19 May 2005 Edition
France: News from the front
BY Justin Moran
The Campaign against the EU Constitution
"The campaign must be taken to the people and especially into working-class areas, where apathy reigns. The battle for fair access to the media must also be fought, and won." In terms very familiar to Irish activists, Jacques Roillet, a leading member of the No to the EU Constitution Campaign in the north of France, explained what must be done to record a victory in that country's referendum at the end of the month.
Roillet was speaking at a public meeting organised by the Campaign Against the EU Constitution in the Teachers' Club in Dublin, attended by over 30 activists, many with long track records in fighting European referenda.
A member of Sinn Féin's sister party in France, the French Communist Party (both are members of the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament), Roillet began his remarks by warmly congratulating Sinn Féin on its Westminster and local election successes in the face of a campaign of vilification and deceit, before moving into an analysis of the issues at stake in the French referendum campaign.
"We are not anti-European," declared Roillet. "Nor are we denying that we are Europeans. We simply want a more representative democracy as against a federal Europe. National independence is not an outdated or irrelevant concept. Our No vote is to preserve peace and oppose the militarisation of Europe. Our No vote is for an EU of peace, forging links between north and south, east and west."
He then moved to take on the argument, common to the Yes campaigns in Ireland and France, that opposition to the EU Constitution would be bad for the economy.
"The Yes campaign argument that a No vote would ruin the economy ignores the damage done by liberal economic policies to public services and working class people," said Roillet. "Under their leadership, the EU has proved unable to cope with 60 million people living in poverty and 20 million out of work. Fifteen million jobs gone in the last 15 years and spiralling numbers of working poor. Is this the economy we are to protect by voting Yes?" he asked to loud applause.
Throughout his remarks, and in the question and answer session that followed, the similarities for Irish campaigners between the tactics being used in France and those that can be expected in Ireland were made frequently evident. The media consensus in France seems as solid as that in Ireland, an issue taken up in detail by the second speaker.
Harry Browne of The Village magazine and journalism lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology, opened his remarks by pointing out that with the Irish Times playing the role of 'official sponsor of the European Constitution', it was more imperative than ever that alternative media be used by No campaigners.
While praising her work as a journalist in general, he pointed to comments by Irish Times' correspondent in France, Lara Marlowe, in a recent newspaper interview as illuminating.
"She began by summing up the campaign against the Constitution, then receiving over 50% of the vote, as being made up of the extreme left and the extreme right," Browne pointed out. "This is a very familiar line, suggesting that it is up to the 'nice, safe' left to save us from the extremists. When the interview was ending and she was asked if the referendum would be defeated, she told the interviewer it 'didn't look good'. The side she is on, and by implication we should be on, is assumed."
In a speech often enlivened by flashes of wit, Browne also pointed to an emerging impatience with democracy among the media elite, who increasingly see referenda as awkward and messy opportunities, for a public they believe to be ill-informed, to upset the plans of the political and media establishment.
It was the difficulties involved in upsetting these plans that dominated a lively question and answer session. Activists from a cross-section of the Dublin left discussed the tactics and arguments best suited for the successful prosecution of the campaign and expressed their hopes that the Irish referendum would come in the aftermath of a victory in France for Roillet and the French left.
13 reasons to reject the EU Constitution
o It lays the legal foundations for a Federal Europe
o It deepens the Democratic Deficit
o It significantly increases in the powers of the European Council and Commission
o It undermines of national sovereignty, national parliaments and the rights of citizens
o It will end neutrality for Ireland and other Member States
o It promotes a policy of substantial militarisation
o It provides for single foreign policy, defence policy and EU foreign minister
o It promotes the centralisation of economic control in the hands of the Council and Commission
o It contains a clear constitutional commitment to a free market neo-liberal economic model
o It promotes an economic model that will deepen existing levels of poverty and social exclusion within the EU
o It will undermine the ability of member states to provide public services
o The Charter of Fundamental Rights has no mechanisms for ensuring compliance, and does not add to the promotion of human rights or equality for citizens
o It promotes policies in relation to the developing world that will deepen the levels of global inequality, poverty and instability