We should reject wholeheartedly the fudge that David Cameron came back from Brussels with. He is asking the public to support staying within a reformed Europe, but he has deformed Europe in the process of creating this fudge.
says Economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in response to the question “How should British voters who are dissatisfied with the EU view the referendum?”
Yet at the same time we should also reject the Eurosceptic view that Britain should leave the EU, but stay within the single market. I have a lot of respect for Tory Eurosceptics with a Burkean view of the sovereignty of national parliaments. The problem is that they also support staying in the single market. This is an incoherent proposition: it’s impossible to stay in the single market and keep your sovereignty. 1
Which is surely a noteworthy admission (hence the bold emphasis) from the person most prominent in the left-wing half of the campaign to stay.
Click here to read more of the transcribed interview with Yanis Varoufakis in which discusses the launch of his new ‘Democracy in Europe’ movement (DiEM25).
When Michael Chessum, a major organiser of the pro-Remain ‘Another Europe is Possible’ (AEiP) movement, is questioned about what concrete ‘changes’ he would like to see in EU, he simply dodges the question. Chessum’s behaviour generalises. To my knowledge, not a single supporter of Remain has presented a satisfying answer to the question of how we are supposed to go about reforming the EU. Even Yanis Varoufakis during his recent ‘Lunch with the Financial Times’ interview confessed that in reality the EU isn’t going to be reformed to anywhere near the extent the Remainers are hoping for (attempts to reform ‘will probably end in failure like all the best intentions’, he claimed). Even Remain supporter Ed Rooksby can write on his blog about how he is ‘not particularly convinced by arguments emanating from [AEiP] in relation to the possibility of transforming EU institutions in a leftist direction’. How is a new, reformed EU possible? How can we change it to break from the Washington Consensus? The answers are, worryingly, not forthcoming.
writes Elliot Murphy in a recently published Counterpunch article in which he deliberates on all sides of the EU referendum campaign.
Murphy’s case is not so much that a ‘Left Exit’ can be delivered, but that ‘Left Remain’ is replete with “airy-fairy proposals” and devoid of “any concrete solutions”. That, as he rightly asserts:
In theory, another anything is possible: Another New Zealand, Another Skelmersdale, Another Isla Nublar, Another Tamriel. It is not as if another EU is inherently unreachable, but rather that without any posited, realistic steps to achieve it, the hopes of the Remain camp will quickly dissolve after June 23rd, no matter which side wins. 2
More from Murphy later.
On February 18th, an assorted group of prominent and not so prominent leftists including Caroline Lucas PM (Green), Cat Smith MP (Labour shadow minister for women), Marina Prentoulis (Syriza UK), Kate Hudson (Left Unity), Michael Mansfield and Nick Dearden put their names to a letter that appeared in the Guardian outlining reasons to get solidly behind what they describe as “a radical ‘in’ vote” to Europe:
Our campaign will put the case for staying in the EU independently of Cameron and big business, opposing any part of a “renegotiation” that attacks workers’, migrants’ or human rights. We will combine campaigning for an in vote with arguing for an alternative economic model, maintaining European citizens’ rights to live and work across the EU, and for far-reaching democratic reforms of European institutions. 3
Behind the initiative was a newly-fledged campaign group Another Europe is Possible that one of the lesser known signatories above, Luke Cooper, lecturer in politics at Anglia Ruskin University, helped to establish. In a related piece published a fortnight earlier [Feb 4th], Cooper prepared the ground for the campaign launch on the openDemocracy website. Titled “A different Europe or bust”, Cooper of course makes the case for staying, although he is also quick to concede:
None of us support the status quo; we all recognise radical institutional and political change is needed. Most of us also know, however, that a British exit would leave workers even more vulnerable to a Tory government and would not be a step towards the social Europe we believe in.
Rising nationalist sentiment, the structurally embedded neoliberalism of Eurozone institutions and the new downturn in the global economy all create a significant challenge for how to go about constructing an alternative. Taken together they require the left to construct a political alternative that is, firstly, bold and radical enough to address the systemic causes of the current crises and, secondly, rejects the illusion that a retreat into competing protectionist states offers even a partial answer. 4
What Cooper and others on the left are advocating then is a fresh start to Europe – a plan B:
[B]reaking with austerity and constructing a European new deal based on ecologically sustainable investment in jobs and growth. 5
As a cautious but committed internationalist, I have a great deal of sympathy with their position. Undeniably Europe needs a fresh start founded upon an economic ‘new deal’ that can halt a disastrous economic decline and rescue the poorest partner nations. To be nitpicking, however, such vitally needed investment must be injected into infrastructure projects and to boost productive capacity rather than less intangibly into “jobs and growth”. Without productive activity, creation of “jobs and growth”, irrespective of ‘sustainability’, will not secure long-term economic prosperity.
But the significant and most probably insurmountable difficulty is here comes in the shape of the EU institutions themselves. For these undemocratic institutions are not merely disinclined to make the sorts of ‘new deal’ investments required, but staunchly antithetical to ‘bailouts’ of every kind other than those needed to keep afloat the “too big to fail” banks.
Moreover, without a fleshed out programme of demands for genuine reform, these sorts of advocacy for ‘a better Europe’, are dangerous exercises in building castles in the air. For whose purpose does it really serve to say that although the EU is a monster (as Varoufakis has many times described it) we might coax it into better behaving itself when we have literally no firm ideas on how to force a change? Worse, since beneath the veneer of wishful optimism runs a deep vein of fear-mongering hardly less noxious than in the official Tory-led ‘Remain’ campaign:
A vote to ‘leave’ will not create the political space for a socialist Europe. The fragmentation of the EU would be on a right-wing, intolerant and nationalist basis. It would be a Europe of Le Pen, Farage, Orban and others on the right. 6
Taken from a strident and hectoring post from Left Unity in support of the Another Europe is Possible campaign. The same post ends with words from Felicity Dowling, Left Unity’s Principal Speaker, who says:
‘We stand with those who have most to lose in the EU referendum campaign: with the children of workers who have lost child benefit, with the migrants who face further unjust vilification as the debate rages.
‘We stand with the tens of thousands fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
‘We stand together with British and European workers.’
It follows by omission (presumably) that whoever wishes to leave, therefore, does NOT stand with the refugees or the British workers. That by default we stand in opposition to both. Indeed, if judged by Dowling’s list then our dereliction is so grievous that a vote for Brexit is tantamount to voting National Front…! 7
As reader Liz Langrick wrote in a heartfelt response to that Another Europe letter in the Guardian:
Your pro-EU stance seems to suggest that leaving the EU is a preoccupation of the Tory right and all voters of the centre-left should be pro-EU because it somehow represents progressive politics and is a vague force for good. But this is a huge betrayal of the sections of society you purport to speak for.
Quite clearly an unlimited supply of low-skilled labour – which is what freedom of movement represents – makes it ever easier for employers to offer zero-hours or insecure employment, both for migrants and for British low-paid. This is benefiting only business owners not known for their public-mindedness or even paying any tax. How can anyone on the left be in favour of a system that perpetuates this? Any improvements to workers’ rights the EU may have secured have been and will continue to be fundamentally undermined by this, and arguing that we can change this from within is pie in the sky – as the difficulties Cameron’s negotiations have encountered clearly show.
And aside from the economic impacts on the poorer sections of society, it’s ironic that those on the left, particularly Labour MPs, support membership of an organisation that is so deeply undemocratic and undermines the role of ordinary people in the law-making/representation process.
So please stop clinging to the idea that the EU is progressive and therefore we must stay in at all costs. The EU is fundamentally driven by the demands of Germany and France. 8
To which I simply wish to add a single, small, but important, caveat. The EU is not driven much if at all by the demands of either the French or Germans, presuming that we are speaking of the French and German people (and if it were, then it would bear a better semblance to democracy). It is instead an apparatus serving corporate interests, the most powerful of which are the major banks. So for “Germany and France” it is better to read: Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and Société Générale.
I shall conclude with a more extended quote from Elliot Murphy’s excellent Counterpunch article which details a few of the many intractable obstructions to this envisaged “Plan B” – meaning reform in favour of social justice, labour rights and a genuinely more equal society – for the European Union:
This groundswell of support for Remain across substantial parts of the Left is hard to square with the facts. State aid to declining industries, along with renationalisation, are not permitted by current EU laws (under directive 2012/34/EU), and any mildly progressive government which managed to get elected in 2020 would be hindered from the outset by the EU. Considerable reforms of the energy market would also be illegal under EU directives 2009/72EU and 2009/73/EU. Collective bargaining is becoming much weaker across the EU, most vividly in France and Germany.
McDonnell’s plans for People’s Quantitative Easing? Outlawed by Article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The series of anti-trade union laws introduced in Britain over the past few decades? The EU has no qualms with these whatsoever, showing no interest in providing even modest forms of protection for workers.
As the Labour Leave campaign points out, the EU would also outlaw an end to NHS outsourcing, tougher measures on tax avoidance, and general improvements to workers’ rights. The soft Left’s talk of international solidarity and the brotherhood of man in relation to the EU is absurd, especially as it continues to drive forward deeply militaristic and undemocratic (or rather, anti-democratic) policies. The EU is, after all, one the world’s major post-war imperialist projects, boasting an inherently and aggressively exploitative relation with the global South. The entirety of the EU parliament could be filled with McDonnells and Iglesias’s and no substantial reform would be forthcoming: The parliament is an institution purely of amendment and all power lies with the civil servants and the unelectable Commission.
And while Cameron, Johnson, Gove and Osborne are not the most admirable men in the world, they cannot be blamed for everything: It is the EU which has been hindering a just and lasting resolution to the refugee problem, not the UK state. A Left argument for Leave is firmly grounded not in the Left Remain camp’s ‘politics of hope’ (Owen Jones’s terminology), but rather in a well-earned sense of pessimism. As Chris Hedges recently told Vice: ‘This kind of mania for hope, that has infected even the Left, is a political pacifier. You know, everybody is addicted to these happy thoughts, and that keeps us complacent’. 9
Click here to read Elliot Murphy’s full article.
Additional: Bilderberg and Brexit
This year’s Bilderberg meeting is about to kick-off in Dresden today, and in one of Charlie Skelton’s preliminary sketches published on Monday [June 6th], he speculates on how the men behind the police cordons, the “the high priests of globalisation” as former attendee Will Hutton described them, are viewing the prospect of Brexit:
“A disaster for everyone” is how Henri de Castries [the Chairman of the group], the boss of AXA and a director of HSBC, describes Brexit. But in particular, it is a disaster for his banking and big business colleagues at Bilderberg. Thomas Enders, the CEO of Airbus, who sits on Bilderberg’s steering committee – the group’s governing body – said, in a recent interview with CNBC, that his industry would be “lobbying” against Brexit. […]
Goldman Sachs has two senior representatives on Bilderberg’s steering committee: James A. Johnson, a board member of the bank, and Robert Zoellick, the chairman of Goldman Sachs’ board of international advisors. We know from Charity Commission accounts that Goldman Sachs, along with BP, is one of the key funders of the group, and we also know that they’ve been pumping “a substantial six-figure sum” into the Remain campaign. And Goldman Sachs doesn’t spend money lightly. The Remain campaign is clearly close to whatever they have instead of a heart.
For Bilderberg, as for Goldman Sachs, the idea that there might be any kind of push-back against globalisation is a horrific one. I suspect we’ll glimpse some frowning faces behind the tinted glass as the limousines start rolling up on Thursday.
As Skelton concludes:
The prospect of Brexit “frightens me”, admit Ken Jacobs, the head of Lazard, and another member of Bilderberg’s inner circle. Not much frightens these people. Only two things: sunlight and Brexit. 10
Click here to read Charlie Skelton’s full article.
1 From an transcribed interview with EUROPP’s editor Stuart Brown entitled “Yanis Varoufakis: “The UK should stay in the EU to fight tooth and nail against the EU’s anti-democratic institutions” , published by the London School of Economics (LSE) on February 22, 2016. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/02/22/yanis-varoufakis-the-uk-should-stay-in-the-eu-to-fight-tooth-and-nail-against-the-eus-anti-democratic-institutions/
2 From an article entitled “Another Tamriel is Possible: Brexit Proposals vs Solutions” written by Elliot Murphy, published in Counterpunch on June 7, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/07/another-tamriel-is-possible-brexit-proposals-vs-solutions/
3 From an article entitled “Divisions on the left over the benefits of staying in the EU” published in the Guardian on February 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/18/divisions-on-the-left-over-the-benefits-of-staying-in-the-eu
4 From an article entitled “A different Europe or bust” written by Luke Cooper
7 Here is my own comment which you can also read by following the link:
With due respect, the choice as you present it is a false one. Firstly, voting to stay inside the EU will automatically mean assenting to Plan A – there is no Plan B. On the other hand, there are many reasons to vote to leave the EU (not mentioned above) that have nothing whatsoever to do with building walls and a fortress Europe – which is something happening in the extant EU. As is the financial ruin of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. And as is TTIP.
The EU is a technocracy run at the behest of the corporations and big finance that urgently needs to be undone. The current disintegration of Europe is happening largely because of policies of the EU. Certainly the nations of Europe must survive, but if this to happen then it may be necessary for the EU to perish.
Posted on February 24th 2016.
8 A response appended to the main article entitled “Divisions on the left over the benefits of staying in the EU” published in the Guardian on February 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/18/divisions-on-the-left-over-the-benefits-of-staying-in-the-eu
9 From an article entitled “Another Tamriel is Possible: Brexit Proposals vs Solutions” written by Elliot Murphy, published in Counterpunch on June 7, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/07/another-tamriel-is-possible-brexit-proposals-vs-solutions/
10 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2016: We can expect desperate lobbying against Brexit from Big Business” written by Charlie Skelton, published in the International Business Times on June 6, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bilderberg-2016-we-can-expect-desperate-lobbying-against-brexit-big-business-1563898