Kevin Doyle looks forward to the spectacle of Ireland's European presidency

Bertie's European Act


Over the next six months you will be hearing a lot about the European Union (EU). Part of the reason for this is that Ireland is taking over 'The Presidency' of the EU, but the other part is that in June elections will be held for the European 'parliament' in Brussels. This election of MEPs will be heralded as 'your opportunity' to have a say in the way the EU is run. TV and radio time will be expended on 'convincing' you that you should get out to vote and that voting for your MEP is a valuable activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the last number of elections, voter participation has declined and it's not too difficult to figure out why.

To better understand the functioning of the EU you need to go back a couple of decades to when the EU was more aptly named the European Economic Community (EEC). This name describes more accurately what the EU is all about - economics. It also gives us a clue to who and what is behind the drive to 'enlarge' and 'create a single market' in the European geographical era. A sin-gle large market rather than a multitude of small independent markets (based in all the different countries of Europe) has the advantage of allowing European manufactures to mass produce and cut costs. This is a situation that has been forced upon Europe's large manufacturers due to increasing competition and the drive of capitalism to cuts costs at every opportunity. The creation of a 'single market' allows European capitalists to compete more effectively with their principle rival - the USA.

The National Interest?

The arrival of the 'Irish Presidency' is often touted as an of example the EU's participatory style. But it also underlines one of the fundamental fault-lines of the Europewide alliance. The EU was set up as an alliance 'between independent states' - Germany, France, Ireland, Spain etc.. A lot of what it does it formulated in terms of our 'national' interests. For example in the area of fishing where Ireland's traditionally weak presence has been under threat from larger fishing interests based in France, Spain and Portugal. But this concentration on 'national' interests hides the real division of classes in all issues related to economics and policy in the EU. To go on with the example of the fishing industry: although there is a lot of talk about 'who gets what share of the Irish Box', and whether or not 'Spain is robbing Ireland's fish quota' there is no talk about the exploitation and harsh conditions within the fishing industry. Very little attention gets paid to the issue of the Irish, Spanish and French fish barons and the money they make from their workers.

The situation in the fish industry is repeated in all areas of the European Union. We are encouraged to see Irish employers as our 'allies' against the larger 'sharks' in the EU market. In other European countries the same applies.

Privatisation

The European Central Bank is one of the most powerful institution in the European Union. It directs policy and strategy and it does so with the interests of European big business in mind. The make up of the ECB is by appointment only - economists, government advisors, and appointees from the various national central banks. It is overseeing a long term plan to introduce 'neo-liberal' values into the single market. These values involve maximising 'competition' and 'privatisation' in the economy, with a view to making the EU a 'more competitive economy'. In practice what this means is an assault of working conditions and trade union rights. It has also led to a massive crackdown on migrant workers. Thousands have already died because of tough border controls and anti-immigrant laws.

The EU may be all about 'bringing Europe together' but we must look at in what way and in whose interests. Right now the EU is a Europe for big business - Bertie and Co. will lap that up in the next few months.


See also Against capitalist globalisation



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This edition is No79 published in Jan 2004

Workers Solidarity 79