Thursday, June 23, 2005

Trade Union Leader Attacks Blair in Belfast Meeting

John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, was speaking yesterday at the Waterfront in Belfast for the ICTU Congree, during his speech, he strongly attacked Tony Blair by saying: "it was more opportunism than principle which motivated the Blair Government at the summit - and in consequence, they inflicted further damage on the European project. New Labour sermons about the need for change and reform will neither get nor deserve a hearing while the UK plays to its own eurosceptic gallery." More here:

Introduction by John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation
Irish Congress of Trade Unions

To be checked against delivery

"President, delegates, fellow guests, Brendan, it is a real pleasure to be meeting in your home city - a city that has seen so much conflict, so much suffering yet also exhibits spirit and vitality, and invariably displays optimism about its future.

After recent events - the French and Dutch referendums and last week’s summit, working in the European Union today feels a bit like that. There is this cocktail of emotions, this mixture of hope tinged with worry and concern about the future. That’s what I want to address today. My speech will remind delegates of what the EU means to the working people of Ireland, the UK and elsewhere, and also make the case for a fight to establish the EU anew in the affections and loyalties of people in Europe and beyond.

This Congress has a long and honourable record in promoting peace in Ireland, and well beyond Ireland across the world. The European Union has been the world’s biggest and most successful peace process - healing the wounds of two world wars, and of the underlying conflicts which, in some cases, went back centuries - the conflicts which made Europe the world’s bloodiest continent in the 20th century.

Conflict was replaced by prosperity with Ireland, a particularly spectacular example of success; and within the context of this new co-operation project called Europe, resources are shovelled from the rich to the poor. The single market gives scale and dynamism to economic activity and ancient rivalries which afflict many parts of Europe have, at least in the West, been put, if not entirely to rest, then very firmly on one side.

And you can see the same healing process working now in the 10 new member states. There are complex ethnic mixtures all over Central and Eastern Europe - with different minorities scattered around. The EU has made it a strict condition of membership that there is full recognition of minority rights and absolutely no discrimination and that has helped anchor these new states as democracies.

Apart from spreading peace, the EU has promoted democracy. It was only 30 years ago that we had fascist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, 15 years ago since Eastern Europe was under the Warsaw Pact. The EU has quietly been helping the pro-democracy movements dig in and thrive.

And surely it is the EU historic mission to do the same in the Balkans where memories of bloody civil war have been only too recent.

Yet the ‘no’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums, and the British decision not to proceed with a referendum for the time being at least, have plunged the EU into crisis - a crisis which could be prolonged and paralysing without good co-operative leadership and collective action.

We saw the opposite of that in Brussels last week. After a major challenge to Europe’s future in the French and Dutch referendums, a challenge which needs skilled and creative leadership to overcome, we had a major contretemps about the EU budget.

When some statesmanship was needed, we saw nationalistic gallery-playing to divert attention from the problem about the EU Constitution. The British blame the French and vice versa. Others widen the blame, and ancient rivalries become faintly visible across the European Union.

And so to what was a constitutional crisis, and in many countries, a crisis in the economy too, we have to add a self-inflicted budgetary crisis too.

And while it pains me to say so, the UK Labour Government is at the heart of this crisis.

It was only 3 weeks ago that the UK linked the issue of its rebate to reform the Common Agricultural Policy; and only last year that the UK was among those blocking a proposal to limit the open-ended compensation paid to the largest farmers - the biggest scandal of the CAP.

So it was more opportunism than principle which motivated the Blair Government at the summit - and in consequence, they inflicted further damage on the European project. New Labour sermons about the need for change and reform will neither get nor deserve a hearing while the UK plays to its own eurosceptic gallery.

At the moment, we have an avowedly pro European Government blocking the budget, blocking key Social Europe issues like ending the opt-out from the working time directive and leading moves to put the Constitution in cold storage. It’s a good job that we do not have a Eurosceptic Government! But it is not just the UK. The ETUC Executive Committee met last week and recognised that while 10 countries have ratified the constitution, France and the Netherlands, two founder member states of the EU, have delivered a powerful blow, not just against the EU Constitutional Treaty but against the way the current European project is being managed.

They voted ‘no’ for many reasons, European and national, but fear of lower social standards and neo-liberal policies, of insecurity and precarious work, and of high unemployment played key parts.

The people of our continent rightly expect urgent action from Europe’s leaders. Not to act would encourage the opponents of the European project who are already seeking to weaken it. We supported the European Constitutional Treaty, stressing that the introduction of social values, social objectives, social dialogue and the charter of fundamental rights are important steps in the right direction. It is a compromise for sure but from a trade union point of view, the Constitution, brokered by the Irish Government, is a pretty good deal.

We also need a macro economic growth strategy.

The Member States have responsibilities now to find ways of proceeding both with the Constitutional Treaty and the development of Europe and not play to their own gallery.

But the French and Dutch votes were a wake-up call. The ETUC want a wide recognition that

* there will be no chance of gaining popular support in all countries for Europe without more successful economies and an effective social dimension, aiming to provide security in the process of change
* there is an overriding need to restore confidence in Europe by promoting Social Europe, more and better jobs, fundamental rights and growth-friendly macro-economic policies

* And we are calling for the EU and the social partners to draw up a new economic, employment and social pact reflecting a new measure of will to face the future together and make Europe fully ready to handle the globalisation process.

Moreover the European Council has to show that it is able

* firstly to come quickly to an agreement on the financial perspective with a substantial programme for growth, investment and research on the basis of a fair contribution and distribution for all Member States and a clear commitment to social and regional cohesion and solidarity.

* and secondly to regain the trust of the European citizens in integrating the social dimension in European politics (for example a Services directive - the so-called Bolkestein directive - which does not threaten a race to the bottom on labour standards; a working time directive which does not contain a British opt-out allowing workers to be pressured to work all hours; and protection for temporary agency workers). We had a demonstration on these matters in Brussels last March 19 in which 75,000 European workers voiced their support for Social Europe.

That met with one immediate success. The Bolkestein directive is being fundamentally revised in our direction. And while I cannot report similar progress on the Working Time directive, I believe that Social Europe is alive and well, that the French vote in particular put it centre stage, and that we should build on this.

So, today, President, at a time of European crisis, let us issue a call for European renewal, a call for the reconnection of Europe’s citizens to the project of building a stronger Europe committed to peace, justice and solidarity on our continent.

Let us initiate and participate in a frank debate about how big Europe should get; how it should spend its money, and how much its budget should be; how to strengthen Social Europe and make it dynamic in a world of rapidly emerging, new industrial powers. Let us build a new political manifesto for Europe - popular and realistic but also ambitious. Not to be America’s poodle but to stand as a powerful friend to democracy, peace and solidarity.

European countries, however venerable and significant, cannot do these things on their own. Old neighbours, who don’t get on together, squabble and achieve little. Working together, standing together, acting together achieves much.

Unity is strength in the trade union world. Unity is strength in Europe too.

To you all in Ireland, very best wishes for the future and thanks from the ETUC for all your support."


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