Dead Men Left

Friday, May 20, 2005

Le monde n'est pas un marchandise and all that jazz

Well, hurrah for Jonathan Steele:

There may even be something salutary about a French no, and I say that as a Europhile. Take the no meeting I watched here. It was typical of what is going on in scores of French cities. In a shabby hall, with a dozen speakers and no bright logos or star guests, it was refreshingly old-fashioned...

A cross-section of leftwingers were on display, from dissident Socialist party activists (a majority of members voted yes in an internal party referendum last year) to communists, Trotskyists and Attac, the anti-globalisation youth movement. The National Front is also voting no, but the left is keen to show it has nothing in common with the Front's xenophobic nationalism.

Speaker after speaker insisted the issue is the type of Europe they want for all Europeans: one where competition is not the overriding principle and market forces remain regulated. They did not see why economic principles had to be enshrined in a constitution, a document that ought to stick to democratic rights and values.

Not one where, for example, Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, excercises his democratic mandate[*] to really screw over the Third World. This is one reason, amongst very many, that I can't call myself a "Europhile", and wish no-one else of vaguely progressive inclination felt the need to. The sooner the British Left follows the French example and cracks open our infantile national debate on Europe - Europhile vs. Eurosceptic, Mandelson vs. Kilroy-Silk - the better for all of us. We owe it to our brothers and sisters on the mainland to prevent disgraced former ministers claiming the mantle of the Left when smashing up employment protections or crippling the world's poor. A left-wing challenge to the neoliberal programme driving the EU would both fire up our side, and completely throw theirs:

The rally highlighted what is wrong with the French political class. Socialist guests from Holland, Belgium and Italy told the rally that many Europeans were concerned about their economies' neo-liberal drift, but the French speakers seemed to misunderstand their own country's debate. Falsely claiming the no vote was led by the right, they mainly offered platitudes about peace or made patriotic appeals for a yes vote to keep Europe in the so-called global race. "We can't wait. A globalising world is drawing new lines between Asia and the United States. Europe needs to be there," said the former minister Elisabeth Guigou. ..

It is certainly true that young French people are not the cheerful, upwardly mobile consumers that TV commercials suggest. Polls show the generation most supportive of the no camp are not elderly traditionalists but the under-30s. With youth unemployment at 20%, it is hardly surprising.

The sub-Hayek rhetoric is common across the EU, of course. The same desire to seize from the Left the rhetoric of progress and dynamism springs up wherever governments of the neoliberal centre find themselves confronting uppity citizens with outmoded attachments to the welfare state and civil society. The proposed constitution enshrines the very same rhetoric in legal form, and it is for this reason that so many are opposed.

Away with the new constitution and reheated Thatcherism. Fingers crossed for the 29th.

[*] a subtle irony