October 2nd is not about any of these things.
Instead, this is a crucial vote on the future direction of the European Union for many decades to come. If passed, Lisbon would enshrine the agenda of the economic and political elite in the European Union. In this article, I want to focus on three crucial areas – the copperfastening of attacks on workers’ rights, the pushing of a privatisation agenda and the extensive further militarisation of the EU.
The Yes side has attempted to create the impression that Lisbon will improve workers’ rights. They point to the “Solemn Declaration” on workers’ rights and to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The “solemn declaration” is a vague aspirational document, which has as much standing as a pre-election promise of Fianna Fáil.
Not only would the Charter not improve the conditions of workers; in fact, it would mark a change for the worse. That is because the Charter (in Paragraph 1 of Article 52) explicitly states that workers’ rights are limited. In the official explanation, which is given legal basis in Lisbon, this is stated to be in accordance with the case law, “in particular in the context of a common organisation of the market”.
However, the case law (Laval, Ruffert and Luxemburg) has been universally bad for the interests of workers. The European Court of Justice has repeatedly interpreted the Posting of Workers Directive in such a way as to legitimise the paying of lower wages and conditions to migrant workers. Thus, we are being asked to vote yes to limiting workers’ rights, institutionalising the vicious “race to the bottom” in workers’ wages and conditions.
A vital change from the point of view of the European business establishment is contained in the changes to how services are entered into world trade talks by the EU. Up to now, any member state could veto a proposal that would force them to open up their Health or Education services to be traded as commodities. Lisbon categorically removes this veto except in very limited circumstances.
IBEC, the employers’ organisation campaigning for a Yes vote is very clear on the consequences, declaring in a submission to the Forum on Europe:
“The Lisbon Reform Treaty creates the legal basis for the liberalisation of services of general economic interest. A Yes vote creates the potential for increased opportunities for Irish business, particularly in areas subject to increasing liberalisation such as health, education, transport, energy and the environment.”
Thus, Lisbon could institutionalise a disastrous privatisation policy, while denying people the right to try to force a change in this policy.
The Lisbon Treaty would give a significant further thrust to the militarisation of the European Union. Article 42 of the Treaty on the European Union would declare “Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities”.
In addition, the €60 billion European armaments industry, purveyors of instruments of death to horrific regimes internationally, is brought to the very heart of the EU with this Treaty. For the first time the European Defence Agency, whose key role is promoting that armaments industry, is given an institutional basis in an EU Treaty.
Lisbon also allows the most powerful military states to set up military alliances amongst themselves within the EU. It would crush the right of Ireland to conduct an independent foreign policy. It says “member states shall support the unions external and security policy actively and unreservedly in the spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”.
The Lisbon Treaty represents the aggressive, neo-liberal agenda of the EU big business, military and political establishment. It is seriously damaging to the interests of the vast majority across Europe. It should be rejected on Friday, with a wide-ranging debate begun about what kind of Europe we want. In my opinion, that should be a socialist Europe: a Europe where the vast resources are used to benefit ordinary people, instead of maximising big business profits.
Joe Higgins is the Socialist Party MEP for Dublin. www.joehiggins.eu