Archive for the ‘A Democratic Europe’ Category

Its Time Come Round At Last

Forty years have passed since the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community and thirty eight years have passed since that decision was retroactively consented to by the citizens of this country in the first ever UK-wide referendum. Much has happened in the time since. The division in the Labour Party over membership of the common market, the original ‘No’ campaign having been all but led by left-wing figures like Tony Benn, has faded with no trace of Euroscepticism to be found among the party’s leaders. The Tory Party, however, have spent the last three decades waging civil war over the matter.

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The left, having become conservative, headed the opposition to EEC membership in the first referendum.

The character of the union itself has changed. The common market required common regulations and common laws which required a Parliament to consent to them, institutions and a large bureaucracy to implement (and draft) them, and courts to enforce them. It required a transfer of some small degree of sovereignty to Europe. Soon we had a European Union, a continental proto-state, with its own legislature, civil service and currency. There was a common visa and customs union, freedom of travel, residence and work and equal rights for all EU citizens in every member state. Individual states were held to account for the laws that they passed and the actions of their governments and British politicians, being unaccustomed to constitutional governance, were not always best please. Suddenly it seemed the European Union just wasn’t what we had signed up for.

And nobody asked us.

Instead the process of integration happened bureaucratically, backroom deals were negotiated by politicians and officials, treaties were signed and rubber-stamped while all we could do was watch it happening on telly. The bureaucratic nature of the integration process was reflected in the form of this Union of which we are now citizens: we have an elected parliament, sure, but one with no powers of legislative initiative and not so much as a veto on the matters deemed too important for directly elected representatives; real power is concentrated in the hands of the technocrats appointed as Commissioners; the non-elected upper chamber of the legislature, the Council of the European Union, has superiority over the elected lower chamber; monetary policy within the Eurozone is set by unelected officials (almost entirely former private bank executives) within the ECB. A union founded by bureaucratic rather than democratic means was always going to be a bureaucratic entity rather than a substantive democracy.

Big business is terrified of the prospect of being locked out of the European integration process, it needs the common market and a say in the regulations that govern that market, it wants the single currency so that they are no longer disadvantaged by the unstable, yet rarely favourable, exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro. Renegotiations and referenda put all that at risk, along with the competitiveness and productivity of British industry and the implications that has for employment, wages and working hours; which is exactly what they should be saying to the British worker, but have entirely failed to do so, relying – instead of treating them like adults and arguing democratically for integration – on cutting them out of the decision making process at every stage. Now the British worker, who could be their greatest ally in the fight for European integration, resents the Union, its institutions, the people who have forced it upon them and everything it stands for.

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The unnatural bureaucratic abomination that is the EU (and the process that spawned it), has allowed the rise of reaction under the banner of democracy.

Bred of this resentment, a cancer has spread throughout the British corpus politicum, poisoning the debate as much as the europhilic elites have. The bastard child of the Tory Party, UKIP clings onto the European bureaucracy like an addict, dependent upon its funding for growth and feeding off its hypocrisy for sustenance, the taboo of a referendum being at once both its raison d’etre and its inevitable coup de grâce. Citizens have not suddenly become any more aggrieved by their treatment in the name of progress yet the swelling purple tumour has been drawing more and more lifeblood away from the Tories, enough that they could pay a price in marginal seats.

This was the context for yesterday’s speech by the Prime Minister, possibly the first speech in history to have been analysed to death several weeks in advance of it having been made, in which he promised, finally, after all this time, a second in-out referendum on our continued membership of this much changed union.

Except that’s not actually what happened at all. He hasn’t actually promised us a referendum, so much as cynically dangled the possibility in the distant future in the desperate hope it will help him get re-elected. Worse, the referendum that’s been suggested isn’t actually an in-out referendum at all, we won’t be given the choice between embracing or rejecting “ever closer union,” rather we will be given the choice between leaving the integration process behind and settling down as a second class economy on the European periphery, or leaving altogether. It’s less “in-out” and more “out-even further out”.

The British electorate are still not being offered a democratic choice on Europe. Instead of bureaucratically forcing through integration with total disinterest to the will of the people, Cameron’s proposal will, if ever realised, force through disintegration against the will of the people.

The demand for a renegotiation of Britain’s place within the EU, whatever specifics the Prime Minister has in mind, amounts to one of two things:

Either the nonsense of remaining subject to EU laws (common markets requiring common regulations) but having no say in them, in order to appease the forces of reaction that have such a hold on his party.

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Appeasing its uncompetitive farmers, Norway is subject to EU laws but has no say in making them.

Or the equal nonsense of expecting Britain to be uniquely grated exemptions from the disadvantages of membership while enjoying all the advantages – though, of course, what Cameron considers the advantages and disadvantages to be are almost polar opposites of what the advantages and disadvantages are to British workers.

Naturally neither of these are outcomes he truly desires, his wildest ambition being a few token concessions to offer up if he’s somehow still Prime Minister in 2017. It’s obvious the Tories’ big capitalist backers won’t tolerate the first and that Cameron can’t reasonably expect the second in anything but a purely token measure. He’s flag waving and banking on the hostility of European leaders: all the better for stirring up nationalistic sentiment in the run up to an election. The government have no interest in pushing for the kind of democratic reform the EU needs for precisely the same reasons they have no interest in reaching a settlement with Argentina over the Falklands: unresolved they present too convenient an opportunity for nationalistic chest-thumping and political point-scoring in times of failing economic policies and, today, political paralysis within the coalitions – both the coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and the coalition within the Conservative Party between its liberal bourgeois wing and its parochial reactionary wing. At PMQs yesterday, Cameron asked “Who goes into a negotiation hoping and expecting to fail?” You do, David, apparently you do.

The received wisdom has long been that the British public hate the EU and would likely vote to leave it if given a choice. While the attitude of the British public to the EU is undeniably a negative one, it is important to remember that this attitude is a result of the process that forged it and, treated like adults, given a democratic choice and engaged in an honest, frank and open debate the opinion of the electorate would doubtless swing drastically. If the federalists accept the flaws of the union and make a compelling case instead of whitewashing the EU’s problems, a victory could be won.

In response to Cameron’s ploy the Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet jumped into action, condemning the move on the grounds that investors wouldn’t be happy. And you mustn’t upset the investors, they hold us all hostage after all.

Of course the Labour Party leadership are correct to point out the threat to Britain’s triple-A credit rating caused by the medium and long term uncertainty introduced by a hypothetical 2017 referendum. The City will happily use the Tories as leverage against the threat of European regulation but ultimately they need barriers to European finance like they need an uncontrolled default on Greek debt. But if the Labour Party is going to be worthy of its name it needs to defend the Union in the interest of working people, not bankers. Instead it’s investors first and workers last. In opposing a referendum, Labour bowed to the will of the financial rentiers over the will of the electorate.

The left should demand that a Labour government offers a real in-out referendum in 2016 so that the case for integration can be made democratically. Only then can a movement toward essential democratic reform of the European Union be born.