14 September 2006 Edition
Promoting alternative vision for future of Europe and Ireland
Lest Saturday Dublin's Liberty Hall played host to a gathering of all shades of left and republican opinion in Ireland for a conference entitled Another Europe is Possible, organised by Sinn Féin in association with the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).
On the theme of Workers Rights SIPTU's Brendan Hayes of SIPTU argued that the future of Europe can and must be shaped by progressives across Europe and in Ireland. In what was on the whole a stern defence of the record of the EU on workers rights, Hayes raised the question as to whether enough had been achieved by the left in the Compromise on the Services Directive in terms of protecting workers rights.
Patricia McKeown Regional secretary of UNISON in the North and Vice President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) highlighted the need for a constant dialogue between trade unions and parties of the left including Sinn Féin. Citing EU support for Private Finance Initiatives she pointed out that in an Irish context this was leading to a United Ireland of Capitalism and it was time the left woke up to the reality of private profiteering in the health services and the provision of local authority services such as waste collection.
Mick O Reilly of the ATGWU argued that the EU Constitution would prevent Irish citizens voting for a socialist form of government should they wish to while Sinn Féin's Councillor Larry O'Toole who chaired the session emphasised Sinn Féin's determination to make workers rights an issue in next years general election.
Social Europe threatened
A session on the theme of Defending Social Europe was addressed by Martin Territ from the European Commission who, outlining the priorities of the Union as "prosperity, solidarity, securing and the drive for growth and jobs", went on to defend the Commission's record on Social Europe before outlining a "Social Reality Check" which the Commission planned to carry out as a consultative process for citizens across Europe on their well being. In an interesting aside Mr Territ outlined recent results of a Euro Barometer survey into people's satisfaction with their lives, a people he referred to as the "Northern Irish" came out with the highest satisfaction of all well over 90%.
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre De Brun outlined the positive aspects of social Europe before pointing to problems such as the emphasis on economic growth and ability to export and the fears about the challenge of globalisation which have led to many turning their back on Social Europe. "The European Union has set itself on a course of promoting economic growth at the expense of social and environmental considerations" said de Brun.
A debate between MEP's Mary Lou McDonald, Proinsias De Rossa and Kathy Sinnot saw de Rossa engage in a predictable anti-Sinn Féin tirade. Asserting that the slogan Another Europe is Possible served to shelter disparate and contradictory views on Europe from the xenophobic right to the remnants of the communist left, he alleged that it served "the less ambitious such as Sinn Féin who seek to break the connection with Europe and dismember other European states such as Spain". He put this down to republicans' "nationalist worldview".
In setting out the Labour Party's view on the need to build a "better Europe" he highlighted the proposed EU Constitution and called for serious efforts over the next 12 months to retrieve it from deep freeze.
Tackling democratic deficit
Responding to De Rossa and setting out Sinn Fein's vision for the future of Europe Mary Lou McDonald dismissed suggestions that national democratic scrutiny of EU decisions was about a nationalist worldview but rather was about tackling the democratic deficit at the heart of Europe, strengthening subsidiary and taking power from unaccountable Commissioners and civil servants in Brussels. On the European constitution she said neo-liberal economics, militarisation, the loss of neutrality and failure to tackle the democratic deficit meant it was a document no republican could support. Finally in relation to the need for a social Europe McDonald criticised the Labour Party's endorsement of the Lisbon strategy, the growth and stability pact and the amended Services Directive as being an endorsement of the economic proscriptions of the right. She concluded the conference by calling on all those on the left in Ireland to pursue a radical social justice agenda and to promote an alternative vision for the future of Europe and Ireland.