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.|
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.
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?|