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3 March 2005 Edition

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A Constitution for Europe?

Sinn Féin's Director of European Affairs, EOIN O'BROIN, looks at the detail of the proposed EU Constitution

The final outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference of June 2004 was two documents. The final proposed Constitution is 324 pages long and an additional document of Protocols and Declarations adds an additional 460 pages. It is written in dense, at times contradictory, legal language, and covers an enormous range of political, policy, institutional, procedural and transnational matters.

The proposed Constitution is divided into four sections. Part 1 contains the provisions that define the Union, its objectives, its powers, its decision-making procedures and its institutions. Part 2 is the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was proclaimed at the Nice European Council in 2002. Part 3 deals with the Union's policies and actions and incorporates many of the provisions of existing Treaties. Finally, Part 4 deals with procedures for adopting and reviewing the Constitution.

It is interesting to note that of the three substantial sections of the proposed Constitution, (Parts 1, 2 & 3) that section dealing with human rights is by far the smallest, both in terms of length and detail. Indeed, Part 3, which deals with policy and powers, is 158 pages long - almost half the entire Constitution.

It is important to remember that a constitution is an independent source of legal authority for a state; in a sense it is a state's supreme law. A treaty, on the other hand, is an agreement between sovereign states. Adopting a constitution establishes the EU as a legal entity, confers legal primacy on EU law and gives it the power to expand its own remit without recourse to the parliaments or citizens of member states. It transforms the EU from an arena of cooperation between nation states into a proto-federal state. The draft Constitution, as the fundamental source of legal authority for the EU, would effectively supplant the constitutions of Member States.

The word 'Federal' featured prominently in the earlier draft of the Constitution presented by the Convention. However, it was removed during the private negotiations of the Intergovernmental Conference, not to reduce the federalist implications of the Constitution, but in order to make the Constitution easier to sell in all Member States. Federalists were unhappy but realised that the removal of the term was cosmetic. The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, an honestly and unashamedly federalist group, recognised this fact. In supporting the final draft they stated that the Constitution, "transforms Europe from a collection of states into a unified body in the eyes of international law" and that it "creates a political area in which European unification can be translated from a plan devised by the elite and by state chancelleries into a European res publica".

SINN FÉIN CONCERNS

Sinn Féin has many areas of concern in the proposed Constitution.

The Constitution will create a single EU foreign and defence policy, agency and minister; a binding obligation on all Member States to comply with that policy irrespective of their views; a build up of military capabilities by all Member States; an increase in military expenditure by Member States and the EU; and policy compatibility with NATO. This is not only an ending of Irish neutrality; it is a commitment for the development of a militarised European state. When then President of the EU Commission Romani Prodi said in 2001, "are we all clear that we want to build something that can aspire to be a world power?" it was this unified and militarised European Union that he had in mind.

Of equal concern is the incorporation of the EURATOM Treaty within the Constitution. This will mean the continued promotion of nuclear power as the preferred source of energy in the EU.

The Constitution also denies Member States a veto on international trade in services, even if the Member State has an electoral mandate to protect them. The unqualified veto on trade in health, education and cultural and audiovisual services is removed for the first time.

The Laecken Declaration called for 'more democracy, transparency and efficiency' in the EU. It said there was a need to 'clarify, simplify and adjust the division of competencies between the Union and the Member States'. It acknowledged that people across the European Union did not want a 'European superstate'. It charged these tasks to the Convention on the Future of Europe who set about drafting a Constitution for Europe.

What has that Constitution produced?

• The legal foundations for a Federal Europe

• A deepening of the Democratic Deficit

• A significant increase in the powers of the European Council and Commission

• An undermining of national sovereignty, national parliaments and the rights of citizens

• An end to neutrality for Ireland and other Member States

• A policy of substantial militarisation

• A single foreign policy, defence policy and EU foreign minister

• A significant centralisation of economic control in the hands of the Council and Commission

• A clear constitutional commitment to a free market neo-liberal economic model

• The promotion of an economic model that will deepen existing levels of poverty and social exclusion within the EU

• A significant undermining of the ability of Member States to provide public services

• A Charter of Fundamental Rights with no mechanisms for ensuring compliance, which does not add to the promotion of human rights or equality for citizens

• A constitutional commitment to pursue policies in relation to the developing world that will deepen the levels of global inequality, poverty and instability

The Centre for a Social Europe said in 2004 that: "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."

This Friday, at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, delegates will be asked to reject the proposed EU Constitution and commit the party to playing an active role in the No campaign in referenda north and south.

MEP's Diary

Bairbre De Brun

21-24 February 2005

Monday 21st marked the opening of the February plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The busy session covered diverse issues such as the World Social Forum, environmental protections, human rights issues and the protection of the health and safety of workers in the EU. Much of the day was spent preparing for the week ahead, responding to constituency requests, catching up on emails and deciding upon voting positions.

The session began on the Monday evening with a report by Jonathan Evans from the EPP group on 'Competition Policy'. The report advocated moves by the European Commission to further privatise public services. Sinn Féin believes that the EU is intent on opening up public services, especially in the key areas of health and education.

On Tuesday 22nd I delivered a speech in the Parliament on the European Environment and Health Action Plan. There is a significant gap between the EU Commission's initial Health and Environment strategy and this action plan. The gap can be seen in the small number of concrete actions proposed. The fight in Strasbourg was for stronger actions, greater resources and for the EU to move beyond the notion that health is simply a lifestyle choice. That fight will continue. The EU needs to learn from the success stories in Ireland and elsewhere in relation to the smoking ban in workplaces.

On Wednesday, the EU Parliament debated the issue of world poverty. Sinn Féin believes it is imperative that all EU Member States meet the UN target of 0.7% GDP for development aid, if developing world poverty is to be seriously addressed. I called upon the EU Commission to propose an EU-wide timetable to ensure that past commitments were adhered to.

There was report delivered by my group colleague, Jiri Mastalka, on 'health and safety in the workplace'. My colleague, Mary Lou McDonald, addressed the Parliament on the issue. The report indicated that there are approximately 4.8 million work-related accidents every year and that women and migrant/temporary workers are most at risk. Many women face sexual harassment, bullying, and lower pay than their male counterparts. Many migrant and temporary workers face intolerably long hours, disgraceful pay and unscrupulous employers. These are the very people who require protections the most.

In the afternoon the Parliament was addressed by the new President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko.

On Thursday I spoke during a debate about adequate resourcing for the Natura 2000 biodiversity plan. Natura 2000 is an important step towards developing the biodiversity and nature reserves of the EU. The aim of protecting natural habitats and endangered wildlife; the promotion of a cooperative approach between protecting the environment and rural development; and the integration of Natura 2000 with EFF fishing regulations are important goals. We are pushing for funding for these sites to be mainstreamed into the EU's main funding programmes, with a special biodiversity fund under LIFE+ for funding activities that cannot be co-financed using mainstream funds.

Who's who in the GUE/NGL Group

This week: The Swedish Left Party

In the third in a series of articles looking at Sinn Féin's new allies in Europe, Director of European Affairs EOIN O'BROIN examines the Swedish Left Party.

The Left Party was founded in the spring of 1917, when the left-wing opposition within the Social Democratic Party was given an ultimatum by the party leadership: toe the line or leave the party. The result was the formation of the Social Democratic Left Party of Sweden, SSV.

In 1921, SSV changed its name to the Communist Party of Sweden, SKP. In 1924, a minority under the leadership of the party's first chair, Zeth Höglund, left the party. This new party reunited with the Social Democrats. A second split in 1929 was more serious. Pressure from Soviet Russia for absolute loyalty split the party in two and for several years there were two SKPs, one of which was a member of the Comintern and the other of which was not.

Throughout its entire existence, the Left Party has been a fighting spirit within the Labour Movement. Party members have often been in the vanguard of the class struggle, both in places of work and in parliamentary assemblies. They have fought for decent wages and better work conditions, for social security, pensions and child benefits, for free health care and the right to education. Many of those social reforms that have taken place in Sweden were first proposed by the communists.

When Franco's fascists revolted in Spain 1936, hundreds of Swedish workers, most of them communists, took part in the International Brigades on the Republican side and at home impressive acts of solidarity were carried out.

In the 1950s during the Cold War, the party led the way in the struggle against the Swedish atomic bomb and general disarmament. In later decades, environmental questions and the struggles of the women's movement have been added to the fight and gained more and more importance.

During World War II, a distribution ban was imposed on the party's newspaper, the party itself was banned by the coalition government and the military confined communists in work camps.

In the 1960s, a major renewal of the party began. The old loyalties to the Soviet Union were questioned and the party developed into a modern and independent party. In 1967, the party changed its name to the Left Party of Communists.

The last traces of old Soviet loyalty disappeared in 1977, when a group left VPK and founded the Workers' Party the Communists (APK).

In 1990, after the upheaval in Eastern Europe when old regimes disappeared, the party once again changed its name, this time to simply, the Left Party.

The Left Party's electoral fortunes have been mixed in recent years. Last year's European Elections saw the party poll 15% and win two seats in the European Parliament. However, more recently, opinion polls are suggesting that in the Swedish general elections of 2007, their vote may drop below 10%. In the late 1970s, the Left Party held 5% of the national vote. By the end of the 1980s the party had increased its share to over 10%.

Today, the Swedish Left Party describes itself as a democratic socialist and feminist party. Its domestic agenda focuses on defence of public services, and particularly the country's progressive state-funded childcare system. They led the campaign against the introduction of the Euro and are currently campaigning against the proposed EU Constitution. They have a strong record on defending human rights, opposing racism and xenophobia and opposing NATO and other military interventions, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The party also has a strong record on environmental issues.

The Swedish Left Party is also a member of the Nordic Green Alliance, which includes sister parties from Finland, Norway and Iceland. The alliance also includes left parties from Denmark.

Strasbourg In Brief

EU Constitution woes

• There was a largely muted response to Spanish endorsement of the EU Constitution in the EU Parliament. It has been widely recognised that huge numbers of people are unaware of the content of the EU Constitution, which runs to over 300 pages. According to a recent EU Barometer Survey, large sections of Irish society are not even aware of the Constitution's existence.

Air pollution report

• A European Commission report revealed that 310,000 people die annually from the effects of air pollution in the European Union. Bairbre de Brún commented that the report will be of particular concern for Ireland, which has a high rate of respiratory illness. She said that it was difficult to comprehend that 310,000 people will die prematurely as a consequence of exposure to air pollutants — roughly three times the population of Derry City.

Sinn Féin opposes privatisation

• Sinn Féin MEPs voted against an EU report advocating further privatisation of the services market. Bairbre de Brún said that there was clear intent to integrate Competition policy into EU legislation. In early February, the European Commission had published a report which suggested that the opening up of the services market could bring significant economic growth to the EU.

Latest DUP outburst

• The DUP's Jim Allister MEP used his speaking time in an EU Parliament debate to attack Irish President Mary McAleese over recent comments she made. The fact that McAleese is well respected at an EU level meant that Jim Allister's speech was not well received. In a subsequent press release, Allister made reference to "the peace loving majority in Northern Ireland", a clear insinuation that everyone else was not interested in peace.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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