The future of Europe viewed from the left

Article by Helmuth Markov and Nora Schüttpelz in the booklet: „What kind of European Union“, edited by MuDr. Jiri Maštálka MEP & team.

What comes to mind when you think about Europe these days? For the majority of people it’s first of all – nothing concrete. Europe is somewhere over there, maybe in Brussels and maybe there’s a lot of money spent for things nobody really understands. Then you might remember that some legislation which affects national law is being made at this level. National politicians and media – no matter whether from the left or from the right wing – are always moaning about it when something is going to become too complex. But EU institutions including the European Parliament’s work could be nothing less than useless – on the contrary. There are at least three reasons why it indeed plays an essential role within the EU.s political framework.

First and foremost are the Members of the EP the democratically, directly and especially for European issues elected representatives of the peoples in the EU. Their task is to control the other institutions and to stand for the interest of their electorates.
Secondly, by taking this seriously, there have been quite a number of cases where the EP had an important influence on European legislation that directly affects people’s lives.
And thirdly: even where Parliament’s legislative power is limited, the mere raising of issues and continued insistence on certain standpoints can push political action. This is not the space for a full mid-term review, but we will give some successful as well as some less pleasant examples from the last two and a half years:

After a long time of hard work with Council and Commission there are now common EU rules on driving and resting hours of transport drivers including proper control mechanisms. What at first glance seems to be a minor point, actually contributes not only to legal certainty for enterprises working cross-border, but also to social security of workers and of course to road safety.
Similarly there is work going on on EU legislation on proper registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. So far there are thousands of them used everyday – in toys, food, clothes, sprays, furniture – without any prior assessment of their possible negative impacts on the health of workers and consumers and on the environment.

A crucial point for the left is the struggle against neoliberal approaches in all aspects of policy. A big success has been the firm rejection of the EU Commission’s twofold attempt to push a directive that would introduce patent right on software instead of the currently used application of copyrights. Such a law would result in a situation where only big TNC would be able to protect their inventions while SMEs would be unable to afford patent application – with insolvencies and dismissals as consequences. In the same way Parliament stood against the Commission’s plans for complete liberalisation of port services.
Concerning a similar attempt in the field of public transport it is the left group in the EP that calls for fundamental changes in the draft legal text and so far Commission seems to be willing to change its attitude. A case where success was very limited is the directive on services in the internal market, the so called „Bolkestein directive“. There had been big demonstrations against it, hard negotiations and some little changes for the better, but eventually the big political groups decided to follow the Commission’s proposal in the main aspects.

As international trade is concerned, the Commission holds the mandate for taking part in the WTO negotiations on behalf of all Member States and also tries to receive such mandates for trade negotiations with countries and regions outside the EU. In this field it follows a strict neoliberal policy focusing on the opening of markets, the lifting of customs and subsidies as well as the ‚marketisation‘ and privatisation of everything including public services. In the year 2006, the European Parliament has presented a so called own-initiative report which shows how international trade can contribute to the reduction of poverty in all parts of the world, instead of only providing additional benefits to those that are already strong and are supported by powerful lobby groups. Nothing against trade, but it must be fair. Everything well with the market, but the market sometimes fails. The fulfilment of the basic needs of people should never be dependent on the profit seeking private market, but has to be guaranteed by responsible political bodies. One of the obligations of left wing politicians is to identify, critise and hedge the neoliberal mainstream on national, European or global level. From our point of view this is in the interest of all people(s) – in Europe, in neighbouring countries, the developing world, but also in the working class let’s say in the US.
Market forces organise themselves on international level already long time and benefit from the setting of appropriate conditions. At the same time social standards, human rights, democratic participation, political and individual freedom are still not equally guaranteed for all, not even within the EU.

And here is where the second, even more difficult part of socialist policy begins: Work on a visionary, but still realist concept for our common global future. There are, of course, many good ideas and projects for peaceful and social solutions of many problems. But there is no model all left forces agree and work on together. Even on fundamental questions there is still a lack of common sense. For us, for example, it is very obvious that re-nationalisation of whatever political field can never be an option because problems as unemployment, unfair distribution of wealth or access to education and other public services, climate change, corruption etc. unfortunately do not stop at national borders. Therefore, a comprehensive discussion on how ‚another Europe‘ or ‚another world‘ shall be organised is urgently needed. Thereby, we think, it is not the question whether the EU should have less or more competences. Solutions to problems of society can only be found together. Concrete action, of course, has to be taken on the subsidiary levels by taking into consideration regional, cultural, traditional specifics and circumstances. Basic requirements on all levels should be considered the democratic participation of people and responsibility of politics.

Dr. Helmuth Markov is Member of the German Left Party.PDS-delegation in GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament since 1999. Nora Schüttpelz is political scientist and assistant of Helmuth Markov in Brussels.