The case for a 'Social Europe'

adapted from a short pamphlet published by the Centre for a Social Europe*, London

THE CURRENT model of the European Union is not working. The EU is doing too much, and doing it badly. It is wasteful and inefficient. Auditors have refused to sign off the EU's accounts for nearly a decade because of the scale of fraud. Voters do not understand why more and more powers should now be transferred to Brussels.

The concept of the EU as a benevolent, socially-oriented international body is being undermined. Trade unions see the EU's commercial policy pushing privatisation of services. NGOs watch EU commissioners lobby the WTO (World Trade Organisation) to liberalise trade rules at the expense of the developing world. Taxpayers watch billions being wasted on the Common Agricultural Policy.

In the era of growing global challenges, the EU is attempting to push outdated 1980s neo-liberal economic policies. The European Commission is putting pressure on member states to liberalise their labour markets. The eurozone's inflexible rules mean that governments have privatised public services to balance their budgets. The European Central Bank has a short-term obsession with inflation rather than with creating jobs.

As a result Europe's core economies have now suffered years of very high unemployment. Europe needs to change in a number of important areas. But the constitution does not make for a social Europe. It means more of the same policies and the problems they cause.


The constitution ignores the concerns of the EU's citizens. It gives more power to unreformed institutions, weakens the ability of governments to manage their economies, and undermines public services. The constitution takes the EU in the wrong direction. We should reject the treaty as the first step to reforming the EU.

EU POWER OVER PUBLIC SERVICES: The constitution would for the first time give Brussels new powers to decide, by majority vote, what counts as a "public service". This could also mean that it is up to the EU to identify which areas of member states' public services would be exempt from competition policy, and which areas would be opened up to competitition from the private sector.

MORE POWER TO BRUSSELS OVER TRADE POLICIES: The constitution will strengthen the EU's Common Commerical Policy as regards trade in such services as health and education. This could mean more compulsory competitive tendering in public services and more public-private partnerships.

MORE POWER OVER THE ECONOMY: The constitution further tightens the EU's broad Economic Policy Guidelines, a policy framework the European Commission uses to encourage member states on the eurozone to cut public spending. Member states threatened with censure under the guidelines would lose the right to participate in the vote on whether or not they should be censured.

MILITARISATION OF THE EU: The constitution sets up a European Defence Agency which will encourage EU members to increase military spending. The agency has the power to "strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector" and is likely to lobby for more of the EU's research funds to be ploughed into "dual use" military projects.

COMMON ASYLUM POLICY: The constitution sets up a Common Asylum Policy, which will be decided by majority vote. This means that member states can be outvoted on issues concerning immigration.

MORE CENTRALISATION: The constitution marks a further shift of power to EU institutions and away from local and national levels. Member states would have to give up their right to veto in 40 new areas. The constitution contains an "escalator" clause which would allow the EU presidents and prime ministers to shift the few remaining policy areas where member states still have a veto from unanimity to majority voting by consensus amongst themselves. This allows the constitution to be amended without need of further treaties or referendums.

ABOLISHING NATIONAL CURRENCIES: The constitution makes adoption of the euro into a constitutional obligation, even though 13 of the 25 EU member states still retain their own currencies. If the constitution comes fully into force, it would make impossible any national control of interest rates or exchange rates to achieve economic or social goals. They would be taken over instead by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, which the constitution makes independent of all democratic control at either European or national levels.

A RAW DEAL FOR WORKING PEOPLE: Trade unions across Europe want guarantees that the EU can deliver better consultation at work and protection during industrial action. But member governments fought hard to ensure that there is no new social protection in the constitution and no new rights to help Trade unions represent people at work. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was supposed to give people a set of common rights. The constitution provides that labour law matters will be decided at national level, as at present. On other matters it will now be become a lawyers' charter, as the EU Court of Justice will have to decide what it means. There will be a new tier of expensive lawyers and judges between citizens and those deciding their basic rights.


We are internationalists, but we oppose giving up control. We want a Europe where there is diversity and democracy, not a Europe forced into the straitjacket of an EU constitution as the basis of an EU federal state run in the interests of the EU's bigger members. A centralised Europe, run by a Brussels elite, will be a weak and democratically unstable Europe. A Europe based on dialogue and cooperation between democratic nation states will be a strong Europe.

The labour and trade union movement, and the political left, has always stood for internationalism and democracy. We are not isolationists or "anti-Europeans". We want a real debate in the left on a better future for the EU. We need to campaign internationally for a genuine social Europe. Saying 'No to the EU Constitution' is the first step towards real EU reform.

The Centre for a Social Europe supports EU membership but opposes the EU constitution. Further information about the Centre can be obtained from:

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-05-17 12:11:51.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © Centre for a Social Europe