Globalisation: the new spectre haunting Europe?

European officials, rattled by recent rejections of the EU constitution, are using scare tactics to try to win people’s support.

Bruno Waterfield

Topics Politics

After French voters rejected the European constitution in May 2005, followed swiftly by the Dutch, the EU elites’ response was marked by deep denial (1). Nearly one year on, a new strategy to win support is being devised ahead of a summit of EU leaders on 15 June 2006. Europe is to focus on ‘results’, working within current European treaties, to demonstrate to citizens the EU’s practical importance. After this, a 2008 technical review of the EU’s financing arrangements will be the moment for a new ‘institutional settlement’ (2), to be made ready for 2009.

A focus on making Europe work better, argued UK prime minister Tony Blair last year, will ‘help our people cope with globalisation’ (3). Globalisation, and the correct response to it, looms large in Europe’s post-constitution impasse. An internet search using the European Commission’s Rapid database finds that use of the term globalisation has increased threefold in public EU documents, occurring now on more than a daily basis since France’s ‘no’ vote (4).

The concept of globalisation represents the idea that the world is shaped by forces that are outside the control of individuals and individual nation states. Less about the development of the world market, globalisation is taken to represent the closure of ‘old politics’ and the rise of new political institutions, such as the EU. In this worldview, Europe’s citizens effectively wake up to the EU as soon as they relinquish political ideologies, and instead recognise their own vulnerability (5). Key aspects of a ‘globalised world’ that apparently establish the need for more EU, are terrorism, crime and the environment – all policy areas that are closely identified with the contemporary sense of human vulnerability.

The French and Dutch referendums did not halt the EU – an institution that makes a virtue of standing above the fray of national, democratic politics. Since last May terrorism has continued to be a major area for the ongoing constitution of the EU. The UK, as EU presidency, spearheaded the push to Europe-wide electronic surveillance legislation (6) – new developments that, in stark contrast to the European constitution, provoked media plaudits rather than public contestation.

The appeal is clear. Former UK home secretary David Blunkett found it impossible to push through mandatory data retention laws, to store information such as mobile phone records or email addresses, back in 2002. In the job in July 2005, Charles Clarke found that he could both avoid national debate and be a good European by securing the measures at the EU level. Moreover, Europe’s data retention laws were legislated using EU-qualified majority decision-making rather than the traditional inter-governmental agreement, by unanimity, for such sensitive justice measures (7) – the kind of development once viewed with suspicion by the UK and a mark of Europe’s proposed constitution.

Following this trend, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso last week warned that another Madrid or London-style terrorist attack could be the price of failing to fight crime at the EU level. The commission president highlighted public fears over terrorism as a priority for more EU. ‘Should we wait for another terrorist atrocity before we have effective joint decisions across Europe to fight terrorism?,’ he asked. The commission will on 28 June set out new proposals to transfer a ‘large number’ of justice measures, including police, judicial and counter terrorism powers to the EU institutions. ‘Security is increasingly becoming a concern of people in Europe. But it is a concern that is accompanied by a feeling of certainty that… the most effective response in the field of security is the European response’, Barroso said last week. ‘People are asking for “more Europe” in order to combat terrorism and organised crime. It is our duty to respond to this appeal, with or without a constitution.’

Many of Barroso’s points are as much about rhetoric as substance, but he is articulating a trend towards more EU-level criminal justice policy. Council of the EU documents show that the issue will loom large at the June EU summit. Draft agendas for the summit highlight a wide ranging ‘Europe protects’ session on security, and other globalisation policy areas. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA and the 11 March 2004 bombings in Madrid, a raft of EU justice measures, such as a European arrest warrant and data surveillance laws, have been passed. Officials are confident that many member states, now including those with some constitutional reservations, such as the UK, Ireland and Germany, are ready to allow the EU to take a new role. The European treaties allow powers to be transferred to decisions by EU votes in councils of ministers by unanimity. Such ‘passerelles’ have been historically difficult in terms of requiring unanimity, but the commission is confident the tide has turned. Here, the need to push though authoritarian measures is less important than the project to redefine the EU as bulwark for the vulnerable in a dangerous world. It is less about the concrete measures than finding points of connection.

Another key area for the commission is the environment. An internal, confidential, Brussels document, written by the commission’s environment director general Mogens Peter Carl, highlights growing ‘environmental awareness’ (8). ‘There will be increasing public pressure for more effective environmental action. Security concerns (linked to pollution scares, environmental terrorism, water or resource shortage, climate change related disasters or migration) will be on the increase’, he writes. Carl, privately, goes some way further than Barroso, publicly, in raising concerns over Europe’s workings as the EU expands to 27 – and possibly more – members without a constitution. ‘This greater variety of contexts may lead to increased tensions as regards the objectives of EU environment policy between member states that will want a pause in environmental efforts… and others that favour an ambitious environmental agenda’, states his paper. ‘The EU will need to contain centrifugal forces. But the way to do this will crucially depend on whether or not the constitution’s main provisions… will have been adopted.’

With or without the EU constitution, an outlook characterised by anti-humanism and the politics of fear has found deep roots in the institutions of the EU. The turn to a ‘Europe of results’ in the absence of a formal European constitution will deepen the EU’s dependence on the politics of powerlessness. The EU has emerged – with the most important developments occurring within the past 15 years – from the crystallisation of an elite outlook alongside the hollowing out of exhausted political traditions such as conservative, right-wing or liberal, socialist and left wing.

The EU’s ideology of globalisation is anathema to those who once pushed for a European federation. That vision of a European ideal, despite its many faults, sought to construct a project based on assumptions of progress and instrumentality. Today the EU seeks to organise Europeans around a consciousness of vulnerability. In the absence of any European ideal, the EU promotes a new outlook that suggests that individuals, and individual nation states, are powerless to link political purpose to outcome. Failing to win – or even have – an argument, Europe’s elites are resting on attempts to mobilise fears and fatalism to constitute the EU.

(1) See No means no, 31 May 2005

(2) No EU treaty until 2009, EUpolitix

(3) Speech to the European parliament, June 23 2005

(4) May 29 2004 to May 29 2005, search results for globalisation 107, globalization 10, globalised 32, giving a total of 149 texts. May 29 2005 to May 15 2006, search results for globalisation 311, globalization 40, globalised 83, giving a total of 434 texts.

(5) An example of the enfeebled approach to EU citizenship that is now the euro norm was a May 12 meeting bringing together EU social policy experts, NGOs and “people experiencing poverty”. The two day meeting took the theme: “How do we cope with every day life?”.

(6) See Europe: Where’s the spirit of liberty now?, 22 July 2005

(7) See EUpolitix, Electronic surveillance enters EU statute books, 21 February 2006

(8) MP Carl, 10 year outlook, April 21 2006. This seven page note to the commission’s secretariat general is not publicly available.

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Topics Politics


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