The argument surrounding British involvement in the EU is fast becoming a main political topic in British politics, only behind the Coalition government’s austerity plan and the debate surrounding Scottish Independence on the political agenda. However, the extent to which the EU plays in the government’s austerity plans and what involvement it may have in an independent Scotland, also links into the debate on the EU and it’s growing political and economic power. Short of the extreme step of withdrawal from the European Union, Britain can do little to counter the neo-liberal agenda of the EU. This, however, is not an option for Britain in it’s current form as it is dependent on the capital and trade from the EU, meaning that there is little option but to accept EU control and rate settings, which it must organise it’s political and economic policies around accordingly. This article will look at how decisions are constrained by the EU and it’s institutions and how the democratic rights of citizens in Britain and throughout the EU have been abused to force through a single military and economic policy, as well as analysing what this means for the construction of a ‘United States of Europe’.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community, the ability for it to influence the world through it’s foreign policy and economic superiority had long since become extinct. The rise of the United States of America as world power and diminishing of empire had seen Britain become marginalised more and more since the end of the Second World War. The onset of economic crisis in 1973 saw deep entrenched cracks in the British economy expand. For British state-capital, the glory days of the empire was over, joining the EEC was the only option for the British state.
However, by joining the EEC, British state government and parliament gave up it’s sovereign right over it’s economy to the council of ministers and the European commission. For the Labour government in charge at the time, this meant that it could not implement it’s policies of state intervention, ownership and investment in industry because, as Tony Benn recalls: “Every key decision in the fields of industrial and regional policy would be subject to supervision, control and a possible veto by the commission,” (Tony Benn, 1980). From inception the EEC had an anti-industry economic policy at it’s core as it sought to put emphasis on financial and service capitalism. It was this policy in 1975, that undermined the British government policy and, as a consequence, parliamentary sovereignty and democracy.
Writing in How Parliament works, Paul Silks and Rhodric Walters say that the “Single European act of 1985, brought new restrictions to Britain and other member states,” and they add, “the Maastricht treaty of 1992, brought a single European foreign policy, security policy and justice and home affairs policy,” (Silks and Walters, How Parliament works, p228, 2004). These were the “Three founding pillars” that the European Union is now built on. Both these acts, along with Tony Blair’s signing of the EU constitution, was done without the consent of the people of Britain and the treaties were not in the manifestos of the parties in parliament. These treaties took more powers from the hands of the British people who elect their governments and gave them to the European council of ministers, European Parliament and the European commission, and as Will Podmore and Doug Nicholls say in their book, The EU: Bad for Britain, A Trade Union view: “Our sovereign national rights are not Parliaments to give away.” (Podmore and Nicholls, p277, 2005). Silks and Walters add further on the topic, “The cumulative effect of the measures already agreed has been to make an increasing number of aspects of life in the UK subject to European Union decision – or at least discussion. As a consequence, British public opinion, politicians of all parties and parliament have had to undergo a sometimes painful and acrimonious readjustment to the inevitable sacrifice of sovereignty which has resulted.” (Silks and Walters, 2004). Not only do both of these points further underline the lack of economic or monetary sovereignty the UK Parliament has within the EU, but they further emphasise a lack of democratic legitimacy of Britain’s political parties as none of them included any policies concerning the handing over of Parliamentary powers to the EU, and in so doing, put the needs of capital ahead of those of the people of the UK. These two points combined expose a massive democratic flaw within the EU itself. The institutions within the EU are not accountable to any of the citizens of the member states and therefore the validity of the EU claiming to be democratic is completely compromised. It can be argued that the EU parliament is elected, and is being given more powers to properly carry out it’s function. However, this will further diminish the sovereignty of domestic parliaments across the Eurozone, including Britain, and there is little proof that the EU parliament will, or be allowed to, fundamentally challenge the policies of the European Commission and European Central Bank, who together, run the European Union and set economic policy. In light of recent events across the Eurozone, there can be no doubting the last point.
Yet still the bourgeois parties deny the sale of democratic rights to capital, and protest that Britain has control over healthcare, welfare, education, policing and tourism, to name a few, allowing Britain to make important decisions on the above issues and more. However, as the British public are constantly being made aware, healthcare etc comes at a price, and as the European Union decides the budgets of member states, it has a direct hand in the decisions domestic governments make on issues such as healthcare and education. The interference of the EU and IMF in countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus have led to the dismantling of the welfare states, the destruction of the minimum wage and the privatisation of services that were owned by the government. The claim is that this is done to deal with ‘high levels of government debt’. However, it is becoming clearer to Communists throughout the Eurozone and thankfully, a larger number of trade unionists that this an imperialist pursuit by the EU and owners of capital across the region, drawing the member states closer to a United States of Europe. Yet despite this, a large number of those on the Left and in trade unions still see the EU as window of opportunity to build an egalitarian society off the back of the increasingly threatened social chapter, with Francis O’Grady trying to revitalise the idea of ‘social Europe’. The Communist party of Britain, and the Young Communist League has reaffirmed it’s position on the EU in recent weeks, months and years, maintaining that Britain must withdraw from the EU, making the point that the EU cannot be reformed and that even the most modest of reforms that could marginally benefit the working class are swept aside as the EU pursues privatisation and a bourgeois agenda. The solid and unwavering stance from the CPB, YCL and their sister parties and organisations throughout Europe is encouraging when it is clear that elements of the trade union movement are still firmly entrenched in the social democratic utopia of ‘social Europe’.
The idea of the EU as it is now, and is developing, is not a new one; nor is it accidental. The EU is deliberately taking sovereignty from domestic parliaments across Europe and is attempting to set up a ‘United States of Europe’ that will directly challenge fading American monetary power and be a competitor to the Asian markets, dominated by China, India and to a lesser extent, Russia too. As V.I Lenin said in 1915: “A United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European Capitalists but to what end? Only for the suppression of Socialism in Europe and of jointly protecting imperialist booty against America and Japan. Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of Capitalism.” (V.I Lenin, see, Britain Needs Socialism, Communist Party of Britain, 2012). Lenin is providing us with a sound analysis of the concept of a ‘United States of Europe’ almost 100 years before the concept is being put into place, granted their requires a certain amount of modernisation with regards to who the European bourgeois is threatened by in the Asian Markets. The strides towards a “USE” may well be unsettling many right-wingers here in Britain, yet they cannot mask their imperialist face as they are sucked into the vacuum of war. With US imperialism looking to role out the war planes and head once again to the middle-east to exploit the opportunity to topple an old foe of Israel, the British bourgeoisie has an old and rather glaring contradiction. Britain is once again caught in a cross between reliance of cheap credit and imports from the EU, as well as clinging to the coat-tales of the US war machine and relying on Israel as a step into the middle-east. This further highlights that Britain has neither an economic, nor foreign policy ‘leg’ to stand on. However, the role of the EU shouldn’t be ignored in the sabre rattling in Syria, as well as Asia too. It was EU regulations which prevented the US and UK supplying arms to the “Syrian rebel”, once the embargo was lifted the gates opened and the weapons flooded in. The EU openly partakes and endorses US and UN embargoes and sanctions on Iran and the DPRK making it impossible for a diplomatic solution to be found to the continual war of words. Yet, we should not pretend that a diplomatic solution is being sought from the EU and it’s imperialist allies, the US. For, as we know, imperialism is the last means that Capitalism has to source it’s existence. Whether that be crushing rights at work or invading countries from Africa or the middle-east, war is the last resort for capital to hoard more resources. As well as providing a hate figure for the public to fear and a distraction from the failings of bankrupt economic system. The success of US imperialism in the middle-east would be a direct threat on China and Russia, who as already mentioned, control considerable power in the Asian market, as well as being the military powers in the region. The role of the EU in allowing US imperialism to steamroller across the globe should not be ignored.
The EU and it’s institutions already control much of the power of domestic parliaments and it is exercising it by instructing member states that in order to remain part of the EU it must reduce it’s debts and sell off state-owned assets. This has seen an unprecedented attack on living standards, wages and public services. Writing in The Morning Star, Kenny Coyle says: “Across Europe the pro-monopoly and anti-democratic nature of the EU is becoming sharper.” (Kenny Coyle, The Morning Star: Europe Crisis: A fork in the road, p8, 29.5.12). The liberalising of labour laws, reductions to the minimum wage and wage freezes, tax rises for ordinary citizens, tax cuts for the rich and businesses, privatisation of public services and the scaling back of the welfare states, are all part of European ploy to make Europe a more enticing market for investment in order to challenge the Asian Market. CCOO Secretary and ETUC President, Spaniard, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo wrote in The Morning Star that, “…structural reforms to make workers rights “more flexible,” for cuts in wages, pensions and benefits which will only increase inequality, hold back growth and maximise misery.” (Ignacio Fernandez, The Morning Star, Europe Needs To Fight Back, p12, 15.10.12). This point by Ignacio Fernandez alludes to the previous point on the EU tactic for opening up access to cheap, easy and accessible capital investment, to enable Europe to further challenge and compete in global markets as a single unified state. By undermining parliamentary sovereignty, attacking democratic rights and savaging living standards, the core institutions of the EU contradict the idea of democracy by pushing ahead to achieve a United States of Europe, with ulterior motives without consultation of the people or at least a referendum on military intervention or centralised economic policy
In the face of the growing ‘Euroscepticism’, which can only be described as a hankering of the old days of the empire, it is imperative for the left to make the case for Britain exiting the Eurozone on the basis of working class sovereignty. This can only be done with the cooperation of the trade unions, thus it is equally imperative that the unions follow the direction of RMT and abandon the defunct utopia of ‘social Europe’. Only by exiting the EU can Britain stand a chance of building a society free from market intervention and interference, founded on public ownership and working class democracy. The left and trade unions need only look to the examples of Latin America, in particular Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador who are building societies on the above principles.