The European Union and the Interventionist State

By Ebeling, Richard M. | Freeman, March 2005 | Go to article overview
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The European Union and the Interventionist State


Ebeling, Richard M., Freeman


According to a public-opinion survey released in January, almost nine out of every ten citizens of European Union (EU) member nations know either little or nothing of the draft constitution for Europe, which would further centralize political power and control over their lives. Yet in spite of this pervasive ignorance, 49 percent said they favor the constitution. Only 16 percent expressed their opposition.

The poll was taken on behalf of the EU Commission last fall. While 11 percent of the respondents said they consider themselves generally knowledgeable of the content of the proposed constitution, 56 percent said they know very little about it. And of the 33 percent who admitted they had never even heard about the constitution, 22 percent still said they favor it!

The EU grew out of attempts that began in the 1950s to establish a free-trade zone among a number of western European countries, both to improve their prosperity and to reduce the potential for conflict after the experiences of the two world wars. It formally became the European Economic Community (EEC) with the Treaty of Rome in 1957. But soon the free-trade idea was superseded by various interventionist programs for intergovernmental planning of agriculture and industry, and for a welfare-state social safety net.

The EEC was transformed into the EU in 1992, with additional plans for a single currency, which finally came to fruition with the establishment of the euro as a circulating currency in 2002. In 2000 a conference was held in Nice, France, to plan the expansion of the EU to incorporate many new member states in central and eastern Europe, as well as to determine voting procedures in the expanded EU. Then in October 2004, at a conference in Rome, the EU members agreed to a draft constitution that is meant to lead to a more integrated political regime and eventually a United States of Europe.

Over the next two years, votes will be taken among the member nations to ratify the proposed constitution. In some countries the decision will be made by the parliament; in others, by referendum. The constitution will only go into effect if the EU countries unanimously agree to it.

Central to the proposed constitution is a charter of "fundamental rights." Many are consistent with the principles of liberty, including a ban on torture and inhumane or degrading punishment, and a prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude. It also affirms freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, along with impartial justice under the rule of law. In addition, it promises freedom of movement, including the right of residence and work for any citizen within the territory of the EU (though some member countries wish to establish certain limits on this freedom).

But the proposed EU constitution also incorporates among its "fundamental rights" an entire array of welfare-state entitlements. Every citizen will be guaranteed "free and compulsory education." Every citizen is promised "freedom to conduct a business," but "the use of property may be regulated insofar as it is necessary for the general interest."

While the constitution speaks of "freedom of association at all levels," any private discrimination "on the basis of sex, race, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, or sexual orientation shall be prohibited." Employers must also provide "equality between men and women," including in "employment, work, and pay." But EU governments may discriminate through affirmative-action laws "for specific advantages in favor of the under-represented sex."

Under the "fundamental rights" of employment, "every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety, and dignity." Every worker in the EU is also to be guaranteed a paid vacation ("an annual period of paid leave") as well maternity and paternity leave.

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