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Year 2005 No. 86, July 1, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Britain’s EU Presidency:

Contradiction between “Social Europe” and “Free Market Europe”

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Britain’s EU Presidency:
Contradiction between “Social Europe” and “Free Market Europe”

The Economic Model that Blair Is Selling to Europe Puts Lives at Risk

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Britain’s EU Presidency:

Contradiction between “Social Europe” and “Free Market Europe”

Britain takes over Presidency of the European Union today, July 1, 2005. It comes precisely at a time when the EU is facing its gravest crisis. According to Tony Blair, it is a crisis of political leadership, as he said when he addressed MEPs on June 23.

            The implication is clear. The crisis is not of his political leadership but of the other European leaders, particularly of France and Germany, who stand opposed to his “modernising” agenda.

            The Anglo-American Blair-Bush “modernising” agenda is in fact proving itself to be a disastrous “solution” for domestic and international problems, a “solution” which is exacerbating the crises facing humanity. It is also a “solution” which is coming into conflict with many of the old arrangements which the capitalist states had brokered in less precarious times. The arrangement of the “old” European powers for a “social Europe” is one such. But the Blairite agenda, the so-called “extreme Anglo-Saxon market philosophy”, is arousing fierce opposition, and is opening up further the rifts within the EU that dramatically surfaced over the illegal occupation of Iraq. It is prompting the European leaders to treat Blair with contempt as he attempts to put the Anglo-American agenda at the heart of Europe.

            Above all, Tony Blair places, “The challenge to make Europe more competitive in the global market.” For Tony Blair, even this does not mean the project to build the EU into a superpower to rival the dominance of the United States. It means primarily forcing the working people to concede that their claims on society are nowhere, and those of the monopolies are everywhere. Indeed, since one of the features of the EU, as well as globally, is the intensifying inter-monopoly contradictions, this is a call for the penetration of the US and British monopolies everywhere, especially to enable them to compete with the emergent economies of India and China. In this sense, Tony Blair does wish to place Britain “at the heart of Europe”, to turn Europe into an instrument of the “west” in competition with, and hopefully to dominate, Asia. As part of this, and in alliance with US imperialism, as well as pursuing the agenda of the “war on terror”, Blair views the military prowess of the EU. This is the meaning of the element of the British presidency project to meet the “challenge to make Europe secure for all our people”.

            If this is his strategy with regard to Europe, his strategy with regard to Africa is an extension of the G8 “plan for Africa” and the Commission for Africa. It is to pursue the new scramble for Africa under the signboard of humanitarianism and “good governance”. Tony Blair will not rest content until Africa and other parts of the world whose development has been benighted by colonial, neo-colonial and imperialist exploitation are a very model of New Labour neo-liberalism. Whereas the people of Europe should recognise the virtues of “Free Market Europe”, the peoples of Africa should recognise the virtues of their colonial exploiters, make peace with them, forget they ever demanded reparations for the untold crimes committed against them, open their arms to a new “Marshall Plan” for Africa. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown never mention that the Marshall Plan for Europe after the victory against Hitlerite fascism was a plan to open devastated Europe to the domination and exploitation of US finance capital, as well as to constitute a bulwark against communism. The US imperialists, indeed, have never given up their aim for a “united” Europe under their own strategy for world domination.

            The contradictions between Britain and France, as well as other EU states, over the EU budget, as well as being manifestations of the cut-throat competition between spheres of finance capital, are also manifestations as regards how far the nation state, national economies and the public good is to be destroyed in the interests of the domination of monopoly right.

            The dislocation between the European leaders on the future direction of Europe was in a way summed up by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who, in asserting that Britain will use its presidency of the EU to shape the future direction of Europe, insisted that the “European Union remains central to the United Kingdom's prosperity and to its influence in the world. Throughout our presidency and beyond, the government will be maintaining Britain's place as a leading European power, helping to shape the European Union's future direction in our interests and in the interests of the European Union as a whole.”

            Tony Blair wishes to apply “modernisation” of the EU model, the programme of “investment with reform”, in order to make Europe “the most competitive place to do business in the world”. But not only are governments of France and Germany rejecting this Anglo-US model, not least so are the peoples of Europe.

            The people of Europe are also demonstrating their opposition to the “Third Way” path of “pooled sovereignty” that has been pushed by Britain and other leaders of the EU, to supplant the notion of the nation state and to “pool” the efforts to bring about a “social Europe”. They have drawn the conclusion that the other side of the coin of a “social Europe” is the building of the EU as a reactionary political and military power in its own right, and the trampling on the rights of nations and peoples. But this is not enough now for Tony Blair. His vision of Europe, as for the rest of the globe, is of the unfettered right of the monopolies, of the “right” of the powerful to overrule a people’s control of their own territory.

            This is what has become the crux of the matter in the last three years or so. Tony Blair may claim that it is the EU which has prevented the European powers from going to war. But has this path of “pursuing peace” really made the world a more peaceful place? Aggression and the violation of the norms of international law have become the commonplace. Since 2001, Blair’s “Third Way” agenda has become thoroughly exposed for what it is, a programme for war, aggression and the corporate fascist state. Blair now sees his mission to impose this agenda throughout Europe in the interests of US and British capital and in direct opposition to the interests of the peoples of Europe for sovereignty, security, peace. It must not pass!

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The Economic Model that Blair Is Selling to Europe Puts Lives at Risk

Felicity Lawrence*, June 30, 2005, Guardian

Like many British city dwellers I see signs of prosperity every day. A short walk between school and home takes me past several construction sites where luxury flats sprout at an extraordinary rate. Here, the reality of the economic model that our government wants to sell to the rest of Europe – and that the French have so forcefully rejected – is on full view.

            With one exception, the sites I pass draw labour from the pool of cheap migrants that Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, recently thanked for keeping the lid on wages and inflation in Blair's Britain. And, with that one exception, employers are flouting the laws designed to protect workers in our most dangerous industry. (In the past two months, 11 people have died on UK building sites, five falling from heights without safety equipment.)

            Near me, Hungarians work five storeys up without helmets or harnesses; Lithuanians in caps demolish the internal walls of a precarious old structure on a site where the reputable overseeing company has erected its standard safety sign: "No helmets, no boots, no work".

            Deliveries to one site are regularly made at school drop-off time in breach of restrictions that judged it best not to mix children on foot with steel beams on trucks. Unlicensed vehicles chug up and down the main trunk road to a nearby industrial estate.

            In a neighbouring area, a gang of Chinese workers has been building late into the night without safety equipment, in an astonishing display of flexible labour. Experience tells us that where employers are careless with the law on safety or hours, there may also be other serious offences from illegal rates of pay to forced labour and trafficking.

            The one site I pass that is the exception to all this is a mixed development of social and private housing. It has erected all the time-consuming safety nets the law requires; it holds up deliveries when children are about; its largely British workers work normal hours. And no doubt it is less productive as a result.

            Our problem, according to Tony Blair, is that we have too nervous an attitude to risk. If we regulate to eliminate risk, he explains, we will lose out to India and China. While acknowledging the need for some protection, he has promised that "better regulation" will be the theme of his EU presidency.

            Better regulation, it seems, involves "reducing the regulatory burden" on business, making sure that inspections are proportionate to risks, and seeing that businesses that are doing well get a light touch. The themes are familiar to those who have studied the Hampton report, Reducing Administrative Burdens, a key work commissioned by the chancellor, which he has pledged to implement in full. It anticipates a million fewer inspections of businesses.

            Peter Mandelson took up the same themes in a speech to the Fabian Society a couple of weeks ago. Europe needed a "new social consensus for economic reform", he said, in the wake of the Dutch and French no votes. It was no good arguing that wage levels reflected forced labour and the absence of union rights or that competition was unfair – the old system was flawed. Europe's policy makers knew what was needed, he went on: enforcing competition and single-market laws; opening up services and public procurement; and "thorough-going regulatory reform".

            The problem with this rolling back of regulation and risk-based inspection is that you can only analyse risk if you have enough information from local inspectors who visit every site and know their patch. And how does the light touch on a business doing well pick up the fact that its long subcontracting chains are doing less well?

            Take another area – gangmasters in the food sector. Before the regulator appointed to tackle abuse of migrant workers had got his wellies under the desk, the Hampton report was recommending his agency be integrated into the Health and Safety Executive, a body that has had little impact on the problem. Now, in the spirit of Hampton, there is a proposal from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that ready-meal factories, meat-processing plants and salad-cutting companies be exempt from regulations. These sectors have regularly been found employing migrant labour through gangmasters who abuse workers.

            The social consensus near me is that we would like to reduce the burden – on cheap labour, rather than on business. We can see what less regulation means. What if a child did get tangled up with the cement mixer, or if one of those Hungarians fell? For us, better regulation would be the sort that makes sure our fears are never realised, though we may have to emigrate to France to find it.

*· Felicity Lawrence is the Guardian's consumer affairs correspondent and the author of Not on the Label

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