It is No Coincidence Why Socialist Parties Across Europe Support the Lisbon Treaty


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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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5 Responses

  1. CMK

    September 18, 2009 6:56 pm

    Joe, thanks for posting this. But it seems predicated on a couple of misapprehensions. Firstly, the “socialists” you’re referring to are presumably the Party of European Socialists, to which Labour are affiliated. Many of the constituent parties are socialist in name only and have long jettisoned even a semblance of social democracy. Some, New Labour in Britain are the exemplar, are scarcely distinguishable from the Right.

    Turning to two of the points you raise above. Firstly, regarding the role of national parliaments in the EU legislative process. The “Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union” (my version of the Treaty is document C 306/EN, dated 17.12.2007) only provides for consultation of national parliaments through the forwarding of draft legislation to these bodies.

    Crucially, the “Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality” in Article 7, paragraphs 2 & 3 provide that where a national parliament rejects a draft legislative act because it infringes subsidiarity is can still maintain that act, but is obliged to give a reason why it’s proceeding with it. Granted, the EU parliament could overturn that decision, but it needs the Council’s agreement as well, which, given that the latter body meets in secret, it might not get. But the Commission remains in the driving seat with regard to EU legislation, something that, no doubt, comforts business and its lobbyists.

    So, the role of national parliaments is enhanced, but not to a degree that one should make too much of a fuss about it.

    Regarding the Charter (my version is document C364, dated 18.12.2000) , and specifically workers’ rights -Chapter IV, Solidarity, Articles 27 to 32. All the advances, which are being trumpeted by the unions, Labour, the Charter Group etc, contained in the Charter, are qualified by the proviso “in accordance with Community Law and national laws and practices”. What does that mean in practise?

    From my perspective it means that the European Court of Justice will have to adjudicate on their meaning. Most likely that adjudication will occur in the context of ECJ precedents which include the Laval, Viking and Rueffert judgements. Therefore, it’s unlikely that the resulting interpretations will be worker friendly; more likely such rulings will confirm the trend that in the EU workers’ rights are subordinate to the rights of business.

    Now, that’s something that should concern all workers, and their political representatives. In Ireland that includes Labour and the unions. I’m at a loss, therefore, why the latter are so positive about Lisbon.

  2. AMG

    September 18, 2009 8:22 pm

    In addition to the first comment, I would recommend to anyone a closer reading of the Charter itself. Its so-called social provisions are notably weaker than existing provisions in the UN Declaration, the European Convention, and the Irish Constitution.

    Another difference is that these latter documents proclaim rights that are inviolable; i.e., they cannot be changed, moderated or negotiated by reference to competing claims, and crucially, citizens have the right to go to law to insist that these rights are respected. Such is not the case with the Charter, where the rights are demonstrably not “fundamental” at all, but to be interpreted according to EU and national practice.

    I would also draw your attention to the provisions on workers’ rights. Two of the unusual “fundamental rights” we find in the Charter are the “right to do business” and “the right to provide services.” The right to take industrial action is given equally to businesses. So workers are faced with seeing their “fundamental rights” conflict with competing “fundamental rights” given to businesses.

    Education is free only when compulsory. Healthcare is not obliged to be freely available. There is no mention anywhere in the Charter of cultural or environmental rights.

    All in all, a very flimsy case on which to rest claims that the Charter somehow enhances human rights. Indeed, given that it is to become EU law along with the Treary, it threatens to undermine robust UN and EU declarations of rights, as well as the fundamental rights in Article 40 of the Constitution.

  3. Sceptic

    September 22, 2009 11:36 am


    Unfortunately the left across Europe lost the last euro elections and was so intellectually bankrupt and rudderless that it, in the main, backed Barroso.

    Considering these points its no coincidence that many on the left support Lisbon.

    The Left is too comfortable and too intellectually removed working class people.

  4. AMG

    September 28, 2009 10:33 am

    I would, in addition, advise anyone who plans to vote in the referendum to READ THE AMENDMENT. The Lisbon Treaty integrates the European Atomic Energy Community, EURATOM, into the EU, giving the Commission the power to decide on nuclear policy and allocation without consulting national parliaments.

    The proposed amendment is a political commitment to nuclear power on the part of the Government. The Oireachtas will have NO POWER to block any move by the Commission toward implementing a Europe-wide commitment to nuclear power. In other words, the future of Europe is a nuclear one, and neither Ireland nor any other country will have a say in the matter.