Oscar Reyes https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/1671/all cached version 17/01/2019 20:08:27 en Eight lessons from Barcelona en Comú on how to Take Back Control https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/oscar-reyes-bertie-russell/eight-lessons-from-barcelona-en-com-on-how-to-take-bac <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After 20 months in charge of Barcelona, here are eight things we have learned from Ada Colau and Barcelona en Comú.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/PA-30171811.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/PA-30171811.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A pro-refugee protest in Barcelona. 18 Feb 2017. PAimages/NurPhoto/SIPA USA. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>“We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.”&nbsp; – Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona.</em></p> <p>On 24 May 2015, the citizen platform <em>Barcelona en Comú</em> was elected as the minority government of the city of Barcelona. Along with a number of other cities across Spain, this election was the result of a wave of progressive municipal politics across the country, offering an alternative to neoliberalism and corruption.</p> <p>With Ada Colau – a housing rights activist – catapulted into the position of Mayor, and with a wave of citizens with no previous experience of formal politics finding themselves in charge of their city, <em>BComú</em> is an experiment in progressive change that we can’t afford to ignore.</p> <p>After 20 months in charge of the city, we try to draw some of the main lessons that can help inspire and inform a radical new municipal politics that moves us beyond borders and nations, and towards a post-capitalist world based on dignity, respect and justice.</p><h2><strong>1.&nbsp;</strong><strong>The best way to oppose nationalist anti-immigrant sentiment is to confront the <em>real</em> reasons that life is shit</strong></h2> <p>There is no question that life is getting harder, more precarious, more stressful, and less certain for the majority of people. In the US and across Europe, reactionaries, racist and nationalist politicians are blaming this on two things – immigrants, and ‘outside forces’ that challenge national sovereignty. Whilst Trump and Brexit are the most obvious cases, we can see the same phenomenon across Europe, ranging from the <em>Alternative für Deutschland</em> in Germany through to <em>Front National</em> in France.</p> <p>In Barcelona, there is a relative&nbsp;<em>absence</em> of public discourse that blames the social crisis on immigrants, and most attempts to do so have fallen flat. On the contrary, on 18 February over 160,000 people flooded the streets of Barcelona to demand that Spain takes in more refugees. Whilst this demonstration was also <a href="https://roarmag.org/essays/barcelona-refugee-solidarity-protest/">caught up with</a> complexities of Catalan nationalism and controversy over police repression of migrant street vendors, it highlighted the support for a politics that cares for migrants and refugees.</p> <p>The main reason for this is simple – there is a widespread and successful politics that provides <em>real</em> explanations of why people are suffering, and that fights for <em>real</em> solutions. The reason you can’t afford your rent is because of predatory tourism, unscrupulous landlords, a lack of social housing, and property being purchased as overseas investments. The reason social services are being cut are because the central government transferred huge amounts of public funds into the private banks, propping up a financial elite, and because of a political system riddled with corruption.</p> <p>Whilst Barcelona played a leading role in initiating a network of “cities of refuge”, simply condemning anti-immigrant nationalism is not enough. In a climate where popular municipal movements are providing a strong narrative as to what they see as the problem – and identifying what they’re going to do about it – it’s incredibly difficult for racist and nationalist narratives based on lies and hatred to take root.</p><h2><strong>2.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Politics does not have to be the preserve of rich old white men</strong></h2> <p>Ada Colau is the first female mayor of Barcelona. She is a co-founder of <em>BComú, </em>and was formerly the spokesperson of the <a href="http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/"><em>Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca</em></a><em> </em>(Mortgage Victims Platform)<em>,</em> a grassroots campaign challenging evictions and Spain’s unjust property laws. Colau leads a group of eleven district councillors, seven of whom are women, whose average age is 40. &nbsp;</p> <p><em>BComú</em>’s vision of a “feminized politics” represents a significant break with the existing political order. “You can be in politics without being a strong, arrogant male, who’s ultra-confident, who knows the answer to everything”, Colau <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67CmYlFnOV4">explains</a>. Instead, she offers a political style that openly expresses doubts and contradictions. This is backed by a values-based politics that emphasizes the role of community and the common good – as well as policies designed to build on that vision.</p> <p>The City Council’s new Department of Life Cycles, Feminisms and LGBTI is the institutional expression of these values. It has significantly increased the budget for campaigns against sexist violence, as well as leading a council working group that looks to identify and tackle the <a href="https://medium.com/@BComuGlobal/9-months-building-a-feminist-barcelona-29f50c80e5de#.77r6hjn6w">feminization of poverty</a>.</p> <p>The changing face of the city council is reinforced by <em>BComú</em>’s strict ethics policy, <a href="https://barcelonaencomu.cat/sites/default/files/pdf/codi-etic-eng.pdf">Governing by Obeying</a>, which includes a €2,200 (£1850) monthly limit on payments to its elected officials. Colau takes home less than a quarter of the amount claimed by her predecessor Xavier Trias. By February 2017, €216,000 in unclaimed salaries had been paid into a <a href="https://filadora.barcelonaencomu.cat/es">new fund</a> that will support social projects in the city.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/P1150157.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/P1150157.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ada Colau at a public engagement event that took place in Sants-Montjuïc on 18 February 2017. Photo by Bertie Russell. CC BY-NC-SA.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>3.&nbsp;</strong><strong>A politics that works begins by listening</strong></h2> <p><em>BComú</em> started life with an extensive process of listening, responding to ordinary peoples’ concerns, and crowd-sourcing ideas – as summarized in its <a href="https://barcelonaencomu.cat/sites/default/files/win-the-city-guide.pdf">guide to building a citizen municipal platform</a>.</p> <p>Drawing on proposals gathered at meetings in public squares across the city, <em>BComú</em> created a programme reflecting immediate issues in local neighbourhoods, city-wide problems and broader discontent with the political system. Local meetings were complemented by technical and policy committees, and an extensive process of online consultation.</p> <p>This process resulted in a political platform that stressed the need to tackle the “social emergency” – problems such as home evictions on a huge scale, or the effect of uncontrolled mass tourism. These priorities came from listening to citizens across the city rather than an echo-chamber of business and political elites. <em>BComú</em>’s election results reflected this broader appeal: it won its highest share of the vote in Barcelona’s poorest neighbourhoods, in part through increasing turnout in those areas.</p> <p>On entering government, <em>BComú</em> then began to implement an <a href="https://barcelonaencomu.cat/sites/default/files/pla-xoc_eng.pdf">Emergency Plan</a> that included measures to halt evictions, hand out fines to banks leaving multiple properties empty, and subsidise energy and transport costs for the unemployed and those earning under the minimum wage.</p><h2><strong>4.&nbsp;</strong><strong>A politics that works never stops listening</strong></h2> <p>Politics doesn’t happen every four years – it is the everyday process of shaping the conditions in which we live our lives. This means that one of the central tasks of a politics that works is to forge a new relationship between citizens and the institutions that we use to govern our societies.</p><p> For <em>BComú</em>, the everyday basis of politics means citizens and civil society organisations directly shaping the strategic plan of their city. It means not just consultation, but active empowerment in helping move citizens from being ‘recipients’ of a politics that is done <em>to them</em>, to active political agents that shape the every-day life of their city.</p> <p>In the first months of occupying the institutions, <em>BComú</em> introduced an open-source platform, <em>Decidim Barcelona</em>, for citizens to co-create the municipal action plan for the city. <a href="http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/barcelona/barcelona-cierra-proceso-participativo-del-pam-con-9000-propuestas-5041286">Over 10,000 proposals</a> were registered by the site’s 25,000 registered users. While that’s a small share of the city’s population, the online process was complemented by over 400 in-person meetings.</p> <p>The <em>Decidim</em> platform is now being adapted to run participatory budgetary pilot-schemes in two districts, as well as being used in the ongoing development of new infrastructure, pedestrianisation and transport schemes. Meanwhile, the municipal Department of Participation is undertaking a systematic rethinking of the ‘meaning’ of participation, looking to move away from meaningless ‘consultations’ and towards methods for active empowerment.</p> <p>This is an imperfect process – and <em>BComú</em> have got things wrong at times, such as the failure to properly engage when introducing a <a href="http://www.citylab.com/commute/2017/01/barcelonas-car-taming-superblocks-meet-resistance/513911/">SuperBlock</a> in the Poblenou district – but the principle is simple. To govern well, you must create new processes for obeying citizens’ demands.</p> <p>At the same time, the structures that built <em>BComú</em> remain in place, with 15 neighbourhood groups and 15 thematic working groups providing an ongoing link between activists and institutions. No structure is perfect, and it remains unclear if these working groups can help <em>BComú</em> avoid “institutionalization” and remain connected to social movements, but the hope is that this model provides a basis for remaining in touch with grassroots concerns.</p><h2><strong>5.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Politics does not begin with the Party</strong></h2> <p><em>BComú </em>is not a ‘local’ arm of a bigger political party, and does not exist merely as a branch of a broader strategy to control the central political institutions of the nation-state. Rather, <em>BComú</em> is one in a series of independent citizen platforms that have looked to occupy municipal institutions in an effort to bring about progressive social change.</p> <p>From A Coruña to Valencia, Madrid and Zaragoza, these municipal movements are the direct effort of citizens rejecting the old mode of doing politics, and starting to effect change where they live. Instead of a national party structure, they coordinate through a “network of rebel cities” across Spain. Most immediately, this means coordinating press releases and actively learning from how one another engage with urban problems.</p> <p>That doesn’t mean that <em>BComú</em> can reject political parties entirely. While the initiative arose from social movements, it ended up incorporating several existing political parties in its platform. These include Podemos – another child of the 15-M movement &nbsp;– and the Catalan Greens-United Left party (ICV-EUIA), which had consistently been a junior coalition partner in city councils headed by the centre-left Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) from 1979 until 2011.</p> <p>These parties continue alongside <em>BComú</em>, with their own completely separate organizational and funding structures. But entering <em>BComú</em> has forced existing parties to significantly change how they operate. Coalition negotiations encouraged the selection of new councillors (only two of the elected candidates have previously held office), and they are subject to a tough Ethics Code that considerably increases their accountability.</p> <p>The fluid relationship between the new coalitions and political parties allows for multiple levels of coordination, without having to pass through a rigid central leadership. It may also be replicated in regional government, where the recently formed <a href="http://unpaisencomu.cat/es">Un Pais En Comú</a> seeks to replicate the city government coalition across Catalunya. On a terrain that contains a different set of politics – not least a strong national-separatist sentiment – it remains to be seen whether this latest initiative will be successful.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/P1150175.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/P1150175.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Upwards of 180,000 people demonstrate in favour of accepting migrants and asylum seekers in Catalonia, organised by the group Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra - 18 February 2017. Photo by Bertie Russell. CC BY-NC-SA.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>6.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Power is the capacity to act</strong></h2> <p><em>BComú</em> does not subscribe to traditional notions of power, whereby if you hold public office, you somehow ‘have’ power. On the contrary, power is the capacity to bring about change, and the ‘occupation of the institutions’ is only <em>one part</em> of what makes change possible.</p> <p><em>BComú</em> emerged after almost a decade of major street-protests, anti-eviction campaigns, squatting movements, anti-corruption campaigns, and youth movements – the most visible form being the ’15-M’ or ‘indignados’ protests that began in 2011. After years of being at a high-level of mobilization, many within these movements made a strategic wager – we’ve learned how to occupy the squares, but what happens if we try to occupy the institutions?</p> <p>Frustrated by the limits of what could be achieved by being mobilized only outside of institutions, the decision to form <em>BComú </em>was to try to occupy the institutions <em>as part of the same movement that occupied the squares</em>. In practice, this is not so simple.</p> <p>Politics is a messy game, full of compromises forced by working in a world of contradictions. In the most practical sense, <em>BComú</em> may be leading the council, but it holds only 11 of the 41 available seats. Six other political parties are also represented on the council, mostly seeking to block, slow-down or weaken its initiatives. Frustrated by these moves – and overwhelmed by the demands of the institutions – <em>BComú</em> formed a governing coalition with the PSC, a move supported by around 2/3 of its registered supporters. But it remains a minority government, and two left parties that refused a similar pact responded by stepping up their block on almost all legislative initiatives. The resulting political crisis delayed the passing of the city’s 2017 budget, which was eventually forced through on a <a href="http://www.publico.es/politica/barcelona-aprueba-presupuesto-2017-finalizar.html">confidence motion</a> when <em>BComú</em> challenged the opposition to unite around another plan – which it failed to do.</p> <p>While this experience has shown the resilience of <em>BComú</em> in the confrontational confines of the council chamber, the key lesson here is that occupying the institutions <em>is not enough</em>. An electoral strategy is not sufficient alone to create change. The <em>power to act</em> comes from a combination of occupying both the institutions and the squares, of social movements organizing and exercising leverage, providing <em>social force</em> that can be coupled with the potential of the <em>occupied institutions </em>– the power to change comes when these work in tandem. It’s been a bumpy ride, but <em>BComú</em> has been able to justify its budget on the grounds that it prioritizes social measures (such as building new nurseries, combatting energy poverty and focusing resources on the poorest neighbourhoods) with reference to the extensive and ongoing process of participation that it has encouraged.</p> <p>One of the biggest dangers in looking to build radical municipalist movements in other cities is to mistake electoral victory with <em>victory</em>, to sit back and think that now we’ve got ‘our guys’ in the institutions, we can sit back and let change occur. &nbsp;</p><h2><strong>7.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Transnational politics begins in your city</strong></h2> <p>In a time where reactionary political movements are building walls and retreating to national boundaries, <em>BComú</em> is illustrating that a new <em>transnational</em> political movement begins in our cities.</p> <p>To this end, <em>BComú</em> has established an international committee tasked with promoting and sharing its experiences abroad, whilst learning from other ‘rebel’ cities such as Naples and Messina. Barcelona has been active in international forums, promoting the “right to the city” at the recent UN Habitat III conference, and taking a <a href="https://www.uclg.org/en/organisation/presidency">leadership role</a> in the Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments.</p> <p>These moves look to bypass the national scale where possible, prefiguring <em>post-national</em> networks of urban solidarity and cooperation. Recent visits of the First Deputy Mayor to the Colombian cities of Medellín and Bogotá also suggest that links are being made on a supranational scale.</p> <p>One of the most tangible outcomes of this level of supranational urban organizing was the strong role played by cities in the rejection of the Transatlantic Trade &amp; Investment Partnership (TTIP). As hosts of a meeting entitled ‘Local Authorities and the New Generation of Free Trade Agreements’ in April 2016, <em>BComú</em> led on the agreement of the ‘Barcelona Declaration’, with more than 40 cities committing to the rejection of TTIP. As of the time of writing, TTIP now looks dead in the water.</p> <p>At this early stage, it remains unclear how this supranational network of radical municipalism may develop. Perhaps the most important step for <em>BComú</em> is to share their experience and support those in other cities that are looking to reclaim politics, helping to build citizens platforms across Europe and beyond. But the idea of a post-national network of citizens also allows us to dare to dream – of shared resources, shared politics and shared infrastructure – where it’s not where you were born, but where you live, that determines your <em>right</em> <em>to live</em>.</p><h2><strong>8.&nbsp;</strong><strong>Essential services can be run in our common interest</strong></h2> <p>The clue to <em>BComú</em>’s strategy for essential services is hidden in its name – the plan is to run them <em>in common</em>.</p> <p>At the end of 2016, and faced with a crisis in the funeral sector in which only two companies controlled the sector and charged prices almost twice the national average, the Barcelona council intervened to establish a <a href="http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/treballieconomia/en/noticia/a-new-municipal-funeral-company-to-guarantee-quality-and-prices">municipal funeral company</a> that is forecasted to reduce costs by 30 per cent. Around the same time, the council <a href="https://medium.com/@BComuGlobal/barcelona-votes-for-public-control-of-water-a458ad9cdcb4">voted in favour</a> of the remunicipalisation of water, paving the way for water to be taken out of the private sector at some point this year.</p> <p>In February 2017, Barcelona amended the terms and conditions for electricity supply, preventing energy firms from cutting off supply to vulnerable people. The two major energy firms – <em>Endesa</em> and <em>Gas Natural</em> - protested this by not bidding for the €65m municipal energy contracts, hoping this would force the council to overturn the policy. Instead, a raft of small and medium size energy companies were happy to comply with the new directive to tackle energy poverty, and stand to be awarded the contracts if a court challenge from the large firms proves unsuccessful. <em>BComú</em> is also actively planning to introduce a municipal energy company within the next two years.</p> <p>However, it’s important to recognize the major difference between the <em>public</em> and the <em>common</em>. As Michael Hardt <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/feb/03/communism-capitalism-socialism-property">argues</a>, our choices are not limited to businesses controlled privately (private property) or by the state (public property). The third option is to hold things <em>in common</em> – where resources and services are controlled, produced and distributed democratically and equitably according to peoples need. A simple example of what this could look like was the proposal – that narrowly failed only due to voter turnout – for Berlin to establish an energy company that would put citizens on the board of the company.</p> <p>This difference underpins the Barcelona experience. This is not a traditional socialist government that thinks it can run things better <em>on behalf </em>of the people. This is a movement that believes <em>the people</em> can run things better on their own behalf, combining citizen wisdom with expert knowledge to solve the everyday problems that people face.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ada-colau/first-we-take-barcelona">First we take Barcelona...</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kate-shea-baird/beyond-ada-colau-common-people-of-barcelona-en-com%C3%BA">Beyond Ada Colau: the common people of Barcelona en Comú</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/plan-c/radical-municipalism-demanding-future">Radical municipalism: demanding the future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl%C3%B3s/towards-new-municipal-agenda-in-spain">Towards a new municipal agenda in Spain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Fearless Cities Oscar Reyes Bertie Russell Wed, 08 Mar 2017 18:04:19 +0000 Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes 109302 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Oscar Reyes https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/oscar-reyes <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Oscar Reyes </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Oscar </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Reyes </div> </div> </div> <p>Oscar Reyes is an Associate Fellow at the<a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/" target="_blank"> Institute for Policy Studies</a> and lives in Barcelona. He tweets <a href="https://twitter.com/_oscar_reyes" target="_blank">@_oscar_reyes</a></p> Oscar Reyes Fri, 26 Mar 2010 13:14:32 +0000 Oscar Reyes 52092 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Dutch 'no' is a 'yes': Erik Wesselius interviewed https://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-europe_constitution/dutch_2562.jsp <p><b>openDemocracy:</b> What are your main objections to the <a href=http://www.unizar.es/euroconstitucion/Home.htm target=_blank>constitutional treaty</a> that the French and Dutch are voting on this week? </p> <p><b>Erik Wesselius: </b> We have three main <a href=http://www.europeannocampaign.com/70.html target=_blank>objections</a>. The first is the lack of democracy. The convention formed to draft the new treaty would supposedly allow for a more open process for negotiation, give it greater weight and more legitimacy. The convention was an appointed body, far from the elected constituent assemblies that normally draft constitutions. So from the outset, the process of negotiating the constitution was not democratic. </p> <p>The <a href=http://european-convention.eu.int/docs/Treaty/cv00850.en03.pdf target=_blank>constitution</a> is terribly long and unreadable &#150; a text of 482 pages in Dutch, with more than 400 extra pages of appendices, comments and declarations. As for its content, there&#146;s very little progress in terms of democratic accountability and in some respects it&#146;s even a step back. For example, new positions are created, like the &#147;President of the Council&#148;, which are not directly accountable to any parliament. This is a very dangerous kind of constitutional arrangement. </p> <p>The EU currently has a fundamental democratic deficit. The European Parliament has no genuine right of legislative initiative, which means that it has to rely on the unelected, and largely unaccountable, European Commission to draft and propose potential legislation. The parliament cannot dismiss individual members of the commission but can only recall it as a whole, and then only after voting by a two-thirds majority. This means that the EU has an executive branch that is substantially unaccountable to the elected representatives of the people. </p> <p>The second problem is the neo-liberal character of the constitution &#150; enshrined in parts one and three, which state that the main objective of the EU is to create an open market. There is also some nice language about full employment and promoting sustainable development; but the policy areas elaborated in part three tell a different story. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also in <b>openDemocracy</b> on the Dutch debate, Gwyn Prins writes on &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2542">The end of the European Union</a>&#148;</b></p> <p>If you find this material valuable, please consider supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a></p> </div><p>This whole neo-liberal orientation is also very problematic from a democratic standpoint. The constitution is an attempt to fix some basic political choices for decades to come. As <a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4560923.stm target=_blank>Giscard d&#146;Estaing</a> himself said: &#147;this is a document for the next forty years&#148;. No other constitution in the world does this, although the Soviet constitution did something similar by advocating <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collectivisation target=_blank>collectivisation</a>. But it&#146;s clearly very problematic to give specific policy choices a constitutional basis. </p> <p>The third problem is that the constitution confirms and strengthens the already existing tendency towards EU militarisation. For example, article I-41 states that &#147;Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities.&#148; Defendants of the treaty say that this doesn&#146;t necessarily mean that we need to spend more money each year: working together would also improve our capabilities. But the working group preparing the chapters on defence policy was composed of diplomats, former generals and representatives of the European defence industry; they have a clear interest in increasing military spending within the EU to expand their businesses. </p> <p><b>openDemocracy: </b> Many people would argue that EU militarisation is no bad thing because it could help Europe become a counterweight to the United States &#147;hyperpower&#148;. How do you answer this? </p> <p><b>Erik Wesselius: </b> In the Netherlands, it is mainly the left-wing supporters of the constitution who argue that Europe could become a counter-power to the US. Those in the centre or on the right who support the constitution argue that it is very important for Europe to work closely with the US and not become its military competitor. The latter view is more or less enshrined in the constitution; so while some independent military capacity is being developed it will be in close collaboration with Nato. </p> <p>On a more general level I don&#146;t think it&#146;s a good strategy for the EU to become another US-style superpower. There are other ways to deal with international tensions that do not rely solely on the build-up of military forces. </p> <p>A related pro-constitution argument focuses on issues of peace in Europe. The Dutch government suggests that the constitution will increase security against terrorism, though it doesn&#146;t explain what this means. More generally, they argue that the EU has been built to transcend old enmities in Europe. This is a good argument for European <a href=http://euabc.com/index.phtml?word_id=1018 target=_blank>political co-operation</a>, which I fully support, but it is no argument for the constitution. </p> <p><b>openDemocracy: </b> There are obviously very different ways of saying &#147;no&#148; to the constitution. What are the different aspects of the Dutch &#147;no&#148; campaign? </p> <p><b>Erik Wesselius: </b> The no camp is quite diverse. The left is a major component but not the only one. You also have the &#147;ultraliberals&#148;, who claim that the constitution is creating a European Union superstate, which they oppose because they want a minimal state. But they are quite marginal. </p> <p>Then you have the fundamentalist Christians, very small <a href=http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/c/calvinism.asp target=_blank>Calvinist</a> parties which are against the constitution because they believe in sovereignty coming from God. This argument is fairly traditional, conservative, although not necessarily xenophobic. </p> <p>Finally, you have xenophobic tendencies, the people who are afraid of EU enlargement, in particular to Turkey. Anti-Muslim feelings in the Netherlands will be reflected in some of the no vote, especially after the murder of filmmaker <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2239">Theo Van Gogh</a> by a young man of Moroccan origin. This xenophobic component is also marginal, I believe. </p> <p>There is only one politician who is playing the anti-Muslim card &#150; <a href=http://www.geertwilders.nl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=98 target=_blank>Geert Wilders</a>, who created his own party after splitting from the Liberals on the question of Turkey. He wants to replicate the success of <a href="/democracy-newright/article_382.jsp">Pim Fortuyn</a> but it doesn&#146;t seem that he will manage it. </p> <p>On the eve of the vote, I think there are two major reasons that will lead people to <a href=http://www.grondwetnee.org/ target=_blank>vote no</a>. First, the frustration and distrust generated by the introduction of the euro. We were told that everything would get cheaper when the euro was introduced, and in reality everything became <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2542">more expensive</a>.</p> <p>Second, opposition to the current Christian Democrat and Liberal government. It is following quite a strong neo-liberal agenda by trying to reform the pensions system, creating a much harsher regime for unemployed people, wanting to abolish subsidies for social housing and liberalising the social housing sector. According to opinions polls, the government currently commands the support of just 19% of the population. </p> <p><b>openDemocracy: </b> What would be your priorities in the event of a &#147;no&#148; vote? </p> <p><b>Erik Wesselius: </b> A &#147;no&#148; vote, such as that advocated by the <a href=http://www.grondwetnee.org/ target=_blank><em>Comité Grondwet Nee</em></a> would be a big blow to the neo-liberal EU project, but in the Netherlands there&#146;s not enough political capital to really take it much further at this stage. I think we should use our victory, if it comes, to build and strengthen a movement similar to what exists in France. </p> <p>We should also lay the foundations for greater international cooperation and take time to develop our alternative project for Europe. We will see then how good we are at grabbing the opportunity and shaping it, creatively, to <a href=http://www.corporateeurope.org/ target=_blank>involve a lot of people</a> in the construction of another Europe. Of course, the forces behind the construction of the current Europe will also have their emergency plans. </p> <p> <table width=550 cellpadding=5 cellspacing=5 border=0 bgcolor=#99CCcc> <tr><td> <p> </p><p><b>Further Links</b><br /> <a href=http://european-convention.eu.int/docs/Treaty/cv00850.en03.pdf target=_blank>The EU Constitution</a> (pdf) <br /> Reader-friendly <a href=http://www.euabc.com/index.phtml?page_id=207 target=_blank>EU Constitution</a><br /> A <a href=http://www.unizar.es/euroconstitucion/Home.htm target=_blank>brief history</a> of the EU<br /> <a href=http://www.yes-campaign.net target=_blank>Yes Campaign</a><br /> <a href=http://www.nocampaign.com target=_blank>No Campaign</a><br /> <a href=http://europa.eu.int target=_blank>EU website</a><br /> <a href=http://www.european-voice.com target=_blank>European Voice</a><br /> <a href= http://www.euractiv.com/ target=_blank>EurActiv</a><br /> <a href=http://www.peoplepowerprocess.com/ target=_blank>E! Sharp</a></p> </td></tr> </table> </p><p> </p></div></p> europe: after the constitution democracy & power europe Naima Bouteldja Oscar Reyes Original Copyright Tue, 31 May 2005 23:00:00 +0000 Oscar Reyes and Naima Bouteldja 2562 at https://www.opendemocracy.net