(photo credit: )
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday that a new European Union treaty would enshrine the protection of workers, reject cutthroat competition as ideology and fully turn its back on US-style, free-market economics.
"It will perhaps provide Europe with a little more humanity," Sarkozy said after almost a full day of nonstop negotiations yielded the outlines of a treaty to reinvigorate the 27-nation bloc still suffering from the collapse of its constitution two years ago.
Sarkozy said the constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters fed up with an economic system that let too many people fall through Europe's once-vaunted social security system and left workers victim to the harsh economic realities of globalization.
"It is affirmed for the first time that the union must contribute to the protection of its citizens," he said of the treaty project, which should be fully approved by year's end. "The word 'protection' is no longer taboo."
In a key passage, France made sure that a reference to a goal of "free and undistorted" competition within the EU was removed from the preamble to the proposed treaty.
France's longtime economic opposite, Britain, insisted there still were enough guarantees within European legislation for free-trade liberalism to flourish.
"The belief in a free market remains; that is not being changed," Blair said, adding that ensuring fair competition would remain a key policy objective.
EU officials said that dropping mention of a free EU market from one segment of the treaty would not affect existing EU rules, the bloc's role in guaranteeing antitrust principles or the EU right to do business anywhere in the 27-nation bloc.
But France's move to force the change is politically significant, and Sarkozy made the most of it. Unlike Britain, France's society has a strong public service basis and there long were fears that a European Union without proper social guarantees would undermine France's way of life.
Sarkozy saw it as a major reason why French voters rejected the constitution in 2005.
"Competition as ideology, as a dogma, what has it provided for Europe? Fewer and fewer people who vote in European elections and fewer and fewer who believed in Europe," Sarkozy said. "Perhaps we had to reflect. I believe in competition, I believe in the market, but I believe in competition as a way, not an end in itself. "
The EU's strict antitrust and state subsidy rules, enshrined in its 1957 founding treaty, have been the bane of governments like France wanting to inject public money into struggling companies and to shield homegrown companies from overwhelming foreign competition.
EU regulators said the rules are needed to help the bloc's separate states merge into a single market, helping businesses start up in other regions and cutting prices for customers and costs for companies.
Blair and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso have led a drive to make the EU more attractive to businesses and to create new jobs by trimming back the bloc's social security net and bureaucratic red tape. They wanted to enshrine the goal of an open market in any EU charter or treaty.
Sarkozy's victory proved otherwise Saturday. "Perhaps it will remind European leaders that Europe is there to protect, not to worry people." A stronger hand to lead the economy was not necessarily bad.
"Yes, it is politics," said Sarkozy. "But it is perhaps because we did not have enough politics in Europe, that we found ourselves with a Europe in which people no longer recognized themselves."
Despite Saturday's rhetoric, Sarkozy is also keen on economic reforms and wants to overhaul France's labor market and its 35-hour work week. But he has to balance those goals against French concerns that free-market rules damage the protections that make it difficult to fire workers.
"I am sure we can find a solution to that, making sure in the future the internal market will still be based on 'free and undistorted competition,"' said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.