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The EU: Is a People's Europe Still Possible? A Trade Union perspective

Enrico Tortolano, John Medhurst

Our paper follows the analysis of the earlier work, which is that following the adoption of the ECT, the European Union is itself now a threat to European democratic cohesion and the earlier achievements of its own "Social Europe" model. If the structures and policies of the EU are not to alienate ever more workers and voters, an alternative is vital We argue that a co-ordinated cross -border approach that facilitates a programme of nationalisation and long-term planning for social benefit, within and between Member States, is now necessary. If the EU wishes to re-engage its disillusioned populations and return to the progressive vision of those like Jacques Delors, it needs to a) democratise its policy making institutions, b) implement a Europe-wide regulation of financial and capital markets, and c) prioritise employment rights and social justice over the negative freedom of employers to evade social responsibilities and collective agreements. This alternative is even more vital given the seismic shifts in the European economy since 2009, and the EU's commitment to imposing an "austerity agenda" on Member States. In response to the debt crisis, the Commission adopted tougher rules to implement the Stability and Growth Pact, including fiscal rules "conducive to compliance with the deficit and debt thresholds". We argue that these rules are implicitly anti-democratic and regressive. If a country fails to keep to the agreed rate of growth of its public expenditure it will then be subject to a warning from the commission followed by corrective action including massive fines. We agree with the ETUC that these measures are a "purely budgetary and economic exercise with no account taken of wider social and employment issues". This policy agenda was solidified in January 2011 when the Commission Annual Growth Survey recommended stern austerity measures, i.e. deficit reduction through cuts. Following this, the Council of European Union proposed Enhanced Economic Policy Coordination to drive forward cuts and austerity rather than social investment as the solution to the debt crisis. Driven by these pressures, the Greek government pledged to cut £26 billion of social expenditure, privatise its rail network, freeze public sector salaries for three years and raise the retirement age. Spain, Italy and Ireland have or are considering adopting similar measures. In response, mass based protest movements have arisen that, we argue, are the genuine voice of the European people and of European democracy. We support EPSU's response to the austerity agenda promoted by European policy elites, outlined in the EPSU Tax Justice Charter, which is that "The (European) Government's austerity responses will suck demand out of the economy, fail to support the jobless and put at risk of poverty public sector employees, and will also reduce tax revenues. Yet tax revenues are essential to tackle public sector deficits". We also endorse specific European trade union proposals such as the ETUC's proposals to make European governance a more democratic process and to remove the automatic nature of sanctions, and EPSU's proposals for an EU common strategy to increase tax on corporate profits, more corporate responsibility (transparency to prove not utilising tax loopholes, havens etc), and a Financial Transaction Tax However, we question if even these policies will be enough given the free-market fundamentalism encoded in the ECT, a document that altered the structure and ethos of the EU away from the "Social Europe" towards the "shock doctrines" of Freidman, Hayek and Wall St. In this context, we argue that the mass protests of the Greek people is the authentic voice of a progressive Europe, not the European Commission.

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