The referendum on the EU constition enabled the French bourgeoisie, through its left wing (the left in the Socialist Party and the extreme left) to successfully drag a large part of the working class onto the terrain of elections and democracy. It could only rejoice over this momentary victory over the proletariat. However, the bourgeoisie in France and in the leading European countries had worked very hard to get the constitution accepted. This was particularly important for the French and German bourgeoisies.
The fact that the constitution wasn’t accepted was largely the fault of the Chirac clique and of the president himself. The Gaullist faction that they represent, which came out of the Second World War, has long been a poor defender of the best interests of French capitalism. The decomposition of society has only accentuated this phenomenon, pushing each bourgeois faction more and more to defend its own interests to the detriment of the national interest. Faced with the broad rejection of the Raffarin government’s austerity policies, with the growth of popular anger and discontent, and in spite of all the efforts of the governing parties in France, supported by a host of major European politicians, the No vote won the day. This opened up an unprecedented crisis in the French political apparatus, and in the whole project of building the European Union.
The crisis of the French bourgeoisie
Immediately after the referendum, Chirac personally put together a new government. The proletariat was told it could be well pleased. It now had two prime ministers for the price of one. Hardly had it been set up, than the new government appeared in its true light: an arena for the merciless struggle between clans and leaders on the chaotic right wing of French politics. But what was new in France was the fact that the Socialist Party had itself been swept along by the effects of decomposition. Laurent Fabius, up to now seen as a proper statesman, had, during the referendum, quite simply pushed forward his own personal interests without any other considerations, without any concern for the defence of French capital.
The Socialist Party, and notably its leadership, with the notable exception of Fabius, was the party most involved in the defence of the Yes vote. This is why it has been so shaken by the rejection of the Constitution. In purely electoral terms, yesterday’s minority around the No vote has now become the majority, while the Party leadership finds itself in precisely the opposite situation. The policy of the SP leadership (Hollande, Strauss-Khan, Lang), by trying to give a new impetus on Europe, was quite simply rejected. Fabius, having been distanced from the leadership, but legitimised as a defender of the No vote, has not lost the opportunity to make himself heard, asking via his supporters “why not a change in strategy, even a change in leadership, in the two years leading up to the Presidential election in 2007?”. As Le Monde wrote on 30 May 2005: “In the year of its anniversary, the SP is thus in crisis…. Francois Hollande weakened and discredited, Lionel Jospin retired from politics (until when?) and Laurent Fabius strengthened but not well liked in the Party”.
Strauss-Khan, announced the tone by publicly stating that “I am not sure that Fabius wants to carry on with us”. While the left wing of the SP doesn’t seem to want to throw oil on the fire, this did not prevent Socialist Senator Melanchon declaring: “The SP candidate for the 2007 presidential election cannot be a man or woman who supported the Yes vote in the referendum”. The war between leaders cannot be avoided within the party. But the crisis in the SP is not just a war of leaders; it has a much wider dimension, involving all the ideological themes and policies defended by the SP, which have been massively rejected by the electorate – not just the traditional SP voters, but the electorate as a whole.
The crisis of the French bourgeoisie is such that today no faction, right or left, really represents a credible governing team, whether on the national or international level. It is the French state, the state of the ruling class, guarantor and defender of the interests of the bourgeoisie, which now finds itself weakened. However, it would be a dangerous mistake for the working class to be lulled to sleep by the current crisis of the bourgeoisie’s political forces. The latter will have to react, especially within the SP, in order to reconstruct government unity around a credible political project. However difficult and complicated, this is an imperative for the French bourgeoisie. The capitalist class has just shown – via the united front on the left around the No vote – its ability to use its own weaknesses against the proletariat.
The crisis of the European Union – the rise in imperialist tensions at the heart of world capitalism
Courrier International, 16 June 2005, made the following comments on the current state of Europe: “The European Union is in crisis, and the coming summit of heads of state and governments will be especially delicate”. The Spanish paper ABC put it thus: “Under the dual menace of a political and economic crisis the leaders of the 25 will try to save the European Union in one of the most complex situations in recent years”. Finally, for La Libre Belgique, “the atmosphere between the European powers is destructive”. For the proletariat, it is important to understand what is alarming the bourgeois media and what is really happening on the European scene.
Contrary to what the bourgeoisie tells us, Europe is not a haven of peace or a force for peace in the world. We only have to look briefly at its history to prove this. The European Union has its roots in the period immediately after the Second World War. Europe was then being financed and politically supported by the USA to face up to the danger from the newly-formed Russian bloc. This initial European project was built on the economic level, through organs like the European Economic Community in 1957, but it was as the main prize in the global imperialist rivalry between the two blocs that the European project took on its full meaning. On two occasions France rejected Britain’s candidature to the EEC, in 1963 and 1967, because the latter was seen as the spearhead of American policy in Europe. The EU’s economic policies have allowed the European countries to develop a more effective defence of their economies in the context of sharpening global competition. But imperialist rivalries, involving all the European states and the great world powers like the US, made it impossible for Europe to be any more than an economic space, a zone of free trade, which would eventually adopt a single currency, the Euro. At the same time, the possibility of building the United States of Europe was always a myth. Capitalism can never get rid of the nation states of Europe and replace them with a kind of European Super Nation (see the article “The expansion of Europe” in IR 112).
Following the collapse of the eastern bloc, the imperialist situation changed radically. The break-up of the American bloc and the opening of the phase of decomposition resulted in a powerful tendency for each state to pursue its own interests outside any stable and lasting alliance – even the alliance between Britain and the US has not escaped this reality.
The enlargement of Europe towards the east, which has no great economic importance, expresses the greater geo-strategic stakes within the continent, as was already demonstrated by the Balkans war during the 90s. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, created in 1949 as a weapon of the American bloc against the Russian, was very significantly enlarged in 2002. The organisation went from 19 members to 26, with the entry of 7 former eastern bloc countries: after Hungary and Poland in 1999, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2002. This enlargement would seem to have no sense, given that it is strengthening an organisation which was set up to defend a bloc which no longer exists! In fact the role of NATO has evolved. It is still controlled by the US but is now a weapon of US imperialist policy in Europe against France and Germany. The entry of the former eastern bloc countries into the European Union, soon after their integration into NATO, allowed the Herald Tribune to declare; “Washington is the big winner from the enlargement of the European Union...according to a German official the entry into the EU of these fundamentally pro-American countries of central and eastern Europe signifies the end of any attempt by the EU to define itself, as well as its foreign and security policy, as being aligned against the USA”. For the same reasons the American state has tried to accelerate the process of integrating Turkey into Europe, a country which for the moment is a forward base for the US in the Middle East.
For its part, German imperialism will be obliged to respond to this US offensive towards countries which are part of its historic sphere of influence. Thus for some time Germany has been trying to come to a rapprochement with Turkey and certain central European countries. The European Constitution, defended very strongly by Germany, France and Spain, while being linked to economic concerns, was above all a means for the Franco-German couple to assert their power in this enlarged Europe.
Germany’s efforts to increase its influence in central and eastern Europe has however also irritated Paris, which is not in a position to exert a comparable influence and is destined to get weaker in comparison to its powerful ally. The failure of the Constitution is bound to increase all these tensions between the states of Europe.
The failure of the Brussels summit: the crisis of the EU widens
For the Financial Times, “the time is one of confrontation”. The current president of the EU, M Junker of Luxemburg, declared bitterly on 18 June, following the failure of the European summit: “Europe is in a grave crisis” .The European budget has broken down. As Courrier International said on 16 June: “In the end, the UK estimated that the declaration submitted by the presidency did not provide the necessary guarantees”. Then it cited Tony Blair, who responded to the attacks by France and Germany on the question of the budget: “We must change speed to adapt to the world we’re living in…It’s a moment for renewal”.
There certainly won’t be any renewal. But what’s true and new is that the bourgeoisie in Europe is beginning to undo what it has taken so long to build – the European economic space, the European Union.
At the economic level we are seeing an irrational upsurge of national demands to the detriment of the level of cohesion attained up to now. As the Financial Times put it: “Following Germany, which no longer wants to be the EU’s milk cow, as was the case at the Berlin Summit of 1999, this time the countries which are leading the debate on the European budget are no longer the poorest ones, but the ones who pay the bills. Germany, Austria, Britain, France, Holland and Sweden are demanding a reduction of the budget which could reach up to 800 billion Euros for the period 2007-13” (cited by Courrier International, 16 June). Each of the main European powers are from now on refusing to pay what they see as being in the interest of other countries of the EU. The inability to create any political governance in Europe, under the pressure of decomposition, of every man for himself, of the economic and political antagonisms between each country, is accelerating the crisis of the EU. It is this that has brought about the crisis, not Tony Blair’s intransigence over the budget or the No vote by the French working class.
This crisis in Europe corresponds to the inability of the bourgeoisie to deal with the deepening of decomposition and the historic bankruptcy of its system. By giving way to egoistic economic demands, the European economic space has been seriously weakened, since it has been unable to adopt common rules of functioning that will enable it to face up to economic competition from America and Asia. On the economic level, all the European countries are losers to one degree or another. On the imperialist level, the crisis of the EU and the weakening of the Franco-German couple can only serve the interests of the USA and Britain. The working class must be prepared for an acceleration of the economic crisis and a sharpening of imperialist tensions. The crisis of the EU is one more expression of the growing irrationality of the capitalist system.