Speech of Nikos Katsourides, Parliamentary Spokesman of AKEL [Communist Party of Cyprus] — Left-New Forces during the discussion in the House of Representatives on the ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty.
Dear President, Dear colleagues,
I am obliged to begin my speech by making an ascertation. The Cypriot parliament, in respecting the commitments undertaken in relation to the ratification date of the Treaty, has moved forward in an orderly way on the procedure despite the many important developments on the Constitutional Treaty. Developments which even by the jost conservative estimates place it’s possible adoption in the distant future. There are also well-founded political and legal analyses which in essence consider that the Treaty in it’s present form is dead. Consequently when we are going to vote tomorrow on the ratification law, the Cypriot people know that if the Treaty is ratified this will only be of a symbolic and not a substantive character.
Undoubtedly the Constitutional Treaty reflects the political, economic and institutional orientation of the EU and therefore represents an important document with enormous implications for the member states and it’s peoples. At the same time apart from the essence, which is related to the content of the Constitutional Treaty and the consequences that derive from it’s implementation, it is useful to underline two related elements.
The first has to do with our analysis that if the Treaty is approved it will be binding on the states and peoples of the European Union for the next 30 years, as the specialists calculate and hence it is necessary, provided that it constitutes to some degree a new beginning, that this new beginning should correspond to the social needs of enlarged Europe but mainly to the aspirations of it’s peoples, including that of the Cypriot people.
The second element is regarding what at first hand looks like a technical matter but which however has political and institutional extensions and hence requires the relevant attention. It has to do with the so-called principle of the supremacy of the acquit communautaire which for the very first time is institutionalised in such a very concrete way within the Treaty. Up till today the acquit communautaire predominated over the national legislations and whenever national law came into conflict with the binding acquit communautaire the former had to recede. Today the principle of supremacy is being extended since there is an attempt to place it over and above the Constitutions of the member states, a fact which negatively influences the fundamental right of popular sovereignty.
As far as it’s essential part is concerned, it should be said that the content of the Treaty is of course the result of many compromises. Compromises between the supporters of federalism and the so-called euro-sceptics, who basically are driven by ethno-centrism, compromises between the big and the small member states, mainly to the detriment of the latter, compromises between the Christian-democrats and the Socialdemocrats, to the degree of course that they disagree between themselves etc. Needless to say the role of the organised Left, the worker’s unions, the Movements that are fighting the neo-liberal globalisation, was deliberately limited through the composition of the Convention for the Future of Europe, which undertook the task of preparing the draft Constitutional Treaty.
Correspondingly, it is symptomatic and should be noted that three fourths of the Treaty’s articles were incorporated after the Greek Presidency of the EU and the Chalkidiki Summit session and therefore in no way were an object of debate at the Convention.
Another defining element, as regards the proceedings for the formulation of the Treaty was the fact that the Treaty itself was formulated in the conditions of US supremacy, heavily influencing the member states of the European Union and hence inevitably bearing the stamp of the new world order and neo-liberal globalisation, in which the USA, the multinational giants play the predominant role. That is to say it functions within the logic of euro-atlanticism, the dependence of the Union on the sole superpower, and for some a partner, the USA.
Dear President, Dear Colleagues,
AKEL has from the beginning evaluated the procedure concerning the formulation of the Treaty as a very important development in which it had participated in with two members of its Parliamentary Group. The whole of the Party membership was informed on the content of the Treaty through the holding of two national campaigns and finally was called upon to take a position and express their own personal opinion by voting on the Treaty and the proposal of the Central Committee. The Central Committee itself extensively dealt with the question of the Treaty in two special sessions. A comprehensive report which had been prepared by the Bureau of European Affairs of the Central Committee through a detailed analysis of the basic elements, both negative and positive, of the draft Treaty under ratification was discussed.
Therefore for us it was not a question of accepting or rejecting the Constitutional Treaty beforehand. We analysed, studied and discussed it in the leading bodies and with our members and today we are ready to take a position. In continuation I will outline the jost important matters which define our own position concerning the Treaty.
In relation to the positive elements, we note the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights laying out contemporary new rights which on the one hand are a part of the Constitutional Treaty but does not constitute a binding law. The Charter is not complete and is not effective enough since many of its provisions are of a declaratory and not of a binding character with concrete content or are abolished by the prevailing practise. Article II-111 says that the Treaty does not create new competence and new duties for the Union. Leading specialists in international law and on Constitutions have also expressed similar interpretations.
At the same time the unification of the Treaties, which are still in effect up till today, in a more comprehensive and intelligible document coupled with the parallel abolition of the classical pillars, are viewed as a positive element. Even if it ostensibly refers to a technical matter, it also takes on a political tinge since in one sense it makes the access of citizens to these documents easier, contributing even on a small scale to the reduction in the so-called democratic deficit, the distance between the citizens and of the peoples in general from the centres of decision-making.
Another aspect is the inclusion for the first time in the goals of the European Union of the aim of peace and the reference to its obligation to respect international law and especially the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Bearing in mind the "theories" concerning a "new" international law and a new Charter, through the abolition of basic principles of international law, this declaratory at least reference is positive. Unfortunately, as will be shown later on, the basic provisions of the Treaty cancels out this reference since they propose procedures which fall short of the Constitutional Charter of the UN and violate international law. A concrete example is the inclusion of the American dogma of the preventive wars into the Treaty.
We can even count amongst the positive factors the inclusion in the competence of the Union, within the framework of the spheres of justice and internal affairs, the combating of racism and xenophobia as well as the widening of the fields where the European Parliament acquires competence or shared competence with the Commission and the Council. However Parliament continues to abstain from exercising its true role in the legislative field since the exclusive say in the initial formulation of legislation is by the Commission and the Council.
We consider the attempt to institutionalise and deepen the neo-conservative model of managing capitalism as the jost negative aspect of the Treaty. On a concrete level the social direction of the European Union, as it is defined in article I-3, includes the creation of an area of "freedom, security and justice without any internal borders and a common market where competition is free and unshackled" as well as " an extremely competitive social market economy".
The above mentioned reference should be seen in conjunction with the established socio-economic policies as well as the fact that within the Treaty the unbridled role of the European Central Bank is safeguarded, which defines the economic and monetary policy for all the member states and maintains the Maastricht criteria and the Stability Pact, which together form the strict model in which the member states must act. The strict compliance with the criteria is imperative, since any deviation would constitute a violation of the acquit communautaire and therefore renders the member states subject to serious sanctions, e.g. the process of excessive deficit, exemption from structural funds, the imposition of fines etc.
Recently we witnessed the revision of the Lisbon Strategy, which reflects perfectly the neo-liberal logic which also characterises the Treaty and puts the increase in competitiveness of the businesses and the further growth in their profits above that of people and their needs.
As the Party of the working people, as a component part of the European and international Left, we are obliged to oppose the policies which the ruling classes of the EU promote and which in no way serve the popular interests. As far as Cyprus is concerned positive socio-economic realities, which were gained through decades of struggle and sacrifices in the interests of the working people, peasants, small artisans and lower middle strata, that is the people who in the final analysis live by selling their working force or by using their knowledge and virtuosities, would make things worse for the lower and middle strata if any moves were made to deepen and institutionalise neo-conservatism. Furthermore we are opposed to the concrete neo-liberal management model of capitalism amongst other things:
— because the Treaty attempts to impose a concrete socio-economic model for managing capitalism, a neo-conservative one, on the 25 member states, irrespective of the popular will and political balance of forces in each country.
— because many of the policies which derive from this neo-liberal model have been tried and have failed in Cyprus during the 10 years of the right-wing government headed by the "Democratic Rally" party, as the people have judged in successive election campaigns.
— because the results of these policies being implemented in the EU states have had a particularly negative effect on the working people and the lower middle strata.
— because neo-conservatism crushes the social welfare state, reduces the benefits in the fields of education, health and housing, drives towards the privatisation of public wealth and its selling off to serve the interests of private capital and increases unemployment especially among young people.
— because the imposition of these policies in such a devastating way also in Cyprus, as the Right-wing wants to do, will mean that there is a serious possibility of similar social phenomena. Moreover the trimming down of the Cost of Living Allowance, the reduction in benefits and the attempt to sell off semi-public services represented the main policy guidelines of the 10 year "Rally" decade.
— because the neo-conservative model if it is allowed to be constitutionalised:
1. will push for the further privatisation of the public service sphere in the interests of big capital, the result being that public wealth will be exploited by the oligarchy instead of the whole of society reaping its benefits.
2. will consolidate the trend which is existing in the EU countries and which leads to the reduction of state help towards the lower and middle income strata and the absorption of such funds by private capital and big business.
3. will intensify the arbitrariness of the employers who are promoting the so-called flexible hour schedule, work without any right other than a simple wage, prohibition of workers activities in unions and the arbitrary employment and redundancy of working people.
4. will accelerate the trend towards the reform of the system of social security and protection which allows employers to reduce their contribution and which in the end makes insurance optional in the name of – so it is claimed- the viability of the businesses and the improvement of competitiveness.
An especially negative development is also being witnessed in the field of the common security and defence policy (as well as in the common foreign policy) where the use of the army is institutionalised to be sent to " missions outside the Union, in order to safeguard the preservation of peace, the prevention of conflicts…." The policy in question will "respect the obligations which derive from the North Atlantic Treaty…." That is to say the common defence policy and in essence the foreign policy of the Union, henceforth institutionally, will come under the approval of NATO (article I-41), thus becoming even more tied to it.
At the same time the USA dogma of pre-emptive war is adopted, which clashes with the Constitutional Charter of the United Nations and international law in general. Concretely, apart from article I-41, we note the solidarity clause of article I-43, which allows the use military force, amongst other things, for the prevention of a terrorist threat, not even an act. This was also the pretext for the invasion into Iraq, as with the case of Afghanistan beforehand.
Through these regulations, the Union essentially is moving away from the prospect of the formulation of a democratic, independent, peace-loving and progressive foreign policy, a policy which the European Left but also AKEL through its congress decisions supports.
Moreover, a concerted well-planned effort to militarise international relations is being observed through the consolidation of the so-called structured co-operation of all those states, as the Treaty states, that "comply to high criteria of military capability" for the "realisation of demanding military missions," through the exemption of foreign policy from judicial control and the creation of a European Organisation of Armaments, Research and Military Capability. Along with all these factors we should also add the setting up of units of rapid intervention within the framework of the European army, which for the time being numbers around sixty thousand soldiers.
It should be noted that we are in a position to know that within the confines of closed meetings which are being held this period in the Union, policies based on the Iraq model to be implemented in the future are being discussed and chosen. That is to say that invasions will take place on the basis of the logic of preventive wars, in the name potentially of the struggle against terrorism and subservient governments will be put into power who will serve the geo-strategic interests of the USA, NATO and the ruling classes of the European Union.
At the same time a Europe of multiple tiers is to be institutionalised through a series of procedures, which drastically reduce the process of unanimity, strengthened collaborations are to be introduced (article 44) which allow a number of 8 states to establish between them strengthened collaboration in special fields etc.
For the smaller member states, including Cyprus, the above mentioned represent certainly a step backwards, as is the abandonment in practise of the logic of "one Commissioner for every member state." In the future Commissioners will be elected in turn and thus small member states who do not have powerful institutional access to the centres of decision making at their disposal, as is the case for the larger member states, will lose this powerful mainstay, even if theoretically the Commissioners do not represent governments.
Finally, in the field of justice and internal affairs a committee with the sole role of co-ordinating and harmonising national policies with matters relating to internal security is to be established. This committee will not be subject to parliamentary control. At the same time the judicial control of decisions and actions which shall take place in the fields of justice and internal affairs will be excluded.
The European parliament is excluded from the joint formulation of policies and planning with the Council, leaving this sensitive field, which has to do with political rights, subject to political decisions. Apart from the theory of course we must say that today electronic surveillance constitutes an officially recognised practise, which is imposed on the member states by the function of the so-called National Information System Schengen offering a continuous stream of information to the Central Information System Schengen in Brussels.
Dear President, Dear colleagues,
Within the framework of this analysis it is clear that the qualitative characteristics of the negative aspects outnumber by far the positive elements of the Treaty. In our own opinion, the constitutional imposition of neo-conservatism, the downgrading of the social state, the NATOisation of the foreign and defence policy of the European Union, the militarisation of international relations outside the bounds of international law and the curtailment of civil rights and freedoms in the name of the so-called repression of terrorism removes us from our vision, which is a constant party congress position since 1995, for the Europe of the peoples.
Consequently, based on the above mentioned and bearing in mind the social and economic realities in Cyprus and the European Union, as well as the need for the Left to project its own alternative vision and progressive vision for today’s Europe but also for tomorrow’s Europe, our Parliamentary Group will vote against the relative to the Treaty ratification law.
For sure, apart from our position on the Treaty, which is totally compatible with our wider social and economic orientations, there are also other matters which must be taken into account, mainly that of the Cyprus problem.
As a Party which puts the national interest above that of class and social orientations, if we judged that a possible vote against the Treaty would influence the Cyprus question in a negative manner, we would not hesitate not for one minute to take a different position. And this despite our legitimate and serious disagreements with the content of the Treaty. That is how for eight decades now we carry out our political activity and shall continue to do so until the day, where in conditions of reunification, peace and security we can set new priorities as the Party of the Cypriot working people.
Voices are being heard which support for example the position that the European Union will stop playing a catalytic role in the efforts to solve the Cypriot problem if we do not vote in favour of the Constitutional Treaty so as to secure their favour. The reality is very different. In the past we have and continue to hold the belief that the EU plays and potentially could continue to play a catalytic role in the efforts to intensify the attempts to solve the Cyprus problem.
However it did not exercise this catalytic role, which led one and a half years ago to political and diplomatic activity, in the right direction and did not give any importance to matters of principle, leading to the well known outcome of the efforts. On the other hand we know that the handlings of the leading circles of the EU are based on class and other interests and we consider as politically naive the suggestion made by some people that the strategic choices of the EU on the Cyprus problem depend on our position on separate and specialised questions, as is the case with the Constitutional Treaty.
Moreover the coincidence which this activity had brought about, which was related to the accession of the Cyprus Republic to the European Union and the European prospect of Turkey, continues to exist and keeps the prospect of the EU again taking on its catalytic role alive.
We continue to believe that through our own insistence on principled positions and on the relative respect to European as well as international values, from those forces that determine policy within the Union, such as the respect to international law and human rights that the Union opens up a perspective and offers possibilities in the direction of helping the efforts of the UN for a short and proper solution. At the same time we do not hesitate in criticising and opposing the manoeuvrings of the member states of the EU, which have at the centre of their logic the upgrading of the pseudo-state and the consolidation of partition instead of the reunification of the island.
The supporters of the Constitutional Treaty hold the position that those who will vote against the Treaty aim to provoke problems to the Union because they disagree with the very existence of the Union. Nothing is further from the truth. AKEL does not agree with the concrete Constitutional Treaty because it has a vision of a different Europe. A European Union in which the policies of peace and stability, democracy and social justice, social solidarity and the respect of people irrespective of their origin, political or any other beliefs, religion, sex and colour of their skin will dominate. We envision the creation of a united Europe, an idea that was conceived and analysed long before Monet by one of the classical thinkers of our own ideology.
For AKEL, for the Left forces generally, apart from the Cyprus problem which concerns us especially, the task is to create the preconditions for this different kind of Europe through continuous efforts and struggles. We do not strive to abolish the European Union but to change and redefine its political and social direction in favour of its peoples and not the monopolies.
We reject the Constitutional Treaty because we disagree:
1. With the constitutional imposition of neo-conservatism and what that entails for the working people.
2. With the dismantling of the social state.
3. With the restriction of the political rights of the ordinary citizen in the name supposedly of security.
4. With the reduction in the freedoms of the individual in the name of the so-called repression of terrorism.
5. With the dependence of the foreign and defence policy of the European Union on NATO.
6. With the militarisation of international relations in contradiction to international law.
7. With the indirect subjugation of Europe to American imperialism.
8. With the continuation of the existence of the democratic deficit, which is also expressed through the fact that the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not binding.
9. With the undemocratic behaviour of the leading circles of the EU after the "NO" vote who by their refusal to accept the renegotiation of the Treaty have reaffirmed in essence that they do not express the feelings of the peoples.
Our position is that the recent developments concerning the rejection of the Treaty by the French and Dutch people, in connection with the general admission, even on behalf of the inspirations of the Treaty that they need to listen to the peoples, represent a golden opportunity for the leading circles of the EU to work along with the peoples of Europe this time, with the organised forums and parties to draw up a new document, more democratic in its functioning and more just as regards social and economic orientations.
Of course, for AKEL, the matter of the EU is not a question of a complete and unproductive refusal or an absolute and thoughtless acceptance of the Treaty. We do not act in a non-dialectic fashion nor do we adhere to the logic of one-sided simplistic interpretations but conduct our politics in a dialectic way. We do not subscribe to the view that the EU is one and the same as the USA. Nor do we however harbour any illusions that the Union, in its present character, can give answers to the terrible social deadlocks of capitalism, which is responsible for the long-standing and expanding social problems which millions of European citizens are ravaged by. Therefore for AKEL, for the Left in general, everything is a question of making the correct evaluation of the situation and realities, the prioritisation of goals and visions and mainly the need to struggle and campaign.
We know of course that the EU will not change by making simple wishes or by corrective movements which in effect would only achieve cosmetic changes to the Treaty. Our position is that whatever negotiation takes place for a new Treaty must express indispensably the will of the peoples of Europe, which was totally neglected in the process that led to the formulation of the present document. I will repeat it again. Three fourths of the articles of the Treaty were incorporated behind closed doors after the Summit Meeting of Chalkidiki during the Greek Presidency and were not subject to any real and broad negotiations.
Dear President, Dear colleagues,
without doubt the participation of the Cyprus Republic in the EU is a challenge for our island and a double challenge for the Left and AKEL. We consider our institutional presence in the European Union as one more platform to struggle and campaign. Through the rejection of the concrete Constitutional Treaty we express our position and demand for a new Treaty which will listen to the demands of millions of European citizens not to a handful of multinational companies.
Naturally as a Party that knows that battles are waged and won in the arena of political and social struggles, we recognise that despite what will be included in whatever present or future Treaty will be drawn up, we should not pin all our hopes simply and only in a Treaty, a legal document. Undoubtedly the institutional framework is very important. However in politics nothing is handed to you and nothing is taken for granted. Everything is a question of struggle, political balances and possibilities.
In talking about Cyprus, our struggle will continue constantly also in the extreme case of the Treaty or some other similar document finally being approved. By using the accumulated experience of eight decades of social struggles of our Party, the progressive workers unions and in general of the wider Popular Movement, but also due to the favourable coincidence presented by the existence of the government of Change and our own determination and insistence for the adoption and implementation of those policies which are included in the Programme for Government favouring the interests of the people, we are convinced that the Cypriot working people will continue to enjoy, and indeed why not extend their vested rights, which we will never hand over to local and foreign capital.
Our constant goal is the achievement of another type of Europe, a Europe of peace, democracy and social justice. We shall continue to fight for such a different Europe which is feasible. The recent developments concerning the "NO" vote of the peoples to neo-liberalism, the mass popular mobilisations in Europe and elsewhere against neo-liberal globalisation, the pressing need for a different, more progressive and truly new world order, renders the role of the Left as more significant than ever. As far as AKEL is concerned we shall continue to fight in the forefront of the social struggles of the Cypriot working people and we shall contribute to the effort to create the preconditions for the Europe we are envisioning. The Europe of the peoples.