By Daniel Margrain
David Cameron’s (failed) attempts at diplomatic arm twisting of European leaders’ was made with a view to appeasing right wing Europhobe factions in order to strengthen the pro-EU position within his party and, by extension, satisfy others outside such as the Henry Jackson Society who lobby it. Any EU concessions offered to Cameron on economic or social policy in return for continued EU membership would undermine whatever vestiges of power the EU has in terms of protecting ordinary people from the rapaciousness of corporations.
Also, in terms of immigration policy, any concessions to Cameron by the other EU member states would play into the hands of neoconservatives and other far right figures like Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and the openly racist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), co-founder and former spokesman and leader of the fascist English Defence League (EDL). These figures, and similar within mainstream media circles like Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen, deliberately conflate immigration with Islamist terrorism in order to pander to the prejudices among aspects of the electorate which Cameron responds to in kind. The implications, we are told, are clear: for as long as the country is part of the EU, “the swamping” of the indigenous British population by alien migrants from the other EU countries cannot be halted.
Unfortunately, this is the neoliberal context that is the dominant narrative shaping the British EU membership referendum campaign terrain. Politically, this is being marked out by the right wing eurosceptic Tories and by their outriders in the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The British electorate has been told in increasingly strident terms that British “national sovereignty” is at stake without informing them what the alternative to national sovereignty could potentially entail.
Everything that has been positive about the EU over the years appears to be in retreat while everything negative seems to be accelerating. Already the EU has ceded a great deal to corporations at the expense of people and this is a process that seems to be ongoing. It’s simply wrong and immoral, for example, that subsidies for the richest landowners in Europe continue to increase apace. It’s also wrong and immoral for the EU to have attempted to negotiate with the United States in secret the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which effectively represents the undemocratic transfer of power from parliaments to corporations.
Another unwelcome consequence of the direction the EU is moving in, is the way the most powerful countries within it, most notably Germany, have used their economic leverage to weaken the democratic will of the less powerful such as Greece and Portugal. There are many more compelling reasons – including environmental and ecological ones – that can be justifiably argued as to why Britain should pull out of the EU.and why it is not functioning in the way that many on the left think it should. But are these arguments sufficient enough reason for the UK to abandon the project altogether?
Campaigning for the broadest possible opposition to neoliberal EU austerity policies as well as a different, socialist Europe, seem to me to be perfectly compatible with voting in favour of continued EU membership. As John Palmer argued:
“Socialists will want to use the debate about Britain and the European Union to build the widest possible campaign to force a break with the prevailing austerity policies of the euro-area powers. They will want to defend parties on the left—such as Syriza in Greece and possibly Podemos in Spain later this year—from further strong-arm policies designed to undermine their democratic credentials. If the socialists, including Syriza and Podemos are to succeed in radically changing the direction of European Union policy, the left will need to develop much more integrated, supranational forms of political organisation at the European level. This will require profound changes to the almost exclusively national framework in which such parties have traditionally thought and acted. Big capital, for its part, certainly understands this.”
For the tide to shift in favour of a different kind of Europe requires a corresponding shift in the relations of political power throughout the countries of Europe that are sympathetic to the ideals of Podemos and Corbynism, both of which are gaining traction in Spain and Britain respectively. This will, in practical terms, mean that the left will have to win arguments on key issues such as the protection of EU social legislation and human rights. This is most likely to be achieved as the result of an organized Europe-wide movement in favour of the kind of workers’ rights and protections’ that the neoconservatives want to opt out of. There can be no doubt that if Britain leaves the EU many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped.
The left will also have to argue against the attempts of the anti-EU right to roll back the powers of both the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) and—more urgently—of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Tory establishment has objected to some of the humane rulings of the ECHR that, in particular, includes the protection of the human rights of immigrants at risk of being deported by the UK. The ECHR is itself outside the remit of the European Union. But the ECJ is bound by the overarching decisions of the ECHR when ruling on matters of specifically EU law. The Tories want a “British” convention on human rights to replace the European convention which if achieved, would further seriously undermine civil liberties and human rights in Britain.
Much of the Tory austerity drive has to do with the systemic and structural limitations associated with state power at the national level. The dual concepts of national sovereignty and the “pooling of sovereignty” are incongruous. The latter implies greater European integration and federalization which is the visionary concept of the EU envisaged by the former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. This is no bad thing. Pooling sovereignty that benefits a greater number of people than would otherwise be the case represents a move in the right direction. It seems to me that we need greater European integration, not less.
But this point of view is saddled by the argument – no matter how unfounded it is – that the case for greater European integration is undermined by the lackluster performance of the Euro. In truth, the national schadenfruede that exemplified the British government’s reaction to the problems associated with a currency union viz a vie the Euro was a red-herring. The problem is not currency union, but the lack of any fiscal union. The one is not feasible without the other. The economic argument for the alleged failure of the EU as an economic project, therefore, can not be made on the basis of the relative weakness of the Euro, but rather on the lack of any implementation of a fiscal union.
Despite it’s many faults, I principally view the European Union as an historically progressive project that can, through effective political organization within the EU, be re-orientated to benefit the many as opposed to the few. Any political derailment of the unification and integration process would likely lead to the ‘Balkanization’ of Europe. This would increase the risks to humanity in terms of conflict and war in the nuclear age which is arguably greater now than during any other epoch in history. On balance, the only rational and principled way for progressives on the left to vote in the forthcoming referendum is Yes to stay in.