Europe in Focus: the Anthony Coughlan column (January/07)

The Irish Democrat's Dublin correspondent, Anthony Coughlan, highlights key developments within the EU with serious implications for democracy, workers' rights and peace

The Frankenstein Directive

"PROBABLY THE most important single law I shall deal with in my 30 years in the EU parliament", was how Danish EU-critical MEP Jens-Peter Bonde described the EU services directive, as the Euro-parliament adopted it without amendment.

The services sector covers 70 per cent of the total EU economy, generating far more income than manufacturing and agriculture put together. The "Frankenstein Directive" now makes this vast services sector an official EU competence.

Since its foundation 50 years ago, Brussels has been enforcing free trade in manufactures, making it illegal for any national government to interfere with the movement of goods. The services directive aims to make it as easy to offer services across EU borders, as it is to trade goods. As service jobs are far more labour intensive than manufacturing or agriculture, this will affect vast numbers of workers.

The services directive gives Brussels the power to issue edicts to bring about cross-border movement of services, so that hairdressers, architects, electricians, plumbers, accountants, estate agents, management consultants, caterers, travel agents and countless other occupations and professions can work abroad without following local laws, provided they follow the laws of their home country. It will also allow businesses to open subsidiaries in other EU states without going through lengthy and complex authorisation procedures.

Oppposition to this directive was important in turning workers and trade against the proposed EU constitution in last year's French referendum.

Europe's trade unions believe it will unleash a race to the bottom as regards employee standards and consumer protection. To reduce opposition the directive does not cover health care, financial services and broadcasting, for the time being. But if it excludes public health services, it allows nursing homes and home-care services for the elderly to be traded cross-nationally. Private transnational companies will be able to bid for public service tasks in this and other areas and perform them at lower wages than have been provided for in national wage agreements.

It is more a "judges directive" than a services directive, say its critics, for it will greatly increase the power of the EU Court of Justice, which will try endless cases governing its detailed application. It will also be tasked with deciding the boundary between a public and private service.

The EU Court is that dangerous institution, "a court with a mission", as one of its own judges once called it. That mission being to use its case law to extend the power of the supranational EU to the maximum extent possible over national parliaments and citizens.

The EU is a system where ultra-capitalism, all-out competition and classical laissez-faire are erected into constitutional principles made legally binding on everyone through directives like this. The services directive is a further illustration that the EU treaties amount to the first constitution in history to be drawn up exclusively by big businessmen, without the slightest democratic element. The directive is likely to prove a painful experience for many in the coming period.

McDowell confronts justice ministers

IRISH JUSTICE minister Michael McDowell has voiced opposition to the Brussels Commission's attempts to remove the national veto on crime and justice matters. The move would mean the EU criminal code could be imposed by majority vote on the 27 EU member countries, now including Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in January.

McDowell accused EU legislators recently of creating a raft of useless legislation in the justice field having no practical benefit for citizens. He said the EU had "a predisposition to legislative action even when no problem actually existed". He said that an independent ombudsman was needed to screen all new proposals to prevent EU laws that were simply "solutions in search of problems."

The Commission says the EU should be given more powers over justice and policing in order to combat terrorism. McDowell said he could not accept this proposition.

"For example the tube bombings in London had virtually no international dimension and I haven't seen yet any convincing argument that the atrocity at the railway station in Madrid would have been affected one way or another by EU framework decisions being adopted," McDowell said.

The Taming of Gordon Brown

Brussels hopes Gordon will go along with German and French plans for a revamped EU constitution when he takes over as British prime minister.

The right-wing candidate in next May's French Presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called it a "mini treaty", but it is really an abbreviated constitution.

Brown is said to be "passionate" about reforming the EU budget and its dear food agricultural policy. After he met Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel recently, the Germans claimed concessions in these areas would be "a bait to entice prime minister Brown to sign up to the constitution."

However the contents of the any new "mini" treaty are likely to be controversial and so similar to the rejected constitution as to ensure the British government will come under a lot of popular pressure to call a UK referendum.

Tony Blair and British Europe Minister Geoff Hoon may be content to row in behind the Frenchman Sarkozy, but it is not at all clear that Brown wants such a potentially unpopular plan dumped into his lap when he takes over, despite what plans Germany's Merkel and EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso may have to bribe him.

Massive Propaganda Initiative targets Youth

The EU is launching a programme to make young people "feel more European". The European parliament has adopted a new Youth in Action programme for 2007-13, which has been allocated £600m in funding.

The UK taxpayer will contribute roughly £75m to this scheme. Jan Figel, European commissioner for education, training and culture and multilingualism says the programme will be "for the defense of cultures, for a future of prosperity, understanding and peace." He added:

"It fosters the idea of belonging to the European Union". The Commission has also launched a new EU culture website for this purpose. A lot of propaganada can be made with £600 million. Do you really approve of some of your money being spent by the Brussels people to try to make you feel "more European"?

Working Hours Rule causes Health Crisis

Two lines in the 1987 Single European Act treaty allowed Brussels to make laws laying down minimum standards of safety and health for workers. The Eurocrats decided this could be extended to give them the right to decide things like hours of work and minimum holiday periods. Their Working Time Directive laid down that a working week of 48 hours should be the maximum legally possible in most jobs.

This has caused a health service crisis in Ireland, Britain and several other EU countries, where traditionally junior hospital doctors work longer hours than that.

The EU Court of Justice then laid down that if a doctor was "on call", he should be regarded as working, even if the night or weekend might pass without him or her being called on to do anything. The British government estimates that the EU Working Time Directive requiring "on call" hours to count towards the working week costs the National Health Service - a total of £250 million last year -another hidden cost of EU membership.

KURT BECK, new leader of the German Social Democratic Party, which is part of Berlin's 'grand coalition' government, has called for a European army with a single command. The International Herald Tribune notes that this is "the first time a German political party has proposed such a structure." He said that in the long term, "Europe's security and defense policy would have a single military command."

A few days before German chancellor Angela Merkel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung:

"I do not want to go so far as to demand a European army. We are going in that direction already. Five years ago there was not a single EU mission. Now there have been a dozen. That creates great pressure for harmonisation."

Germany's push for EU Army

An EU army and common military policy means EU nuclear weapons. Germany is forbidden by the post-war treaties to have nuclear weapons itself, whereas France and Britain possess these.

As part of an EU army, Germany gets its finger on the nuclear trigger. Ambition for a Euro-bomb is behind much of the EU-enthusiasm of the leaders of Europe's most economically powerful state.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-01-30 13:24:24.
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