Saturday, June 04, 2005

The International Herald Tribune has a lovely follow-up on France's sorry vote against the EU constitution - Thomas Fuller examines the French and their fear of Polish plumbers:

WARSAW--Visitors driving through the outskirts of Warsaw could be forgiven for thinking they were in France.

The shopping centers that ring the capital are dominated by giant French retail chains like Auchan, Carrefour, Go Sport, Leroy Merlin, Castorama and E. Leclerc.

The stores tell the larger story of what happened to the Polish economy over the past decade: banks and companies were swallowed up by West European companies so thoroughly that today in the construction industry, for example, there are no major companies - those that handle big contracts, as opposed to subcontractors - owned by Poles, according to the Polish Chamber of the Building Industry.

Poland accepted this because it was a condition of joining the European Union, specifically the principle of the free movement of "goods, persons, services and capital."

But are France and other countries in Western Europe living up to their side of the bargain? What about the free movement of people? For some Poles this was the troubling subtext to France's rejection of Europe's proposed constitution on Sunday.

Only Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have allowed Poles to work in their countries since Poland joined the EU in May 2004.

Zbigniew Bachman, the director of the Polish Chamber of the Building Industry, says foreigners are profiting handsomely from their domination of the market - and the profits are going back to France, Spain or Germany. Yet French voters are famously up in arms about Polish plumbers coming to fix French pipes at cut rates.

"We believe that if Poland is now a member of the EU, it is like being a province in a larger country," Bachman said. "It is obvious that rich regions will suck people away from poorer areas."

The message to West Europeans these days from Poland may be this: Beware of the backlash from the east. You have gobbled up entire industries, and for the European Union to truly work, you will have to give something in return.



  1. Pryvit,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now, and really enjoy it. Thank you for this post--a big task ahead of us who comment on the situation in Eastern Europe is to tell the true story of EU acsension: that it has become a free trade and therefore unfair trade union on an East-West axis; or to put it another way, that the Western Europeans have worked out something similar to what the US did with Mexico and Canada and called it NAFTA, but on an East-West axis; that a year ago, a tomato grown in Spain sold for cheaper in Budapest than one in Hungary, since Central European farmers get nowhere the same amount of subsidies as Spanish ones (look up the Hungarian-American sociologist Zsuzsa Gul on the internet for more--she's a prof in the Illinois system); that, as the article you posted points out, there was immediate freedom of movement for Capital, but a 7 year moratorium on the movement of Labor that, when it expires, CAN BE RENEWED!! The list goes on and on, such as all the fact that none of the Central European nations that recently joined recieved the same amount of financial support as did Spain and Ireland, et al, when they initially joined, etc.

    Now my position is that Ukraine still should strive to join the EU--not because it truly or completely lives up to its reputation as a bastion of freedom and democracy, but because it has some of the most potential of doing so out of any political formation around on earth, and the new members can fight like hell to make it a fair-trade institution, just like nations around the southern hemisphere of the world are banning together to fight to change the WTO from a free-trade club dominated by multinational corporations and hence mostly Western capitalists, to a fair trade club that truly struggles for equality and democracy in the world instead of using them as empty slogans to justify actual wars as well as a war on the world's poor (the WTO is hardly waging a war on poverty. . .).

    But for the moment, it is very sad to see how the EU can institutionalize the traditional arrogance of certain of its regions toward the others. . .

    Anyhow, check out my blog on Ukraine:

    06.04.05 - 3:57 pm

  2. I must agree with dykun but emphasize that the people of France (as opposed to those controling French capital) have not seen the benefit of expanded EU membership but have paid, and are paying, a price in uncertainty and stagnant or declining standard of living as capital flows to cheap labor and higher profit margins.

    A win-win solution is required and needs to be competently laid out and advocated... where is it? I don't see it.

    06.04.05 - 4:34 pm

  3. Good point, chris b. It is the same in the United States as everywhere in which free-trade agreements are made: the hardest hit part of the population was the American working class, which has lost most of its manufacturing jobs as companies took off for south of the border or China or India or Pakistan. . .

    The solution, the way I see it and the way that many in the global anti-Free Trade or pro-Fair Trade Movement see it, is that the Eastern and Southern nations need to get organized together into a bloc to demand high wage and environmental protections, and to refuse to go along with the "austerity measures" and "restructuring" programs of the IMF/World Bank; i.e., they should insist on the importance of social programs such as universal, high-quality medical care. They should demand that investment by the bank in the infrastructure of their countries is NOT merely investment in the means of production so that Western and Northern businesses can get in and out quickly with their Capital, but actually have to leave some of it behind for pensions and livable wages and healthcare, etc. The incentive for Capital flight to these nations would therefore decrease, and working people in France or the US would no longer be subsidizing and working for their own demise, while a fair amount of investement in the non-northern and non-western countries would still continue, but not just at the rate that makes neoliberals go wild.

    But it is interesting to see the high level of political awareness of the average Frenchperson. Such a plebiscite on NAFTA probably would pass in the US today, with its Republicanized Proletariat and the fact that the Clinton Democrats were major Free-Traders, too. . .

    06.04.05 - 8:13 pm

  4. Do the French just hate everyone who's not French or what.

    06.10.05 - 12:28 am