Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Europe for People, Not Profit

On Monday, the British Parliament will debate and vote on a motion sponsored by eurosceptic Conservative MPs to hold a referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. In the midst of the Eurozone crisis, while David Cameron has insisted on a three line whip to keep his fractious right-wingers in line and the Lib Dems will vote against, even although their leader proposed an in-or-out referendum in 2008. But with as many as 85 Conservatives predicted to be ready to break that line, the Coalition will almost certainly need - and get - Labour Party support to vote the proposal down.

And so it is very unlikely that the British people will get a referendum - even although most of them want one. So much for democracy and so much for the three parties that dominate our political world continue to disconnect further and further from the electorate they govern.

The European project was born in the aftermath of the two world wars that dominated the Continent during the first part of the 20th century. The worst conflicts in human history originated in her heartlands. From that perspective, for now at any rate, the EU has played a positive role - with the dreadful exception of the former Yugoslavia, the hot air of Presidents, Prime Ministers and bureaucrats has replaced the guns of Krupps and the Birmingham Small Arms Company.

Yet the absence of war cannot in itself justify the failures of the behemoth that the European Union has become - while its bureaucracy is not quite the bloated gravy train so beloved of the British tabloid writers, the Eurozone project has brought misery to millions of ordinary people as the European Central Bank, like banks everywhere, continues to put the interests of international finance ahead of the needs of European citizens. In other respects too, EU policy focus is very much on encouraging and protecting big business and its decision-making processes are remote and unaccountable to ordinary citizens.

Of course, listening to the Tory and UKIP eurosceptics railing about Europe taking over Britian, including  blatantly lying about straight bananas (why does no one ever wonder where these are?), their reasons for wanting a referendum soon become clear. They accept that Europe is a vital trade partner for Britain, plus perhaps they worry about having to accommodate the half a million or so angry British pensioners who would lose their right of abode in Spain, plus the 200,000 Britons in France who would be heading back to our shores.

Euromyths - according to legend, all our bananas should look like this.
So what do they want instead? A renegotiated relationship - some of them argue for a sort of club class membership, while others want to be completely outside but with special privileges of access.

What these people object to are the regulations that ensure some degree of common social protection and health and safety rules around Europe, so that one country can't undercut another by paying its workers miniscule wages and forcing them to work in dangerous conditions. The EU has for two decades been the main proponent of new safety legislation in the workplace - if it wasn't for the EU, British workers would have no entitlement to a 20 minute unpaid break after six hours of working; pregnant women would not be entitled to protective arrangements for using computer screens; and employers would not have to consult their workers before moving their jobs out of the UK. Small protections and far from ideal, but better than nothing. This is what the right-wingers in the Tories and UKIP are really fretting about - the impact on capitalists profit margins of the marginal improvements in workers conditions through European legislation.

But these motives aside, it is time to have a proper debate on the EU and vote on whether Britain remains in it. It is welcome that the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas MP, has put forward an amendment to the referendum proposal calling for a national vote on whether the EU should become more democratically accountable and economic powers be devolved back to nation states. By default, this should mean the ending of the ludicrous straight-jacket that is the Euro - if Greece still had the drachma, the current financial crisis would have far less impact.

We need multinational institutions like the EU to be able to tackle the global crisis of climate change - no one country can fight that alone. And in a globalised world where so many international corporations operate above and beyond the writ of any national governments, it is only international public and democratically accountable bodies that will ever have any hope of taming the damage they are doing. But in parallel, the Union needs to focus on the needs of its member societies rather than the desires of  international capital.

The European Economic Community emerged from the gound breaking coal and steel community forged between the former enemies France and Germany just months after Hitler's demise. If its founding purpose of ensuring that European will never again fight European is to be secured, the Union must be one for the people of our Continent and the wider world. If it is run instead for the rich, for the owners of the multinationals, then there will be no social peace and in the absence of a democratic, social Europe, as competition over increasingly scarce resources becomes ever fiercer, the gun factories may soon be taking new orders once more.

Europe past, or Europe future?


  1. The letter and spirit of the Lib Dem manifesto commitment was that they would hold a referendum in the event of a big treaty change. There is no big treaty change and there is no basis for anyone to say we are obligated to vote for a referendum now.

  2. Fair enough if it is not still your policy, but Nick Clegg in 2008 said a vote on the Lisbon Treaty was insufficient to resolve the debate on Europe:

    "It should be fulfilled by asking the British people the real question - the question that matters to them: 'Should we stay in the EU, or should we leave? Are we in - or are we out?'"


    He then staged a walkout of the House of Commons on 26 February 2008 when the Speaker refused to call a Lib Dem motion to demand an in/out referendum. (see

    What has changed since then apart from your party's policy? Isn't it more important now than ever to settle this issue?

  3. I have no objection to a referendum provided the British people are fully informed of what they are voting for and against. Unfortunately there is a massive misinformation campaign conducted by UKIP and the Tory right wingers who work to a hidden agenda which most people are not aware of. The consequences for ordinary people of leaving are not discussed. The real transfer of wealth out of the UK has followed as a consequence not of budget demands but as an inevitable outcome of their own privatization of almost all our utilities into the hands of continental companies even foreign governments (EG: EDF (French) Eon (German). No analysis of all this has ever been undertaken.