No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium. Photo: Jess Hurd/NoTTIP No TTIP train to Brussels. Lobbying the European Commission. Belgium. Photo: Jess Hurd/NoTTIP

The EU is fundamentally undemocratic and cannot be reformed, argues Chris Bambery

How will you vote in the upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union?

For many on the left the idea of siding with Nigel Farage and the assorted Tory Eurosceptics is enough to bring them to back David Cameron and the majority of big business in voting Yes. That, however, would be a profound mistake.

The European Union is today the driving force behind the neoliberal project across its 28 member states, and in imposing austerity. Cameron and George Osborne are minor players in comparison.

Just look at the way the unelected European Commission, working with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both also unelected, rode roughshod over an elected government in Greece and imposed unelected ‘technocratic’ governments in that country and in Italy.

Across Europe there is a ‘race to the bottom’ co-ordinated by the European Commission, in which member states are encouraged to compete as to who has the lowest labour costs, the most relaxed health and safety laws, the least regulation and the lowest corporate taxes.

Lack of democracy is a defining feature of the EU. It is run by a Council made up of the heads of the 28 member governments. That council appoints the European Commission. There is also a European Parliament, directly elected by the citizenry, but voter turnout is abysmal and we have less control over MEPs than we do over MPs. In reality the European Parliament simply has power to amend European Commission measures and these are decided upon by the Commission and the heads of the two main parliamentary groupings, those of the centre-right and centre-left.

When the people of France, Ireland and the Netherlands had the temerity to vote against new EU treaties, the European Commission simply ignored them and insisted they vote again to produce the correct result.


The secret negotiations being conducted between the EU and the US over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will have a huge bearing on our welfare services, the NHS above all, and much else. Heading up the European side is Cecilia Malmströšm the EU Commissioner. When asked by John Hilary of War on Want how she could ignore the rising tide of opposition to TTIP she chillingly replied, ‘I do not take my mandate from the European people.’

Some argue that the EU can defend us from the worst excesses of Cameron and the Tories. For a brief moment under Thatcher in the 1980s the EU leaders espoused a ‘Social Europe’, but that was rhetoric and was quickly replaced by the drive for a Single European Market in which the corporations got what they demanded.

To repeat, the EU is not protecting us from the worst of neoliberalism, it is the main force driving that agenda.

An argument for voting Yes is that to do otherwise would be to restrict immigration. Yes there is freedom of movement within the EU, but only for EU citizens. Across the EU we are seeing fences being erected to keep out the victims of wars waged by European states in alliance with the US, and those fleeing the poverty inflicted on them by IMF-imposed austerity programmes.

Across Europe the driving force behind anti-migrant racism and Islamophobia is not Nigel Farage, he’s a bit player. It is the European Union.

Some cling to the idea that the EU is bringing Europe together and has acted to prevent war from returning to the continent. It hasn’t: witness the former Yugoslavia or Ukraine, or adventures like those in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

The EU today consists of a core area grouped around Germany and a peripheral area subject to the diktats of the ‘Troika’ – the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF. France and the UK lie between the two. Even in the most prosperous state, Germany, wages and benefits have been driven down. Across much of southern and eastern Europe, living standards have been slashed and precarious employment is common.

Member states now have their budgets and their spending controlled by the European Commission. It would surely veto anything like the creation of the welfare state in 1945.

As someone who regards themselves as a European, I want a Europe of the peoples, not the corporations, one based on solidarity, welfare and peace. The EU can never be that. There is no mechanism for internal reform.

A No vote in the referendum would lead to a major crisis amongst the Tories, no bad thing, and would help carry forward the debate across Europe as to what Europe we need. We need to have no truck with right-wing opponents of the EU with their nationalism, but we do want to work with anti-capitalists across Europe: those fighting for migrant rights, opposing austerity and campaigning to halt TTIP.

Another Europe is possible, but it cannot be built on the undemocratic, free market foundations underlying the EU. Vote No and build a united resistance across Europe.

Chris Bambery

Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.