A Europe For The People – Not The Corporations
The European Union is experiencing a deep crisis and is reaping the bitter harvest of its austerity policies. It has become a bureaucratic machine that imposes rules and directives, without any democratic mandate.
Throughout the continent, many see it as an institution that props up the wealthy. The European Central Bank has printed billions of euros to ‘reflate’ banks and financial markets. But it has told people in Ireland (and in other countries) that they must cut back on public spending and increase their retirement age.
This attack on living standards has paved the way for the far right. Just like Donald Trump, parties like La Lega in Italy, the AfD in Germany, the Freedom Party in Austria and the National Front in France have grown through sowing divisions between working people and using a fake rhetoric about a ‘corrupt elite’ – even when they are bank-rolled by elements of big business.
Some of these parties are now in government, but they don’t make life better for working people. For example, the far-right Fidesz party in Hungary have passed a law to force workers to do up to 400 hours of overtime annually with payment held back for up to three years.
The EU’s only response to all of this is to seal its borders and let thousands die in the Mediterranean each year.
Instead of addressing the real problems, the EU is adopting strong arm tactics. Its latest project is to use the departure of Britain to build up an EU army and an arms industry. These represent a direct threat to Irish neutrality.
Another threat comes in the form of a hard border between North and South. People Before Profit is utterly opposed to any move that would see customs posts, immigration officials, police and army on the Irish border. People have every right to cross back and forth freely without any hindrance, but more fundamentally, a hard border will strengthen partition for decades to come and crush the aspiration for Irish unity.
People Before Profit is standing in the European election to raise these issues. We will be a strong left, EU-critical voice. By this we mean that we will stand with the people of Europe against the institutions from which they are under attack.
We demand more democracy, an end to corporate rule and respect for Irish neutrality, and we oppose moves to build up an EU military machine. We are a voice for workers’ rights; a critic of the deadening influence of big business, lobbyists and bankers; we are vigorous opponents of all forms of racism and of the far right. We will use the platform of the EU parliament to press for serious moves to stop our planet being destroyed by climate change.
In this manifesto, we spell out the policies that we will advocate in the European Parliament. But we are under no illusions that bringing democracy is an easy or even a possible task.
We see the election of genuine socialists as part of a wider process to create the conditions for a left government in Ireland. Such a government will have to take control of our banking system, end the privatisation of public services, build social housing on a vast scale and invest in our health and education sectors. No EU directive or threat should stand in its way because a left government will be democratically accountable to its own people rather than any EU elite.
Therefore, we say in advance: We are for the peoples of Europe – and we are opposed to the present corporate, elitist, unaccountable and military structure of the EU. We will act as a voice for workers, for women on low pay, for migrants because we know what it is to be an emigrant. We support far greater accountability in the EU and back every democratic reform.
But the road to real change will come from people power from below and the creation of left governments across Europe that are willing to uproot capitalism – and defy Brussels to do so.
Addressing The Democratic Deficit
The EU is an executive-run institution, where democratically elected representatives have little or no power. A member of the European Parliament cannot make a proposal for a legal change – unlike in the Dáil. Only the EU Commission can do that. The members of that commission are not elected and are unaccountable: they are often failed politicians appointed by the political elite in their own country.
They get an obscene salary of € 22,000 a month, which is what a young worker might receive in a year. On top of that, they get huge travel expenses, a low tax regime, a residency allowance of 15% of their salary, a family allowance and an entertainment allowance of €600 a month. The Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan, for example, claimed €15,000 in travel allowances for just two months.
This extravagant living means that EU Commissioners will invariably defend the privileged classes they mingle with.
When the EU proposes any measure, there is a long process of consultation with ‘advisory committees’ and ‘trialogues’, which are committees for horse trading with members of the European Parliament.
This shadowy process, which takes place away from the eyes of the public, is an ideal setting for corporate influence. There are 25,000 lobbyists at work in Brussels, the majority working for big corporations. Corporations like Shell, Google and General Electric spend between €4 and €5 million a year on these lobbying operations. They infiltrate and dominate the EU’s advisory bodies, which play a big role in shaping directives.
The other main decision-making body is the EU Council, composed of the heads of government, the presidents of the EU Council and Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This body often takes control of the EU in crisis situations.
No minutes are kept of their decision-making. We never know, for example, how Leo Varadkar voted or what exact ‘consensus’ he accepted. In reality, behind the Council stand more shadowy committees which do deals behind closed doors.
People Before Profit is determined to challenge this lack of democracy. We will push for:
- A complete ban on corporate lobbyists – their Brussels offices should be closed down, and EU officials should no longer deal with registered professional lobbyists;
- An end to advisory committees that are dominated by big business;
- EU Commissioners to be on an average EU wage – and to be elected directly in their country;
- National parliaments to be given the right to mandate representatives on how to vote on key decisions in EU institutions;
- The decision-making of the EU Council to be transparent, with voting records published after each meeting;
- That anyone standing for the EU Parliament publish a full manifesto of their policies – and report to the Dáil twice a year on how they voted on the various issues;
- For opposition to repression – to support the right of people in Catalonia to self determination.
A hard border is totally unacceptable to the majority of the people of Ireland. It would be fundamentally anti-democratic and risks increasing sectarian tensions on the island. Only the dinosaurs of the Democratic Unionist Party would welcome it because they want to strengthen partition – even if it leads to economic losses.
Up to now, the Irish government has made a great play on the level of solidarity it received from the EU. Establishment politicians refer constantly to ‘our partners’ and even ‘our gallant allies in Europe’. They give the impression that the EU has the interests of the Irish people at heart.
But this is a fundamental misreading of the situation.
Brexit involves a power-play between two economic bullies who are fighting over the terms of their divorce settlement. Both have been willing to play on a fear factor, threatening even the provision of food and medicine – all to get their way.
The EU has used Ireland primarily as a lever to push Britain into a settlement that benefits them. Once that lever ceases to be of any use, they will order the Irish government to impose border controls. This could happen before or after the British Tories start to erect a hard border on their side.
The Irish government is preparing its population for this possibility. They say they do not want to impose such a border – but they are willing to play the ‘no choice’ line eventually.
People Before Profit will stand firm against any such maneuvers:
- Our policy is to demand from the Irish government a public legal declaration that they will not impose a hard border.
- If the EU insists on such a border, the Irish government should state that the peace and security of this island are more important than EU rules.
- If, despite everything, moves are made to impose a hard border, People Before Profit will join with others in a campaign of civil disobedience to remove border posts.
- In such a crisis situation, it becomes imperative to unite as many people as possible behind a campaign of ‘people power’ to demand a border poll.
- In such a referendum, People Before Profit will argue that the end of partition is the only secure way to avoid a hard border.
- Winning such a poll will depend on showing that radical change is needed in the South to guarantee everyone access to a public health system and decent services. We also need to remove the Catholic Church from all public institutions.
- That is why we shall also push for a simultaneous referendum in the South to create a new People’s Constituent Assembly for a new united Ireland to replace the conservative and crony legacy of the Southern state.
Breaking From Neoliberalism & Austerity
Thatcherite economic policies are locked into the EU, and these are used as a cover by local politicians who pretend ‘they have no choice’.
These come in rules, directives and treaties and are supposedly backed up with fines. But when big countries ignore the rules, little is done. The threats are designed to intimidate countries in the periphery – or the PIGS as we were called. Here are some of the ways it works.
The Stability and Growth Pact: The EU says that a country cannot borrow more than 60% of its GDP or spend more than 3% beyond the tax revenues it takes in. This locks governments into low taxes and low social spending when combined with corporations who threaten to leave (think of the debate on Ireland’s 12.5% rate of corporation tax). When France or Germany breach these rules, nothing is done. But the Irish government uses this rule to say we cannot borrow to build public housing and recoup the loans from the rents paid. They even claim that the €8 billion in the Irish Sovereign Investment Fund cannot be used to build houses. This is unacceptable.
The ‘independent’ European Central Bank: The former head of this bank, Jean Claude Trichet, threatened that ‘a bomb would go off’ in Dublin if the Irish people did not hand over €64 billion to pay off the debts of private banks. This amounted to blackmail and the government should not have capitulated. The cost of that debt, in terms of public spending cuts and cutbacks to services was borne by the people of this country. We want that money back.
Competition rules about ‘distorting’ the market: If there is a charge for any public service, it falls into the EU category of ‘services of general economic interest’. This gobbledygook language is invoked to allow the EU to demand that private firms can compete for the service – and government ‘subsidies’ must be cut back. As we know from the proposal to impose water charges, these provisions would have opened the door to privatisation.
Privatisation directives: The EU has issued a series of directives to ‘liberalise’ electricity, gas, telecommunications and postal services. Liberalisation is a nice word for privatisation or part privatisation and it has been a disaster. In 2000, for example, Ireland was among the lowest for electricity prices in Europe, but today, after liberalisation, it has the highest electricity charges. One reason is that the ESB has been forced to subsidise the entry of private competitors to create a more ‘liberal market’.
Budget: Unelected bureaucrats now have more control over an Irish budget than many TDs in the Dáil. EU functionaries get a draft of the budget before it is brought to the Dáil and give ‘an official opinion’. If the budget does not limit public spending, they issue warnings and threaten fines.
Treaties: Following the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Commission is empowered to negotiate treaties with other countries around the world. But its mandate is to ‘achieve uniformity in measures of liberalisation’. To make matters worse, treaties like the current CETA treaty with Canada are negotiated in secret and allow big companies to sue governments if they are hampered by rules they think ‘distort’ the market.
All of these mechanisms are hard-wired into the institutional structure of the EU, making reform virtually impossible. A People Before Profit MEP will therefore see their role as helping to mobilise people in both Ireland and across Europe in defiance of these measures. Specifically,
If any left government emerges in Europe, we pledge maximum solidarity with its efforts to break from the Stability and Growth Pact and EU privatisation directives.
- We will support workers’ struggles against the effects of the EU austerity regime across Europe.
- We will ensure that our constituents are made aware of the mechanisms of corporate-friendly EU directives and the need to mobilise against them.
- We will demand that the ECB pay into a Brexit compensation fund to Ireland, whose purpose will be to compensate for economic losses and repair the damage caused by the bank bailout.
- We will use our position to reveal – where we can – the secret mechanisms by which the EU is negotiating treaties that will liberalise financial services and other areas.
- We will demand an end to undemocratic EU oversight of our budgets and insist that local people – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – have a right to decide on these matters.
- We will campaign for the Irish government to use the Irish Strategic Investment Fund to build social housing – no matter what the EU says.
Opposing EU Austerity, Women’s Inequality & The Gender Pay Gap
While gender equality and equal opportunities between men and women are acknowledged in the EU treaties, EU employment policy and austerity measures have allowed women’s inequality to persist.
EU austerity has resulted in cuts in public spending that are not gender neutral. The majority of public sector workers are women, and they have been at the receiving end of pay freezes, two-tier pay structures and reduced entitlements. Women are also more dependent on public services and welfare benefits. In Ireland, it was lone parents and young mothers who bore the brunt of cuts imposed by the Troika.
The EU gender pay gap has remained rigid. The difference in the average gross hourly wage between men and women across the EU is 16.2%. The overall earnings gap widens to 39.6% when lower hourly earnings, fewer hours in paid jobs and lower employment rates for women are taken into account.
One reason for the persistence of gender pay inequality is that the European Employment Strategy has prioritised the activation of women into the workforce without official support for the care and reproductive work mostly carried out by women. While more and more women in Ireland and across the EU are entering the workforce, they are forced to face the cost of childcare themselves. The EU Commission’s Barcelona Objectives on Childcare advocates ‘affordable high quality childcare’ but avoids saying it needs to be publicly funded. A People Before Profit MEP would:
- Highlight how EU austerity policies have fallen disproportionately on women and entrenched the gender pay gap. We support women workers fighting back against low pay.
- Call for a reversal of the cuts on child benefits and lone parent allowances made in the austerity years at the behest of the Troika.
- Demand that 1% of Ireland’s GDP be allocated to publicly-funded childcare in defiance of the EU fiscal budgetary rules.
Against Militarisation: No EU Army– Get Out Of Pesco
The prospect of an EU army is becoming more frighteningly real – and must be opposed. In June 2016, the EU Commission issued a document titled ‘A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy’. It claimed that ‘investment in security and defence is a matter of urgency. Full spectrum defence capabilities are necessary to respond to external crises’.
Jean Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, was blunt about what this means: He wants ‘a common European army [that] would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values’. Angela Merkel hailed a recent Franco-German pact because it ‘contributes to the creation of a European army’.
This is linked to a strategy to strengthen the EU arms industry whose weaponry gets sold to dictatorial countries like Saudi Arabia. A recent European Defence Fund has been set at €13 billion to promote research and development of new weapons. Private arms companies will be the main beneficiaries.
These moves have resulted in the formation of PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation framework. Its purpose is to bring together member states to make ‘more binding commitments with a view to the most demanding missions’.
Each PESCO member state has pledged to raise military spending to 2% of GDP. As Ireland only spends 0.4% at the moment, this will mean a fivefold increase – from about €960 million to about €4.5 billion.
A People Before Profit MEP will:
- Be a voice for Irish neutrality and will oppose every move to draw Irish soldiers into wars promoted by the big powers.
- Press for an immediate withdrawal of Ireland from PESCO so that we can use money to build houses and not bombs.
- Demand attendance at EU Committees dealing with defence so that developments towards an expanded arms industry can be exposed.
- Insist on a boycott of weapons sales to dictatorships and oppressors.
Almost everyone has heard of Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall to stop migrants entering the United States from Mexico. But there has been little focus on how the EU has deliberately turned the Mediterranean into a watery grave for thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and war.
In 2017, for example, 2,832 migrants died attempting to cross into the EU. Overall, the EU has cut the numbers of migrants entering the continent by 90% from its peak in 2015.
The way it has done so has been brutal. In 2016, it did a deal with Turkey to send back Syrian refugees. In return for receiving them, Turkey was granted €3 billion in aid.
The EU has spent vast sums on more border controls and on inducements to countries such as Algeria and Tunisia to detain migrants. Most shocking was the funding of detention centres run by the Libyan government and its paramilitary backers. This was despite clear evidence of slave auctions and rape in these centres. Scandalously, it is outlawing the activities of NGO rescue ships whose tireless work has saved the lives of thousands of migrants. Instead of supporting rescue efforts, the EU is funding the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea and return them to detention centres.
People Before Profit will campaign to:
- Allow NGOs to launch rescue missions to continue their humanitarian work;
- Rescind the pacts with Libya, Algeria and Turkey which allow the creation of migrant detention camps;
- Open the borders of Europe to all those fleeing persecution and war;
- Remove the Dublin Regulation, which forces asylum seekers to apply for status at the first country of entry;
- Create a special EU fund to help host countries with migrant support programmes, which include language training;
- Stop EU-armed intervention in crisis situations which force people to move countries.