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June 02, 2005

Rebellion in Europe against Neoliberalism

Or at least that's how the No vote on the European Constitution is being spun:

There is a disaffection, perhaps even a rebellion, against the political elites in France, Germany and Italy.

The governing parties of the left and the right are saying the same things to their people: that painful, free-market economic reforms are the only path toward rejuvenation, more jobs, better futures. And the people, who have come to equate the idea of an expanded Europe with a challenge to cradle-to-grave social protections, are giving the same answer: We don't believe you.

I'm instictively in favor or European integration, since small countries are so easily whipsawed by corporations in a "race to the bottom" to lower taxes and gut workers rights in competing for jobs.  But if these "no" votes force European leaders to step back and rewrite the current EU constitutional draft into a more social democratic-friendly version, that could be all to the good.

Unfortunately, it's just as likely that this vote reflects xenophobia against fears of new immigrants and the possible membership of Turkey in the EU.  And the result of these no votes may lead to a bunch of small aging countries desperately keeping out new immigrants as they shore up their own welfare systems at the expense of a vision of an expanding Europe that can include and integrate new immigrants and new countries. 

It's a bit like the workforces at US car companies, where unions have won great pay and benefits but have failed in their organizing drives to expand those benefits to new workers in recent decades. 

Welfare states in Europe and large auto companies are good things, but defending them without a vision for extending them to the rest of the world can look downright reactionary when the alternative does not include new workers desperate to claim a share of that prosperity. 

It's a tough dilemma for progressives in an era of global competition and the tensions over the EU Constitution reflect them.  How those tensions are resolved by Europe's social democrats will say a lot about how we need to resolve them more globally.

Posted by Nathan at June 2, 2005 07:44 AM