The Nice Treaty and globalisation

Libertarians against Nice

This article was written at the time of the second Nice referendum in Ireland as part of 'Libertarians Against Nice', a WSM initiated campaign that distributed 15,000 leaflets as well as carrying our other activity.  Because of right nationalist opposition to the treaty we were keen to publish material that put forward a distinct perspective, one that argues against the treaty from a class rather than nationalist perspective.

The Nice treaty is a difficult document to read and understand in part because it is a list of amendments to already existing documents including the European Union treaty itself. In order to try to understand these you end up flicking back and forth between growing mountains of paper. This is probably part of the reason why many activists remain unaware of its central place in pushing capitalist globalisation in Europe and its periphery.

There need not be anything surprising in this. After all in North America it is widely recognised that NAFTA and then the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) were central to this process in the Americas. For the last couple of decades European corporations have used the EU in a similar manner. In terms of the Nice treaty most of the 'action' is in one section, the changes to Article 133. It is therefore worth looking at that article in some detail and then looking at the origin of these proposed changes in corporate think tanks and lobbying groups.

Article 133

Paragraph 1 of Article 133 reads "The common commercial policy shall be based on uniform principles, particularly in regard to changes in tariff rates, the conclusion of tariff and trade agreements, the achievement of uniformity in measures of liberalisation, export policy and measures to protect trade such as those to be taken in the event of dumping or subsidies."

Basically this means that what applies to one country in the EU will apply to all countries, there are no individual opt outs in these areas. And some of these have major implications, "uniformity in measures of liberalisation" for instance translates from corporate speak into a regime of privatization of public services across the EU.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 give "The Council and the Commission" power to negotiate agreements with "with one or more States or international organisations". Perhaps the most obvious "international organisations" this will apply to is the World Trade Organisation (although it is not, of course, named in the treaty). The WTO shot from obscurity to fame due to the massive protests outside its conference in Seattle in 1999. The WTO itself admitted the importance to it of the changes to Article 133 in it's June 2002 'Trade Policy Review of the European Union' in writing "Of particular significance to the WTO is the exclusive Community competence that would apply to negotiations of agreements that concern services (with certain exceptions), and the commercial aspects of intellectual property rights upon ratification by all Member States of the Treaty of Nice."[i]

Article 133 will mean that the EU Council and Commission will be responsible for the negotiation of trade deals rather then the national governments of the EU. Why would the WTO be keen on this? Perhaps one clue is found in the Seattle talks where "without consulting and over the objections of civil society and EU member states, the European Commission announced its support for a Biotechnology Working Party, causing 15 EU trade ministers to issue a joint statement of disagreement"[ii].

This is what Paragraph 4 means when it says the "Council shall act by a qualified majority." This means that when an agreement is reached at the EU Council all member states must go along with it and cannot veto it. The 'qualified majority' referred to are the new, complex voting rules that will in effect allow the powerful countries of Italy, France, Germany and Britain (where most EU corporations have their headquarters) to have a much greater say in what decisions are made then the smaller ones.

This will also be relevant in forcing changes on the populations of individual countries where there is strong opposition to such change. The capitalist globalisation agenda has met a lot of resistance in Europe to date. In France cuts required by the Maastricht treaty triggered a general strike in March 1995. The largest demonstrations had 3 million people on them. At the time the international business magazine, The Economist, warned "the danger in France was not a change in government but the spectre of 1968: 10 million workers out on strike, riots in the street and bourgeois society choking on its croutons." All the European summits have been accompanied by major demonstrations involving over 100,000 people and there were significant riots at the Nice Summit.


After the general strike the French government was forced to back down in many areas. This is part of the reason why the method of decision making being introduced by Nice means treaties will be agreed by 'qualified majority' rather then requiring the agreement of all the national governments. This will allow national governments that face large-scale opposition over particular policies to maintain token opposition and be 'voted down'. Under the new 'qualified majority' the French government could have made a big deal out of publicly opposing these changes, be outvoted at the EU council and then shrug its shoulders and proceed to implement them, saying it had no choice. Such a strategy would remove some of the focus of resistance at the national level.

Even with a populist government genuinely opposing capitalist globalisation, these policies can be pushed through. Providing this opposition is limited to no more then one of the large countries or several of the smaller ones. Again the national government can wring their hands and proclaim that they have no alternative but to follow what has been agreed in Europe.

Paragraph 5 confirms the suspicion that the WTO is one of the "international organisations" being referred to as it makes it explicit that these provisions "shall also apply to the negotiation and conclusion of agreements in the fields of trade in services and the commercial aspects of intellectual property". These lay at the heart of the Seattle round of WTO talks. Services in this context includes essential public utilities such as water delivery and electricity generation and supply, in fact over 160 services have been named by the WTO. Services also include postal services, finance and banking, and telecommunications services. The WTO agenda is to force privatization of such sectors in particular by prohibiting public funding or subsidies for them. And there is big money to be made by the corporations here. In 2000 it was estimated that "Global expenditures on water services now exceed $1 trillion every year"[iii].

In discussing the treaty its important to note that paragraph 6 excludes "agreements relating to trade in cultural and audiovisual services, educational services, and social and human health services", these are not yet up for sale in the same manner. Further on transport is also excluded. This means that in theory individual countries retain a veto on such agreements. However what exactly is covered by these areas will be determined by the European courts. It may be, for instance, that catering or cleaning in a hospital will be judged not to be a "health service" and so may be open to compulsory privatization.

These days of course the media often try and present privatisation of public services as a good thing. But consider when it inevitably results in

1) The increased cost of services as the private business seeks to maximise profits

2) A decreased quality of service for the same reasons, in particular for those who for one reason or another is less profitable or less able to pay for the service

3) Job losses, speed-ups and longer hours for those who work in providing these services.

Intellectual Property

The Intellectual Property referred to in Article 133 is not just the copyright of books and records. It is also the patents owned by the super profitable drug corporations. The WTO grants them a global 20-year monopoly over the drugs, which they develop, and provides for trade sanctions against any country which doesn't protect this monopoly. Just before the last Nice referendum they attempted to use their 'Intellectual Property rights' to stop the import of cheap anti AIDS drugs into Africa. They backed down, for the moment, and in that case alone, due to the public outcry and the fact that the documents they would have had to produce in court would have revealed the scale of their profits to an already hostile public.

The attempt by the drug companies to do this was deeply unpopular in Ireland. But 'qualified majority' would have allowed the Irish government to publicly oppose the drug company agenda only to be outvoted at the EU council and then be part of implementing sanctions against these countries. In recent years the government has become increasingly adept at the tactic of saying one thing to NGO's or for public consumption before implementing quite contradictory policies. The Intellectual Property provisions might also mean in the future that medical companies would win the 'right' to buy patient related databases off hospitals.

In summary Article 133 is designed to speed up capitalist globalisation in particular by allowing a 'qualified majority' of countries to impose the EU agreements with the WTO. Within the EU it will also speed up the process of privatisation. It may have other consequences as well. Biotechnology companies want to force the importation of genetically modified foods into Europe and even to outlaw the labelling of foodstuffs to indicate they contain GM foods. Under the WTO they have tried to claim that such practises by the EU are anti free trade, it is quite likely in the future the WTO will rule in their favour (see for instance the WTO report of June 2002 mentioned above).

Where does it come from

One obvious question is why is the Nice treaty seeking to speed up corporate globalisation. After all across Europe people have expressed opposition both to this process in general and to specific aspects of it like the introduction of GMO's and the greed of the drugs corporations. There have been massive demonstrations outside all of the recent EU summits over just these issues. Last march 500,000 demonstrated in Barcelona and in June another 100,000 demonstrated in Seville. Why is the EU not listening or rather whom are they listening to?

The answer to this question is not such a surprise. Across Europe in recent years various scandals have demonstrated the national governments are in the pockets of the corporations and land speculators. In Ireland it has been hard to keep track of the tribunals investigating these? Why should we expect there to be any difference at the level of the European commission or council?

Indeed the forces that spend huge quantities of cash 'lobbying' the EU make no secret of the influence this brings. One of the most important is the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) which bring together over 40 "European industrial leaders" [iv] from some of the major European corporations. Ireland for instance is represented by Michael Smurfit of Jefferson Smurfit but most of the corporations are household names across Europe and include BP, Unilever, Carlsberg, Fiat, Vodafone, Volvo, Philips, Nokia, Renault, Pirelli, ThyssenKrupp and Shell.

Lobbying works

The ERT regularly produces lobby documents for the EU bodies. Their recent 'Message from the European Round Table of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council' complained of "continuing resistance to liberalisation of electricity and gas markets" and "too little progress on pension reform" for instance.

And what do you know? The official 'Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002: Presidency conclusions' include; on page 10 (pt. 25) "..the European Council calls for the reform of pension systems to be accelerated .."[v]. On page 15 (pt 37) it "urges the Council and the European Parliament to adopt as early as possible in 2002 the pending proposals for the final stage of the market opening of electricity and gas". Under "Effective liberalisation - Electricity and gas" on page 37 it reads "set an ambitious calendar at the Spring Summit for [corporate] access to free supplier choice."

Liberalisation as you are probably already aware is corporate speak for privatization of public utilities. But perhaps 'pension reform' sounds nicer? Perhaps not, among the reforms demanded by the ERT are ending "policies that push up the costs of pensions, such as automatic links between benefits and wages and encouragement of early retirement."[vi]. As you may have noticed we have not seen a referendum on whether or not we would like to see an end to early retirement or the breakage of links between pension benefits and wages. The outcome of such a referendum would be pretty predictable after all, and unlikely to favor the bosses.

The endnotes of this particular ERT document point out that the companies from which its members are drawn have a combined turnover of 1350 billion Euro and employ 4.2 million people. By way of a comparison southern Ireland near the height of the boom in 2001 with a population of 3,840,838 had a GDP of $81.9 billion.

It's who you know

The ERT is fairly honest about the access it enjoys to European politicians on its web page. Under working methods it includes "At European level, the ERT has contacts with the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. ...Every six months the ERT meets with the government that holds the EU presidency to discuss priorities. ... At national level, each Member has personal contacts with his own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion-formers and the press."

But back to our old friend Article 133. According to the Corporate Europe Observer at the time of the Amsterdam treaty (1997) "the ERT proposed that the power of the European Commission to bargain on behalf of EU Member States should be extended to all external commercial issues, including trade in services, investment and the protection of intellectual property"[vii]. These of course are the areas covered by the very revisions to Article 133 in the Nice treaty!

Perhaps we are picking on the ERT too much? It's also estimated that Brussels hosts some 500 industry lobby groups employing some 10,000 professional lobbyists. 1999 for instance saw a multi-million Euro lobbying campaign by the biotech companies which saw the introduction of the industry friendly 'Patents on life' directive. And returning to our old friend Article 133 according to ATTAC - Ireland, "a BBC "Newsnight" investigation revealed that industry chiefs of the services lobby-group, the European Services Forum, held exclusive meetings with the EU's Article 133 Committee, which sets the European Commission's trade policies. The Article 133 Committee's deliberations are supposedly confidential. All other social partners, trade unions, Civil society NGO's, small business organisations are excluded from these meetings."[viii]

The message is clear. A substantial part of the Nice treat, Article 133 has essentially been drafted by the European corporations to increase their profits at the expense of the people of Europe and those we trade with. The nature of these changes are things huge number of Irish workers would oppose if they were presented in plain English in a referendum. Yet not only are they not presented in such terms in the treaty in the last referendum the government appointed Referendum Commission refused to even mention Article 133 in its booklet for the last referendum! Not is it mentioned in the EU published guide 'What difference with the treaty of Nice make'[ix].

It is clear that we cannot expect the EU, the Referendum Commission or the media to explain the corporate agenda behind the Nice treaty. If you want this to happen then you will need to join up with others to get the information out. Anarchists will be campaigning against the Nice treaty, if you would like to take part in the organisation of this campaign or just receive leaflets or posters to distribute email us at no longer relevant.

First published Aug 2002

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

At the time of republication the old Libertarians Against Nice site is still online and contains a lot of documents from the campaign including a lot of the press releases which I was probably the author of as I was the press spokesperson.


i WTO Secretariat, June 2002 'Trade Policy Review of the European Union', online at
iv There web page is at
v * Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002: Presidency conclusions, online at
vi Will European Governments in Barcelona
keep their Lisbon promises? Message from the European Round Table of Industrialists to the Barcelona European Council, March 2002, online at
viii Conor O'Brien, ATTAC Ireland, Submission to the Forum on Europe, 1st December 2001, online at
ix online at


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