Liberals lament Britain leaving the European Union, but the politics of the bloc is increasingly right wing and nasty, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
Rehabilitating fascists is becoming a theme in Europe lately. Not just in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, like Poland, where President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki marched alongside fascists to mark the 100th anniversary of their country’s re-emergence after the First World War.
In France, too, the darling of the liberal establishment in Europe, Emmanuel Macron, has gone a step towards rehabilitating wartime collaborator Philippe Pétain. Macron hailed Pétain’s role as a leader of French forces in the First World War in the lead-up to the recent anniversary commemorations. But Pétain later helped the Nazis deport 75,000 Jews to the death camps during the Second World War.
It seems that politicians across the continent believe that flirting with fascism will dampen the rise of the far right. They hope to reclaim moments of national pride that the far right uses to gain support. But it is not farfetched to suggest that glorifying Hitler’s Europe will in fact legitimise and spur on the forces that are increasingly openly trying to mimic him, rather than stop them.
Ironic that all this is happening as Germany’s Angela Merkel joined calls for the formation of a European Army. These voices have become more and more vocal since the mid-term elections in the United States. European leaders tried to pile on the pressure on Trump’s administration to stop its unilateral political and economic moves, which are seen as detrimental to the Euro-Atlantic relationship.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas crowed: ‘We must find an answer to the motto “America First” on this side of the Atlantic and to me and to us, it's clear that the response can only be “Europe United”’. Similarly, Macron opined: ‘We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.’ Addressing the European Parliament, Angela Merkel said she supported a ‘real, true’ European army, which ‘delighted’ the European Commission.
The Western European states have always hoped that European integration would allow them to come out of the shadow of the Cold War superpowers, which dominated the devastated continent following the end of the Second World War. With America’s primary ally in Europe, Britain, on its way out of the Union, and pressures increasing on the continent from all sides, these moves towards intensified military cooperation cannot be surprising.
But they herald more imperialist interventions like the Franco-British military adventure in Libya in 2011, and presumably more naval patrols to prevent migrants fleeing Western-fuelled wars from North Africa through the Middle East to Central Asia. With 35,000 already drowned in the Mediterranean, it is easy to see how the situation will only get worse.
External threats and internal enemies
Attempts to co-opt nationalist themes at home and create a perception of a threatened Europe abroad in order to justify an imperial mission go hand in hand as the European Union finds itself increasingly challenged by centrifugal pulls.
Monetary union without fiscal union has been one of the main targets for criticism in the design of the European Union. This has meant countries like Greece lost out on mechanisms to counteract the destructive effects of having to compete with German businesses using the same currency, forcing downward adjustment of local living conditions and reinforcing a dependency on foreign debt to survive.
It was relatively easy for the core EU powers to force down a small country like Greece when the economic crisis got out of hand. But the north-south divide has once again come into stark focus with the recent showdown between the European Commission and Italy’s right-wing government.
Having a monetary union without fiscal union has been premised on countries maintaining relatively small budget deficits if at all. But Italy’s government is arguing it needs to reflate Italy’s crisis-ridden economy.
Brussels has flatly said no, showing it is in fact nothing more than the sentinel of neoliberal capitalism. Italy’s right wing government is of course a nasty piece of work, and deserves no sympathy from the left, but the wider question of the European Union’s democratic deficit and neoliberal nature is plain to see.
There have of course been proposals for change in the European Union even from France. Asked recently about Macron’s proposal for a European budget and a European finance minister, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz retorted: ‘These ideas are bringing new momentum into the European project that we need. But the French president also knows that not all of his ideas can be realised.’
Germany’s big business and banks in particular have done very well out of the Euro, and see no reason to change the direction of travel. As German politics polarises, and a new right wing surge in the shape of the far right Alternative for Germany threatens the status quo, chances of progressive reform in the EU remain next to zero.
Here too, Brexit looms large. It brings uncertainty to the continent as well as to Britain. With the bloc’s second largest economy leaving, Brussels has gone out of its way to limit the damage to its trade and security relations with Britain. This explains why the EU has done a deal with Theresa May which is mild in comparison with the kind of punishment it meted out to Greece following the explosion of the debt crisis in that country.
Why we need a people’s Brexit
But making this deal with May, Brussels runs risks. On the one hand, it suggests to other potential big leavers like Italy that they could get light treatment if they decide to stand up to the EU. On the other hand, it suggests to smaller countries that they are second-rank, which is bound to create resentment in the long-run.
The recent deal done with Theresa May also exposes the EU as a club that favours big business. As Jeremy Corbyn noticed in the parliamentary debate when Theresa May brought home her deal with the EU, business featured a lot in the text but workers not at all.
Britain is not leaving a progressive paradise but a bloc with chauvinistic neoliberalism hardwired into it. The left has no business defending membership and promoting reform of a rotten structure. The sooner the structure collapses the better.
The left should rather be mobilising in the streets and workplaces to scrap neoliberalism at home. That could make the island a beacon of hope for struggles on the continent and an ally of progressive peoples everywhere. The task is not easy but it faces the left in every country. We have to rise to the challenge if we do not want Britain becoming an off-shore tax haven for the super rich.
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