September 1998


Comment on Erkki Tuomioja’s paper:

Europe needs credible instruments of governance

by John Palmer

I entirely share Erkki Tuomioja’s basic contention that 'Blairism' – or more precisely New Labour’s attempt to define a new 'third way' politics that supersedes distinctions between left and right – represents a rupture with not a development of European style Social Democracy. I also endorse Erkki´s conclusion that the ideas and values of Eric Blair (George Orwell) have more to offer genuine attempts to modernise the social democratic (or democratic socialist) project than those of Tony Blair.

My only reservation about Erkki’s defence of ‘traditional’ Nordic social democracy is that he may underestimate the extent to which the nation state is no longer really capable of defending let alone developing the social democratic reform project. We live in an era of compelling economic globalism where capital is capable locating and relocating anywhere in the international market which offers the best prospects of ensuring competitiveness and profitability. National politics simply lacks effective purchase over key economic outcomes in this situation.

That is why, in my opinion, the European left reform project urgently requires the development of credible institutions of European and – eventually – global governance. The left today has a bigger vested interest than the right in promotion the cause of more federal style European Union – precisely to allow the democratic, political process to relate to the global market place on conditions of greater equality.

We are very far from this situation today. Although we have a single European market and we are on the verge of launching a single European currency, the EU’s federal political institutions remain weak and under-developed. That may well suit capital and the right for whom the present very unequal balance between the global market economy and our increasingly ineffective national social and political institutions is entirely acceptable.

Of course a democratic, federal European Union (that is one in which sovereignty is shared between local, regional, national and European institutions) is itself only a stage on the process of bringing about a coherent system of accountable and effective global governance. The urgent need for global governance - to regulate, reform and civilise the global free market system - shows signs of becoming being a high priority political issue for the new millennium.

This is reflected in the debate about the future development of the World Trade Organisation including moves to include issues such as human and labour rights in the definition of a global level playing field for the international trade. It arises out of the need to reform the Bretton Woods institutions (look at the way the Asian crisis has been handled!). It also arises out of the need to give legal and legislative teeth to global action designed to counter environmental disaster. Above all it is reflected in the (so far pathetic) attempt to reform the United Nations to give it a real capacity to delivery on global peace and security.

The more the left can strengthen the political, security, democratic, social and environmental powers of the European Union, the more the EU can be a cutting edge force for the development of global governance. The trouble is that New Labour is extremely reticent not only about issues of global governance but, in particular, anything which strengthens the federalising tendencies in the European Union.

The acid test for Blairism claim to be the vehicle for a progress – 'third way' politics – is its attitude to European integration and global governance. Thus far New Labour has failed the test. When forced to choose between the values and priorities of the global market place and those of European or global governance, Blairism invariably chooses the former. Blairism is not a new alternative to global economic liberalism, it is a variant of global economic liberalism.

John Palmer is the Director of the European Policy Centre in Brussels. Before that he was the European Editor of the Guardian.

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