"Let us for a moment grant that German militarism succeeds in carrying out the half-union of Europe... what then would be the central slogan of the European proletariat? Would it be the dissolution of the forced European coalition and the return of all people under the roof of isolated national states?...
The programme of the European revolutionary movement would then be: the destruction of the compulsory, anti-democratic form of the coalition with the preservation and furtherance of its foundations, in the form of complete annihilation of tariff barriers, the unification of legislation, above all of labour laws. In other words the slogan of the United States of Europe - without monarchies and standing armies - would under the indicated circumstances become the unifying and guiding slogan of the European revolution." Leon Trotsky, from The Peace Programme of 1915
In 1949 the bourgeois governments of western Europe made a first attempt at political unity by setting up the Council of Europe. It was a feeble body of government ministers and parliamentary representatives appointed by its member states. It had few or no powers. Since that time the European bourgeoisie has made many incremental moves towards economic and political integration (with the economic taking priority over the political).
The European Coal and Steel Community, the first step toward what is now the European Union, was founded in 1951. The European Economic Community was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. In 1967 a Council of Ministers and a European Assembly (parliament) were set up.
In 1949 Europe was recovering from a savage global war that started when Hitler’s brutal Nazi regime marched his armies into neighbouring countries. At the end of that war an estimated 38 million people had been killed in action or died in concentration and extermination camps. 21 million had been uprooted from their homes. Western European economic and political integration was an attempt by the various capitalist powers to recover from the devastation of the Second World War.
At the recent European intergovernmental conference in Rome the national bourgeois governments of the European Union began the last stage of a process that will end in a new constitution for Europe. The planned constitution includes a permanent EU president and foreign minister, greater powers for the European Assembly over a greater range of issues (but not tax or social security), strengthening the common defence force, a two tier European Commission (only the bigger powers will be permanent members); the adoption of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights into the constitution and qualified majority voting over a much wider range of issues. The constitution is likely to settle the relationships between the powers in an expanded European Union for a long time to come. (Ten new countries will join the EU in 2005, another three could join in 2007.) The constitution will inaugurate a very great degree of integration, and maybe - short of massive political upheavals - as much as we are likely to see in a bourgeois Europe. We Europeans are now living in something like a United States of Europe.
What should socialists say to that? We should say, clearly and emphatically, in the loudest voice we can muster, long live the United States of Europe! But this is capitalist integration! This new European political system embodies the domination of bigger European capitalist powers over the smaller powers. We cannot welcome a common defence force in Europe. And the expansion of Europe will increase the ability of European capitalism to prey upon weaker capitalist nations.
All this is true but the bourgeois alternative of national conflict and war would be - and was - a great deal worse! In today’s Europe it is inconceivable that France would go to war with Germany, or Britain with France. The pattern of centuries: of national rivalries pursued through trade wars, gunpowder, bullets and bombs is, for this historical period at least, over.
Of course capitalist rivalry and competition has not ended. Of course the European powers - and Britain under Tony Blair takes the lead here - still participate in wars. The persecution of national minorities and xenophobia against refugees is very much a part of the new Europe too. Yet the rigid national barriers that once existed have been severely weakened. That is a good thing. Socialists cannot oppose that development. It is laying down the conditions for a real unity of national working class movements, for a genuine international struggle by the European proletariat against the European bourgeoisie.
Most of the left in Britain will pit themselves against the European constitution, just as they reject the entire edifice of the European Union. Yet the Marxist tradition always advocated the unification of Europe. And the Marxist approach was always to fight the bourgeoisie for democratic and social reform, to fight the bourgeoisie within their system, as the way to assemble the forces for revolution. That is Solidarity’s approach and it is why we advocate a positive working class programme for Europe, which must now include such things as:
* Democratise the new constitutional arrangements. For a sovereign elected European Parliament with full control over all EU affairs. A fully operational and inclusive Parliament will make it easier for the European working class to forge a united fight for its demands.
* For a levelling up of working class living standards and conditions. Right now Blair wants Britain to not be constrained by the EU charter of rights which advocates the right to strike. We fight for the right to strike across Europe.
* Scrap the proposed defence force.
* Fight for a united working class movement and a rebuilt European socialist movement.
The Tories are pushing for a referendum on the new constitution. For their own reasons the Tories are just as opposed as the Europhobe far left to European political integration. They would like to see the whole constitutional process falter and fail.
While socialists are not in principle against a referendum on the issue, we should see the Tories’ call for a referendum for what it is. We want a more democratic decision about a new EU constitution: but the way to get that would be a sovereign, European Constituent Assembly, a democratically-elected assembly with constitution-making powers. In any referendum socialists would accept neither of the bourgeois alternatives: a cobbled together structure where the parties and policies of the bourgeoisie will continue to dominate. Nor do we want to see a splitting up of Europe into separate, isolationist states.
We campaign for the positive programme of the working-class; we counterpose international working-class unity to the "internationalism" of the European bourgeoisie. Yes to the United States of Europe! Forward to the Socialist United States of Europe!