Year 2000 No. 59, March 30, 2000

EU Summit in Lisbon:

Tony Blair Leads in "New Direction for Europe"

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EU Summit in Lisbon:
Tony Blair Leads in "New Direction for Europe"

The Neo-Liberal Wind of Europe Blows over Lisbon

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EU Summit in Lisbon:

Tony Blair Leads in "New Direction for Europe"

The government’s championing of globalisation has recently resulted in one big European monopoly putting the future livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers, their families and their communities at risk. Now Tony Blair has returned from the European Council’s Special Summit on Economic Reform proclaiming that as result of measures to facilitate further globalisation taken by EU ministers at Lisbon "we can take full advantage of the enormous opportunities of the new global market whilst protecting our citizens in the right way against the threats that the new economy provides".

Recent experience shows that nothing could be further from the truth, but according to Tony Blair there is now "a new direction for Europe" which will "open the door to the prospect of full employment opportunities in our countries and rising prosperity for our citizens". The Lisbon Summit, on 23-24 March, was itself the initiative of the British government, carefully coordinated with its allies in the EU, including Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Sweden, to bring about what Tony Blair described as "a sea change in European economic thinking".

Indeed, the summit shows the British government determined to take the lead in making "the EU the world’s most dynamic and competitive area", to rival the US, which leads the world in "e-commerce" and "build the most successful knowledge economy in the world by 2010". At Lisbon, EU ministers made a whole series of agreements covering "e-commerce", the need for more training for ICT skills and life-long learning, increased capital for small businesses and other measures in order that Europe can in ten years "match the dynamism of the US". Ministers even raised the prospect of full employment as a policy objective, but Tony Blair subsequently admitted that in the next 10 years the percentage of those employed in the EU would only rise at most from 61% to 70%, in other words to a level of 30% unemployment. Furthermore, he also admitted that those "new" jobs created in Britain in the last three years have only been as a consequence of government measure to "cut the cost of labour", that is by forcing down wages and cutting welfare payments.

What was discussed at the Lisbon summit was how to make the Europe of the monopolies better equipped to compete in the global market, to intensify its rivalry with the US and others, and how to facilitate the penetration of the big monopolies into the Balkan countries and Russia and incorporate these areas more fully into "mainstream Europe". On the initiative of the British government, measures were taken to speed up the development of a single market for goods and capital throughout Europe, to remove all trade barriers and to allow even greater privatisation of utilities such as gas, transport, electricity, telecommunications and postal services. At the same time, further measures were also taken to remove the rights of workers to statutory protection and to pensions.

But what is so clearly in the interests of the big monopolies, as they compete for supremacy in the global market, is presented as being in the interests of all. Tony Blair championed New Labour’s "Third Way" as the politics of the new economy claiming that through a "social partnership" between the workers and the monopolies the ills of capitalism such as unemployment can be banished. That it is possible to have "enterprise and fairness", "prosperity and compassion" and that as a consequence his government was capable of "cutting poverty and business taxes". In fact increasing globalisation, as the effects of recent "mega-mergers" and events at Rover and Ford have graphically shown, means greater cut-throat rivalry between the big monopolies and even greater likelihood of so-called "rationalisation" and "downsizing" at the workers expense.

The fact that the government’s initiative appeared to be in accord with the aims of other European governments, that such decisions were taken in the interests of the monopolies and to strengthen the EU in rivalry with the other major trading blocs in the global market, led Blair to declare that his views had been confirmed and that "Britain’s future is as a strong influential partner in the European Union and that provided we engage fully in debates we can benefit from them". The Prime Minister’s remarks and those of other government ministers following the summit show that they have no concern for the national economy. Making sure that the monopolies can compete and make maximum profits in the global market is the main aim and consideration, while the disastrous consequences are brazenly presented as "great opportunities" and the workers are told that the only alternative is more of the same. This fact itself shows that while the European powers are drawing together in imposing this "New Direction" on Europe, the intensifying rivalry between them is also a factor.

The measures taken at Lisbon spell disaster for the people of Britain and those of Europe, of growing poverty not prosperity and the growing danger of war. The monopolies and the governments that represent them are demanding more globalisation and liberalisation and attempting to create the illusion that this is in everyone’s interests when life itself shows the opposite. Only the working class can save this situation by breaking free from any illusion that globalisation or "social partnership" can bring well-being for the people. It is an objective reality that the people’s opposition to this "new direction" for Europe is also growing, while "Third Way" illusions, while still holding many in their grip, are also being shattered. The people cannot be ignored as a factor in the equation of the direction for Europe. Under the leadership of the working class, they must see through this "new direction" and the imposition of the "Third Way", and intensify their struggles for a pro-social agenda, which includes dismantling all such big power blocs as the EU.

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The Neo-Liberal Wind of Europe Blows over Lisbon

The following article has been circulated by European Marches 97, a network of forces which have been taking counter-actions against EU summits, calling for an alternative to globalisation, and against unemployment, job insecurity and social exclusion.

Events in Lisbon are a threat to us.

When Tony Blair said that he wanted to hold a "European economic and social summit" at the beginning of the year, we immediately understood what he meant and what it implied for us. The Portuguese government, president of the European Union (EU), presented a "new economy" text. However, this simply gave a new look to current EU policies on employment and included some good intentions for eliminating poverty that concerns nearly 65 million people in the EU.

The results are clear: behind the misleading words, the EU governments were there to support neo-liberal policies as preached by the EU. Before the year 2003, member states must have eliminated not just poverty, but anything that might prevent the growth of the market economy. Neo-liberals pushed through their "policies". The fact that the French government dragged their feet a bit on the subject certainly did nothing to change the situation. The promise of a "social agenda" programme for Nice is ludicrous considering the implications of these plans under preparation in Lisbon.

The employment question is a mere conjuring trick. We are promised 20 million new jobs between now and the year 2010. But we already know from experience that these are going to be compulsory short-term jobs. This is what they call "active policies", but the activity in question means ending financial aid and benefits in order to force the unemployed to take any jobs, at any wage regardless of working employment conditions.

In the name of sacrosanct macroeconomics, unemployment statistics are going down, but poverty never stops growing on a continent that is the richest on the planet. Even those plans for social cohesion by our socially conscious Europeans to push back the rising tide of poverty ... of children from now to the year 2010 (and what about a date for their parents?), even those plans remain a pious hope...

In Lisbon, hope was in the streets.

When we see the outcome of this summit, for the most part made up of social-democratic governments voted into office to end unemployment and poverty, it is difficult to not to give way to anger and revolt. Never again can they tell us that "it's all the Commission's fault!" They are now totally responsible.

In spite of all that, we were not discouraged. Because in Lisbon, hope was also in the streets. The CGPT initiative brought together more than 50,000 demonstrators from all over Portugal to march in front the summit building to stop lay-offs and end job insecurity and create real jobs. A strong European Marches delegation of about 100 people (France, Italy, Germany and Belgium...) joined the demonstration as well as other initiatives organised at the same time and also participated in international meetings with the CP, the Left Group and especially, the Alternative Summit of 24 March 2000.

From Porto to Nice, all together!

At the ETUC meeting in Lisbon, the ETUC announced that they will call for demonstrations in Porto and Nice. NGOs also let it be known that they too will be present in Nice. The time is ripe. Without European-wide massive mobilisations, neo-liberals will continue to dictate their own rigid laws of the market economy, unemployment and misery.

After Seattle, we must not let them decide our future without us. From Porto to Nice, we must unite to organise on a massive scale, all together, for all our rights.

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