Lisbon Essay (2): Nothing to Loose but a Mildly Social Democratic Reformist Opportunity…

Lisbon does strange things to what stands for an ideological split in Irish politics. On one hand, it splits the Left and and the Right. And on the other it has welded a huge super alliance between all the mainstream parties. In the second of our Lisbon Essays, Michael McLaughlin argues that that is partly due to the nature of the political character of the Union: it’s effectively an ongoing compromise between the Christian Democrats and Europe’s Socialist parties. Below the fold he lays out what he believes is in it from a worker’s point of view:By Michael McLaughlin

One of the more genuine civil society groups to emerge from the Trade Unions is The Charter Group. As the names suggests they see the legal status Lisbon proposes for the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty as a major step forward for workers.

Not a great victory for the workers as they march across Europe; yet not a charter for neo liberalism either. Just a step forward.

In fact, it is rare for the language of left or right to predominate in the basic law of any state. Most independent academics note that the history of the EU has been one of a compromise between the forces of Christian Democracy and Social Democracy: a compromise, which secured a single market combined with a high degree of social protection.

In terms of Ireland, practically all socially progressive legislation has emanated from Europe, such as equal pay, maternity leave, the working time directive etc. Yet it is not the various treaties per se that deliver these measures into law. Rather it is the political make-up of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, which decides this agenda even if the Treaty is a prerequisite to make it possible.

With Joe Higgins now in the campaign as an MEP, I suspect we may hear lot more about these issues. He has argued that Lisbon is a “charter for neo liberalism and privatisation”. Recently, at the National Forum on Europe, I invited Joe to do a search of the PDF of the consolidated version of the treaty to find the word privatisation.

Guess what: it’s not there!

Now competition is and always has been a competence of the EU (think airlines, telecoms what we paid years ago and what we pay now). This is the power that allowed the EU fine Microsoft, one of the largest corporations in the world!

In actual fact, Lisbon changes little in this respect. So if people are opposed to EU competition policy they need to start the campaign to repeal the current treaties, which effectively means leaving the EU.

However there are new provisions in Lisbon relating to workers rights and various progressive issues. And the Charter is the most obvious. It is now given the full legal force of treaty law.

I will try to avoid over egging my argument here. The charter is deliberately limited to the EU institutions but also, importantly, to the member states when they are implementing EU law.

The other major area of controversy and debate in this area is a series of recent European Court of Justice rulings on issues of workers rights. Here Higgins and Coir would both have us believe that our entire system of social protection will be removed. Yet all these cases were taken under the treaties as they stand today.

Of course it is not even true that the current treaties led directly to these cases (For Ruffert, Laval, Viking and Luxembourg: see the Charter group’s case file).

In truth, it was the transposition of the Posting of Workers Directive into domestic law that gave rise to the problems in mainly Scandinavian countries who have different systems of labour market regulation. Ironically, it is Ireland’s legally enforceable minimum wage is one of the reasons why the same rulings could not have been made in relation to similar cases here!

So then the question is whether such rulings are more or less likely under Lisbon. Certainly the elevation of the Charter to the same level as the treaty suggests things will change if Lisbon is passed. It also provides for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights: a very progressive legal instrument.

The Treaty also contains, for the first time ever, a commitment to public services (Art 14 TFEU & Protocol on Services of General Economic Interest) and full employment (Art 3 TEU). These were both key demands of the left in the European Convention, which drew up the previous Constitutional Treaty. So all in all Lisbon is one of the most progressive treaties that the EU has produced.

Maybe some people just need to look at it in a little more detail.

The guest writers of the Lisbon Essays are by invitation only. But if you have something of importance to say and would like to write for us, or see someone else in particular writing for us, then drop me a line: mick.fealty@gmail.com

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty