Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why Socialism is Effectively Impossible in the EU

It is because the EU Treaties not only contain procedural protections for capitalism, they also entrench substantive policies which correspond to the basic tenets of neoliberalism. 

The EU is based on two core functional treaties, the Treaty on European Union (TEU, originally signed in Maastricht in 1992) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, originally signed in Rome in 1958 as the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community). These lay out how the EU operates, and there are a number of satellite treaties which are interconnected with them. Mostly they have been repeatedly amended by other treaties over the years since they were first signed, so a consolidated version of the two core treaties is regularly published by the European Commission. The EU can only act within the competences granted to it through these treaties and amendment to the treaties requires the agreement and ratification (according to their national procedures) of every single signatory.

Reforming the EU to make Socialism Possible

The methods of Treaty amendment are laid down in Article 48 TEU. Under the ordinary revision procedure, Member States must agree by common accord the amendments to be made to the Treaties. Under simplified revision procedures (used to revise Union policies), the European Council also must act unanimously. In each case, changes must be confirmed by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. Crucially, irrespective of which procedure is used, only one national government can veto treaty change. All 28 governments would have to want to give up capitalism simultaneously to change the Treaties such that socialism is possible. In other words, the treaties are designed to make socialist change impossible

Privatising Public Utilities

The socialist position would be that Member States should determine how big their own public sectors are. But EU liberalisation legislation consolidates privatisation. Nationalising sectors such as gas, electricity, telecommunications and postal services is prevented by giving corporations the right of accessing any market. The sort of extension of public ownership brought in by the 1945 Labour government could therefore be prohibited because the new public enterprises would have to compete with private firms in a capitalist market, and that is not socialism! It is the “competitive public ownership” sought by Labour right winger, Anthony Crosland, trying to undermine the efforts of the Attlee government and the welfare state it introduced after 1945. The EU makes publicly owned companies act like private companies--eg run for profit not for public benefit like the NHS--particular when the Treaty provisions on state aids are taken into account. Similar legislation on railways is presently going through the EU institutions.

All legislation in the EU has to come from the EU Commission and be submitted to  the Council and Parliament. Supposing that a socialistic national government sought to introduce EU legislation to allow all Member States a free choice over the public or private ownership of their energy, postal, telecommunications and rail sectors, it has to rely on the Commission to make and submit the proposal. Under Article 352 TFEU the Council must act unanimously, so a single national government can instruct its minister in the Council to veto the proposal, and ALL 28 must therefore agree from the outset their support. Once again it is impossible.


Assuming TTIP is agreed before the next UK general election, the prospects of the EU discarding it are even less likely. Assuming withdrawal is permissible, the TEU and TFEU do not make provision for how the EU actually does it. On the face of it, Article 352 TFEU with its unanimity requirement would have to be used, again allowing a single government to stop withdrawal from the TTIP. Again it is easier to do for a single independent state.

Facing up to the Constitutional Obstacles to Socialist Advance

Campaigners claiming it is possible to make the EU more left-wing, have the duty to explain it can be done in the face of EU treaty requirements of unanimity and common accord. At present, these requirements make socialism within the EU nigh on impossible. Those pretending there is a way forwards within the EU like Yanis Varoufakis, the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 2025), and “Another Europe is Possible”--have to show what the practical means are they propose to use to make progress against the EU constitution without tearing up the treaties which amounts to all 28 Member States rejecting the EU as it is.

Let us leave now, while we have a reasonable chance.

D. Nicol, ‘Is Another Europe Possible?’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (29th Feb 2016) (available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/

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