Sejm Debates on EU Accession
Sunday, March 17 2002, 7:58 PM
To almost no notice in the United States, the European Union is in the middle of a political and intellectual revolution. Internal European debates on membership expansion and a pan-European constitution have created a social discussion reminiscent of the Federalist debates in the United States. Well over two centuries on, though, this debate is transnational rather than of a nationalist character.
When opposition to European political integration does make the news, as it did with the EU summit in Barcelona this past week, it arrives with images of anarchists swarming the streets. Those images misrepresent, since most left opposition to EU integration arises from a desire to oppose a European reiteration of the American Empire and its militarism. Much of the Euro-left sees the EU as the leading edge of globalist economics, as an institution for the ideological and legal transmission of market capitalism, and as the holy temple of Euro-capital.
While the legal economics of European integration do privilege capital movement, there are still vastly greater advantages than disadvantages in integration. For that reason European trade unions, no slouches on worker rights, overwhelmingly favor greater integration even while supporting the Barcelona demonstrations. What they want is a European Union that emphasizes social rights. As Tony Young, president of the British TUC, said in Barcelona, "We're opposed to a deregulated Europe where workers' rights are pushed to one side. We don't want the American model, we want the European social model."
Young's choice of 'European' emphasizes the degree to which social models have been altered from national to continental. The issue has become one of systemic reform of capitalism, which can be accomplished with the aid of a consolidated European labor voting bloc.
This prospective solidarity is one reason the Euro-right loathes expansion and political integration, but they have many more based in old-style identity politics. On the same day as anti-EU demonstrators were gathering in Barcelona, anti-EU debates staged by the right-wing were being held in Poland's parliament, the Sejm. Poland, with a population the size of France, is scheduled to join the EU in 2004, although this may be delayed by two years. This accession would have far-reaching implications for the European Union, shifting its center of political gravity substantially eastwards.
In Poland, right-wing nationalism has framed anti-EU opposition as an issue of national cultural self-reservation. According to the Gazeta Wyborcza(Friday, March 15), the League of Polish Families -- a deeply conservative Church-oriented party -- has proposed a referendum so that Poles can respond as to whether they agree to sell land to foreigners. Economic integration into the EU would open eastern Europe to inter-European land sales, meaning the western European agricultural corporations would be able to acquire Polish farms and change the social nature of the rural areas.
This concern affects urban areas of eastern Europe too. For example, Czechs are concerned that opening property sales would drive Czechs out of Prague, where richer western Europeans want to purchase apartments and turn the city into a holiday village. But in Poland this issue rings with special resonance, given a history of German land acquisitions and cultural domination.
It's also an issue made for ultra-nationalists. Responding to a proposal by the current Polish government that foreigners could buy land after several years of leasing, the League position states that "Aliens can never become owners of Polish land." This same xenophobia aligns the League with Andrzej Lepper's larger Samoobrona (Self-Defense) Party, Poland's version of Le Pen, Haider and Buchanan.
"The government wants to sell Polish land for a mere silver mite" claimed Sejm deputy Zygmunt Wrzodak, a League leader with a penchant for denouncing "Eurosocialism." He indulged in right-wing populism against privatization, claiming that within the last twelve years the government had sold 75 percent of national assets for only 10 percent of its value, any truth of which would be hollowed out by his party's enthusiastic support of nineteenth-century style capitalism. Wrzodak further argued that the 3.5 million unemployed in Poland would double after the accession, and that "We are being ruined by imports from the European Union. It's a civilizational regression that can be seen by the naked eye. We are becoming a labor reservoir for Europe."
Using a classic term inherited from political anti-semitism, Wrzodak asserted that "This will result in the dissolving of our nation in a cosmopolitan Union." Pro-EU politics thus represent a capitulation of Catholic moral values to the cosmopolitan Judaizing forces of the European Union. In his previous association with ROP, the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, Wrzodak became known for his rhetorical synthesis of anti-semitism and anti-communism. Wrzodak, lately a media darling of anti-EU politics, used to publish press releases from the Solidarity offices a the Ursus tractor factory claiming that the Polish government was in the hands of "Jewish communists."
A more nuanced version of such rhetoric echoes from church pulpits in Poland, which is driving an anti-EU campaign that has gained substantial power. Although Lezek Miller's left-center government has obtained formal neutrality from the Church hierarchy, grassroots Polish Church organizations treat the European Union as a source of moral subversion and licentiousness. Over-the-horizon Protestants in northern Europe have become the new Jews, the new cultural invaders bringing unclean sex, abortion clinics, and Sunday shopping.
Wrzodak compared the Union to a modern Tower of Babel that is carrying out a politics of colonization towards Poland and wants to obliterate farmers on their land, so that farmland can be converted to highways and natural foods replaced by chemical foods. This conglomerated culture was inherently untrustworthy, and Wrzodak warned against believing in any agreements with the European Union, since the Union was founded by capital and will break agreements if it wishes. He also suggested that Germans have never accepted the loss of the Western Lands and will want to break these agreements, even though they are international guarantees. Finally, Wrzodak used Israel as an example, saying that after 2000 years Israel returned to its ancient lands, is fighting for that land, and sells its land only to Jews.
Wrzodak's Sejm speech was broadcast live by the Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja, which apparently found his anti-EU message consonant with its goal of promulgating Catholic values. Ironically, one reason many secular Poles support accession to the European Union is as a counter-balance to the overweening presence of the Church in everyday life. The Sejm's center and left parties will vote against the land sales referendum, and it is unlikely that these Church-centered right-wing nationalists will carry the parliamentary day.
In Poland, it is right-wing nationalists opposing political integration and the former-CP prime minister, Leszek Miller, who went to Barcelona to advocate for on-schedule admission to the European Union. The EU debate in Poland speaks in a larger domain than the country itself. There is a new European subjectivity arising, one that emphasizes human and social rights as a constitutional foundation. Still, fear of Euro-citizenship appears across the political spectra, re-packaging old antagonisms as new explanations.
Anti-globalization politics need to differentiate critically between oppositional ideas. The anti-globalization movement, which fundamentally concerns economic justice, needs to rely on participation in Europe. It is Europe's tired old ideas and behaviors, not its new social thought, that fear an abandonment of national borders.