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EU riot cop

John Westmoreland argues that the European Union cannot be reformed and calls for a ‘No’ vote in the EU referendum

On Sunday 5 July the Greek people voted overwhelmingly against EU-imposed austerity. The European Union was demanding massive cuts to pay off debt owed to the banks. The democratic decision of the Greek people, in throwing out a deal that would bring still more devastating cuts, was a rejection of the diktat of the market. The joy was shared by workers across Europe.

The joy was short lived. The concentrated power of capital was used to wreck their hopes. As Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister put it, “What they are doing to Greece has a name – terrorism”.

The EU demanded total surrender. Should Spaniards, Italians or the French dare to think that EU financial policy could be opposed, there would be no mercy.

The question echoed around Europe – why didn’t Greece exit from the EU? Why remain in the house with the wolf that wants even more blood? It raises a further question: when Britain votes in a referendum on EU membership, should we campaign for ‘Brexit’?

The SNP, the Greens and the majority of the Labour Left favour continued EU membership. Even Jeremy Corbyn, who is otherwise proving to be an excellent megaphone for the arguments of the Left, has tentatively indicated his support for continued EU membership.

Probably the main concern is that the No campaign will be shaped by Nigel Farage, who will play strongly on fears over immigration. Ukip can grow and become the voice of those who see Europe as a bureaucratic monolith.

There is still a residual faith in ‘social Europe’ too. A vote against the EU would take away the European Court of Human Rights, they say, and would also prevent the free movement of labour.

These are all valid concerns and the Left need to have a sensitive approach to these considerations. However, it is difficult to see anything of a ‘social Europe’ or a liberal mechanism in the actions of the EU towards Greece. The EU is exposed as a bastion of neoliberalism without any democratic restraint.

Here are five reasons why the Left should campaign to leave the EU.

1The Tories seek to use the ‘renegotiation’ process to extend attacks on working class people.

The EU is leading workers in a race to the bottom, with wages across Europe falling as a percentage of national income. Precarious work and under-employment are rife.

Cameron has been in secret negotiations with French and German ministers about being able to opt out of the social clauses of the EU constitution. This is what he means by ‘fairness and competitiveness’. Cameron is securing conditions that will appease the Tory Right – not the Labour Left.

The campaigning around next year’s referendum will be like the Scottish independence referendum, with the political and business establishment whipping up fear to prevent the outcome they don’t want.  The argument is going to be between two ultra-capitalist visions with the Union Jack flying everywhere. It is going to be a debate where the voices of the elites will be courted by the media.

What space will there be for a Left argument within a Yes campaign along the lines dictated by Cameron and Osborne? The Left’s concerns will be treated like an unwelcome and irrelevant intervention in what is a disagreement between the elites.

2The EU is anti-democratic, imposing austerity regardless of people’s wishes.

The European parliament is toothless, simply ratifying decisions taken by the Council of Ministers. Its policy is framed by technocrats and handed down.

The EU has been a neoliberal club since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. This treaty gave European institutions the right to intervene and overrule the financial policies of member states. This means austerity becomes compulsory.

In the words of Susan Watkins,   “Maastricht brought a decisive widening of the gap between rulers and ruled. The architecture of the euro system was deliberately designed to be immune from electoral pressures. With the general shift to neoliberalism, the Maastricht era also saw the obliteration of any real policies for a ‘social Europe’.”

The Greek vote against austerity was democratic but was treated with utter contempt.

3British membership of the EU strengthens the influence of US foreign policy.

One of the reasons that the US is so adamant about Britain remaining in Europe is because Britain acts as one of Nato’s main advocates, pushing a foreign policy shaped primarily by the US.

New members to the EU are strongly encouraged to join Nato, and the Baltic states are increasingly populated by US missiles and military bases. We should remember that it was both Angela Merkel and John Kerry who worked together to destabilise the government of Ukraine.

To quote Susan Watkins again: “Since Maastricht, the Nato-EU symbiosis has had a built-in expansionist logic; the Eurozone crisis has done nothing to cramp its ambitions. Commission policy has given free rein to the member states with the most aggressive Eastern policies—Sweden, Poland, the Baltic states—who have long been agitating for a Nato build-up on Russia’s border.”

A Yes vote will be giving consent to further EU-Nato expansion.

4The EU upholds a ‘Fortress Europe’ position on migration that breeds racism and fascism.

Some people fear that if we left the EU then European migrant workers within Britain would be deported. This is a fallacy. The British economy has benefitted from immigration and British firms are not going to dispense with cheap labour. Free movement of labour would continue if we left the EU. Nor would ex-pat Britons be sent back from Germany and France.

The EU remains a fortress against workers from Africa and the Middle East. Look at the attitude taken towards immigrants fleeing war and economic devastation. The decision to overturn the Italian government’s humane search and rescue policy ‘Mare Nostrum’ for immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa sentenced hundreds of desperate migrants to danger and death.

In the words of Medecins Sans Frontiere’s Arjan Hehenkamp,   “The decision to close doors and build fences means that men, women and children are forced to risk their lives and take a desperate journey across the sea. Ignoring this situation will not make it go away. Europe has both the resources and the responsibility to prevent more deaths on its doorstep and must act in order to do so.”

Fascist and far right parties are on the rise in Europe. For Europe’s business elites, the free movement of labour is to guarantee full flexibility in the labour market. As workers’ wages are driven down and employment becomes ever more precarious, there is an inevitable backlash that the populist and fascist right can tap into. In places the far right, like the Front National in France, is dangerously close to challenging the established Centre Left and Centre Right parties.

Capital is international and moves wherever it pleases. Workers should have the same rights. We must oppose scapegoating of migrants and all forms of racism. This principled and consistent anti-racism is undermined by defence of the EU, with its ‘Fortress Europe’ policy. It is undermined, too, by the appalling anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians like David Cameron, who this week spoke of desperate migrants as a ‘swarm’. 

5The EU is a barrier to genuine internationalism.

We need a genuine internationalism where our solidarity can defend the weak and vulnerable, and save the environment from the ravages of international capital. We must completely reject the idea that membership of the EU is a form of internationalism.

What was internationalist about what the EU did to Greece? Where was the internationalism when Africans were left to drown off Lampedusa? The solidarity and internationalism we want to show is constrained by the EU.

Real international solidarity means creating a Europe wide movement against austerity, militarism and racism. It is an internationalism between working class people, and cannot be created through the mechanisms of the EU.

A Left campaign for Brexit

All strands of the Right, whether pro-EU or anti-EU, want Nato and militarism, support TTIP and further empowerment of the business elite.

The Left’s starting point is to understand that the EU has austerity at its core. It is beyond reform as it is completely undemocratic, and run by the technocratic personnel that are the executives of neoliberalism.

All of the Left’s most cherished policies – a Green economy, renationalisation of the railways and energy supply, the defence and extension of the NHS, scrapping Trident, defending and developing the welfare state, free education as a right – are at odds with the EU. We need to campaign for EU withdrawal and an alternative to austerity, militarism and racism.

John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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