It is no coincidence that the Lisbon Treaty, so strongly opposed by the far-right, has won support from the overwhelming majority of Socialist parties across Europe and from the European Trade Union Confederation (which groups together virtually all trade unions across Europe). The values and objectives set out in it are ones that are shared by Labour movements across our continent.
The treaty’s commitment to defend and strengthen the European social model is stronger than in the previous treaties. It talks of creating a “social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress”. The need to “combat social exclusion and discrimination” and to “promote social justice and protection” are highlighted as priorities. The Union will be legally required to promote equality of women and men, solidarity between generations and the protection of the rights of the child.
The list of founding values of the Union has been widened to include the principles of human dignity, equality and the protection of persons belonging to minorities, as well as pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and equality of women and men.
Underpinning this is a commitment to social dialogue involving trade unions and management at a European level and the establishment of a ‘Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment’. The contrast this provides with the American model of capitalism could not be clearer.
A new article requires the Union to respect public services, including the way they are organised and financed by member states, in order to ensure that public services are able to fulfil their duties.
Many would say that the most important innovation is the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Charter sets out the civil, economic and social rights that define European citizenship. These include the right to fair and just working conditions, the right to workplace information and consultation, the right to collective bargaining and collective action (including strike action), the right to social security and social assistance, the right to equality for men and women, and the right to freedom from discrimination.
The inclusion of the Charter gives it legal force for the first time and allows the European Court of Justice and the courts of the member states to enforce its provisions. Although it will apply only within the field of EU law – that is, it will bind the European institutions and the member states when implementing European law – this body of law is in itself considerable. The existing body of European social legislation on working time, consultation, equal pay and parental leave, among other things, will be entrenched with the status of fundamental rights. The Charter can also be invoked as a guide for future social legislation, developing new proposals to give its principles direct effect.
Of course, the treaty does much else. It provides greater clarity as to what the EU can and can’t do. It streamlines the institutions to avoid gridlock in a Union of 27 and eventually more countries. Above all, it increases democratic accountability by strengthening both the role of national parliaments and that of the European Parliament in vetting EU decisions.
This is the background against which the Labour movement must judge the treaty. For the reasons outlined above, it should be clear that it represents a progressive step towards a more democratic, effective and social Europe.
It is, of course, possible to argue that the treaty does not go far enough in promoting positive integration and enabling the European Union to pursue a more ambitious social and political agenda. What is not credible is to imagine that the effect of voting it down in a referendum would be to force Europe’s leaders to come up with something better. The only people who would benefit in this scenario would be those who wish to reverse the gains that have already been made and to weaken the EU’s capacity to act as a force for social progress.
The referendum on the treaty is a battle over Ireland’s and Europe’s future. It will pit those who want to strengthen Europe’s distinctive social model against those who want the EU to be weaker, unable to regulate markets or provide leadership on environmental standards and leaving Europe to the mercy of an unregulated market forces. It is no coincidence that it is the British Conservative party that most vehemently opposes Lisbon.
The Labour movement should be under no illusions about where its interests lie. We must vote Yes to Europe.
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- It is No Coincidence Why Socialist Parties Across Europe Support the Lisbon Treaty - September 18, 2009