All observers seemed a bit surprised when George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice made endorsing statements of the EU constitution during their respective trips to the continent last month. Many on the Right took it as a blow to the stomach: how could the Bush administration betray core conservative values by endorsing a document designed to heighten European power at the expense of American hegemony? Liberals, meanwhile, just passively accepted the fact that perhaps Bush had finally done something principled: or that maybe he hadn’t even bothered to actually read the document before commenting. The fact of the matter, though, is that there is nothing at all surprising about this development. While the EU constitution will likely result in a stronger and more united Europe, it will also drown the continent in the Washington consensus. The core goal of the constitution’s framers is a neoliberal Europe where the interests of business run as free as they do on the other side of the Atlantic.
Traditional conservatives seemed unable to grasp this reality. Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman of the Heritage Foundation responded to Rice’s endorsement by saying that her comments could be “seized upon by supporters of a federal Europe, whose goal is the creation of a European superstate, as a counterweight to American global power. They could present her remarks as official confirmation of American support for the EU constitution and may use them to try to isolate those who are campaigning across Europe for defeat of the constitution in referenda.”
Other conservatives fear that the EU constitution will result in making it difficult to put together military coalitions like the one used in Iraq: wherein half of the continent participated and the other half did not. An increasingly unified Europe will see more foreign policy and military decisions streamlined into one legislative body centered in Brussels. Thus, the price of going it alone a la Tony Blair will be raised to a considerable degree. If Brussels decides to not support an American military adventure with its common pool of military resources and manpower, then there will remain little incentive for countries to pursue their own action: limited financial and strategic resources will be available for these countries to act outside of the joint European sphere.
Furthermore, “going it alone” might be plainly prohibited by the constitution. The section of concern is Article 1.15.2, which states: “Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness.” The language here is rather vague for a constitution: words like “likely,” and the undefined concept of “union’s interests,” make it difficult to understand what this article prohibits exactly. Furthermore, it’s hard to envision Britain allowing this awkward language to get in her way all that much. If the Brits obtain another opportunity to participate in imperial pursuit along with their brothers in America, the fruits of warfare will probably be too great to allow the European Union to stand in the way.
A more likely scenario is that the whole of Europe will be brought closer to the foreign policy of Britain and the United States. The war in Iraq and the EU constitution have in common the fact that they are neo-liberal projects. Common parlance has it that Iraq was all about oil. However, this glosses over the larger economic portrait. The world’s most important natural resource certainly played a factor, but one mustn’t ignore all of the other resources and economic sectors that are now under Anglophone control in Iraq. The war to depose Saddam was, in fact, a war to depose Iraqi control of their oil, their telecommunications, their electricity, their water, their high tech industry, and just about anything else that the American and British vultures could get their hands on.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war was possible because politics in London and Washington is not run by people engaging in enlightening political debate: but rather by businesses engaging in utter non-debate. As long as politicians are in the pocket of moneyed interests, then foreign policy tends to take the form of expansive military adventure. Businesses are built upon the concept of growth, war hawks design foreign policy on the concept of aggressive expansion, and, thus, neo-liberalism is the convenient marriage of these two concepts. Their perpetual union under the concept of “liberal peace” will assure the world a future of nothing but continued military aggressiveness and corporate colonialism.
What’s more, the spread of this market mantra from Washington and London into Brussels will prove to be absolutely tragic. In fact, Brussels already is beginning to resemble the lobby-laden American and British capitals. The New Statesman reports that some 20,000-30,000 full time lobbyists conduct work in the EU parliament, with some 70-80% of those representing corporations. That leaves just 20-30% representing everything that’s not corporate: like education, the environment, labor, peace, animal rights, woman’s rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and on and on and on. Furthermore, these numbers tend to obscure things: there are several thousand more corporate lobbyists who make just the occasional trip to Brussels, as one part of their job description.
It thus becomes obvious why Washington and Europe can walk hand in hand on the issue: their corporate elite both stand to benefit. Instead of having to deal with 25 separate legislatures and 25 respective sets of laws and regulations, they will face only one Brussels. By bringing all of Europe further into the corporate driven ethos of neoliberal federalism, major corporations will be much more capable of running their operations in Europe. This goes for American corporations just as much as it goes for British, Dutch, German, and French corporations.
As of now, there are 135 American companies represented in Brussels, joined together at the hip via the “American Chamber of Commerce to the EU.” Forty of these are fortune 100 companies, and many are everyone’s old favorites on the human rights and democracy front: ExxonMobil, Microsoft, McDonalds, Ford, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing to name just a few. From environmental mayhem to long histories of poor labor standards to the manufacture of weapons and anti-personnel devices, American corporations in Brussels are covering all of the interests that we’ve gotten used to in Washington over the years.
The only real losers are the vast majority of the world that doesn’t work within the upper echelons of large corporations. The social movements throughout Europe who have fought so hard for the benefits of social democracy will see their platforms sink into the stringent waters of the Washington consensus. While undoubtedly the constitution’s framers have kept some social democratic ideals in mind, these will become increasingly irrelevant as a result of the inflexibility of the Union’s market mantra.
The trick is that corporations can actually use many Socialist provisions to their advantage. One example is with the Value Added Tax (VAT) that exists throughout Europe. While designed as a luxury tax serving to benefit the neediest segments of society, it can also be used to wage war on independent shopkeepers. The French brasserie is a case in point. Once a cultural focal point of French life and civilization, the brasserie is slowly going the way of the dinosaur, unable to compete with larger entities. The numbers are appalling: nearly 3/4ths of these independently owned Cafés and Bars have shut their doors over the last 20 years, giving way to the growing popularity of large discotheques and clubs, but also to the ever familiar transnational entities like McDonalds and Starbucks. Very simply, the larger businesses have been more capable than independent shopkeepers at swallowing France’s 20% VAT.
On top of the brasserie, France’s highly regarded 35-hour week is currently being threatened. Socialists and Conservatives alike are beginning to question its viability in a world defined by the collapse of borders and spread of market hysteria. In an era where countries compete on the basis of attracting major trans-national corporations, strict labor laws are nothing but a hindrance. At minimum, popular politicians are beginning to ask for “flexibility,” in order that France’s labor laws don’t scare investment away to its more labor lax neighbors. As is normal with European Union debate, labor activists and other dissenters are often sloughed off as “old politicians,” who are allowing for their bitter disputes to interfere with the inevitable process of liberal peace making. In other words, there’s no room for labor rights in an era driven by neo-liberal consensus.
Many people on the Left in the United States have been known to let out the occasional sigh of relief: “Well thank god we at least have Europe.” The thought here is that Europe often picks up for lost ground by the United States on progressive and humanitarian issues. There is certainly a great deal of truth to this line of reasoning. But it will quickly cease being the case as long as Europe continues to open its borders to those American forces that have made things so right wing on the other side of the Atlantic. By consolidating power and decision-making under a neoliberal rubric in Brussels, Europeans are flinging their doors open to the American corporate monolith.
By trumpeting the cause, mainstream parties of the Left are losing sight of their progressive purpose. When Socialist parties of Europe and George Bush are both endorsing the same thing, some one must be making an error. In this case, it is the former. The Bush administration knows all too well what is to be gained through the liberalization of European affairs. The same companies who stood to benefit by funding his campaign and by going to war in Iraq will be given a major boost by the new EU constitution.
Matt Reichel is an American expatriate and graduate student in Paris specializing in international relations theory. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Matt Reichel
Thompson and Constitutions