Skip to main content

Why on earth would socialists support the neoliberal, undemocratic EU?

The EU is a deeply undemocratic institution enforcing austerity and privatisation on its member states. In what strange world is this a progressive institution?

by Paul Embery

The EU is now, more than ever, defined by its fanatical commitment to the rule of market forces, privatisation and the rolling back of the power of national governments. This ideology of neoliberalism explains the EU’s enthusiasm for the politics of austerity, which it has imposed throughout the continent as a response to the global financial crisis.

But, just as austerity has failed in the UK, it has failed throughout the EU. Twenty-three million are unemployed thanks to EU-driven austerity. Living standards have collapsed thanks to EU-driven austerity. Far-right groups have gained strength thanks to EU-driven austerity. Renewed tensions have emerged between nation states thanks to EU-driven austerity. Public services have been decimated thanks to EU-driven austerity.

When economies crashed, the EU’s answer was to impose more crippling austerity as part of any bailout condition. This served only to generate deeper impoverishment and social tensions.

The EU’s commitment to neoliberalism means its laws are designed to encourage private enterprise at the expense of public ownership. As a result, we have seen an accelerating transfer of ownership and control of industry from elected governments to big corporations.

Trade unionists and socialists make key demands over public ownership. But many of these demands would actually be prohibited under EU law. So, for example, renationalising the railways is forbidden, as EU law compels member states to open up their railway systems to the market.

And the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal, which would open up public services, including the NHS, to wholesale privatisation, should be reason enough for anyone who cares about these things to support a Leave vote.

The recent Tata steel crisis threw into sharp relief the pernicious effects of EU law on ownership. Understandably, many trade union leaders and some Labour MPs demanded the government nationalise the Port Talbot steelworks. But missing from their demands was any recognition that such a move would undoubtedly have breached EU law, which prohibits member states from using public money to rescue failing steelmakers. EU competition rules dictate that these things must be left to market forces instead.

Indeed, earlier this year, the EU took punitive action against the Belgian and Italian governments after they used public funds in an attempt to rescue steelmakers in trouble.

That’s why we shouldn’t get too excited about the recent decision by the UK government to take some control in Tata. First, the government isn’t nationalising Tata; it is taking a mere 25% stake. Second, even this limited step is likely to fall foul of EU law. However, it is questionable as to whether, against the backdrop of the referendum, the EU will intervene at this stage to block it. As the Guardian’s respected economics editor, Larry Elliott, perceptively pointed out: ‘Is Brussels really going to kibosh the government’s rescue plan if the consequence is that Europe gets the blame and the referendum is lost? It will see the bigger picture.’

It is therefore probable that in the case of the government’s intervention on steel the EU will, for reasons of expediency, choose to look the other way for a few weeks.

But we should be in no doubt at all that EU law is ultimately framed to benefit the privateers and to discourage public ownership of industry, even in cases where entire communities and thousands of jobs are at risk.

Trade unionists and socialists stand for investment in industry as a means to achieving full employment and economic growth. Investment is particularly important in tough times, as it stimulates economic activity, increases tax revenues and aids recovery. Austerity does the precise opposite.

After the global financial crisis struck almost a decade ago, EU-driven austerity prevented many countries escaping recession. Crucially, EU rules, under the Stability and Growth Pact, prohibit any member state from running a budget deficit of more than three per cent of GDP. This means that any government wishing to borrow to invest as a means to boost the economy faces rigid constraints. This, in turn, means that recessions and austerity are prolonged. The doctrines of John Maynard Keynes, which for so long after the Second World War provided the foundation of economic policy for left of centre governments, are effectively illegal inside the EU.

One of the primary arguments deployed by some on the Left against withdrawal from the EU, is the danger of what is termed a ‘Right-led exit’ – meaning a withdrawal undertaken on the terms of Tory right-wingers and Ukip. But this argument is flawed, because it appears to completely discount the fact that the Remain campaign itself is dominated by the political Right. Just consider, David Cameron, George Osborne, the Tory government, the CBI, the IMF, the Bank of England, the wider banking industry and big corporations are all fighting desperately to remain inside the EU. They do so in the knowledge that a ‘remain’ vote would settle the issue for at least another generation, and with the consequence that for all that time we would be locked into an institution that is explicitly pro-neoliberal and anti-socialist. Add to that the restrictions of EU law that would constrain any incoming Labour government, and with the EU heading in an ever-more anti-democratic direction, it is obvious that a ‘Right-led Remain’ poses a much greater threat to workers than any ‘Right-led Brexit’.

There is also a view among some on the Left, particularly in the trade unions, that while the EU’s enthusiasm for neoliberalism and austerity is an inescapable truth, our interests are best served by staying inside it because it has delivered some rights for workers. They claim that these rights would be threatened by a withdrawal from the EU.

In truth, the picture is far more complex than that. Many of the main planks of workplace legislation giving benefits to UK workers – such as on health and safety, equal pay, the minimum wage and trade union recognition – were won through the UK parliament as a result of trade union campaigning. They had little or nothing to do with the EU.

Even today, the broad sweep of workplace law - such as on pay, terms and conditions, dismissal, industrial relations and disputes - remains completely outside the remit of the EU. (This is why, for example, the Tory government is able to push the Trade Union Bill - the biggest assault on workers in a generation - through parliament without any opposition whatsoever from the EU.)

The image of the EU as some great protector of workers is hard to reconcile when considering that, in keeping with its neoliberal objectives, it promotes zero-hours contracts under flexible labour market rules and deliberately weakened collective bargaining arrangements in the bailout countries. And let’s not forget that the most fundamental workers’ right of all – the right to work – has been denied to millions as a direct result of austerity-induced mass unemployment.

Worryingly, in two landmark legal cases – Viking and Laval – the European Court of Justice ruled that collective action by a trade union could be deemed illegal if it is taken to prevent an employer setting-up in, or posting workers to, another member state, for example in an attempt to pay cheaper wages.

And while as trade unionists we must oppose attacks on immigrants, we must also recognise that the EU’s policy of open borders has given rise to an explosion of cheap labour and contributed to the undercutting of wages (a reason why the policy enjoys the support of big business), caused real social tensions, placed public services under pressure, and fuelled the rise of far-right groups. The truth is that unrestricted movement of labour has the capacity to cause social and economic disruption just as much as the unrestricted movement of capital. None of this is to blame immigrants personally. Nor it is to absolve governments or unscrupulous employers for their actions. It is simply to recognise the reality that EU-driven mass migration has impacted on the lives of workers in a real and tangible way.

In the final analysis, any perceived benefits of EU membership in terms of workers’ rights must be set within the context of the huge setbacks suffered by workers as a result of EU-inspired austerity.

Ultimately, it is a question of what the EU is defined by. Is it defined by its support for trade unions and workers’ rights? Or is it defined by its zeal for neoliberalism, austerity and cuts? It is surely the latter.

We should no more look upon the neoliberal EU as a friend of workers because it gave us the Working Time Directive than we should look upon the neoliberal Tory government in the same way because it gave us the ‘living wage’.

And what of the small matter of democracy? The EU parliament has no right to initiate or repeal legislation. Instead, all legislation is generated by the unelected EU commission. The EU parliament is effectively a rubber-stamping body for the commission – a fig leaf for democracy.

Throughout the history of the EU, there has been a gradual but unrelenting transfer of power away from elected governments and towards unelected bureaucrats and big corporations. This is an insult to all those who fought for the vote and the principle that ordinary people must be allowed to hold their rulers to account.

In Greece last year, the people voted decisively and explicitly against austerity in a national referendum. But the EU establishment forced it on them anyway in brutal manner.

To avoid further bailouts, the EU is now demanding deeper economic integration between member states. This can happen only if there is closer political union. This, in turn, would mean even more power being transferred from national governments to unelected bureaucrats and bankers. The EU superstate is no longer a distant threat; it is a growing reality.

That's why there is no status quo in this debate. The question of 'stay as we are' or 'leave' is actually one of 'in even deeper' or 'leave'.

Some argue that we need to be inside the EU in order to reform it. Such talk is idle. Government after government has been saying the same thing for years, even decades. But in reality the EU is unreformable. Indeed, it has been designed to preclude serious reform.

The EU commission is unelected and unaccountable. There is no democratic mechanism by which it can be reformed.

The UK government recently undertook a ‘renegotiation’ of EU membership in an attempt to achieve serious reform. It threatened to walk away from the EU if it didn’t get its way. But even under this nuclear threat, the EU offered very little in the talks. If the EU isn’t prepared to reform under threat of withdrawal by a significant member state, when would it be?

Neoliberalism and unaccountability are locked into the EU through its treaties and directives. To reform the EU from being a neoliberal, anti-democratic institution into being a progressive, socialist, democratic one would mean that all member states must agree simultaneously to unpick all of this. There is zero chance of that happening.

Those of us on the Left must seek to build solidarity between workers in different countries. But we do not have to be locked into a highly-bureaucratic, anti-democratic, anti-socialist, supranational institution to achieve that.

A Leave vote would not of course put an end to the attacks being suffered by UK workers in the name of austerity. We would still face at home a Tory government hell-bent on making workers pay for the economic crisis. But the EU referendum gives us a clear opportunity to kick away one of the pillars of austerity which has caused so much suffering to workers.

We may then concentrate our efforts on defeating the enemy at home and electing a Labour government committed to a radical programme of investment, redistribution of wealth, full employment, defending public services, improving workers’ rights and reinvigorating our democracy.

The first step to achieving that is getting out of the EU.

Source:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Donald Trump: the last symptom of a system that is about to collapse

globinfo freexchange
In another interesting interview with Chris Hedges, Richard Wolff explains why the Trump presidency is the last resort of a system that is about to collapse:
Finally, if everybody tries to save themselves (protection), we have a historical example: after the Great Depression that happened in Europe. And most people believe that it was a large part of what led to WWII after WWI, rather than a much saner collective effort. But capitalism doesn't go for collective efforts, it tends to destroy itself by its own mechanisms.
There has to be a movement from below. Otherwise, there is no counter force that can take us in another direction.
So, absent that counter force we are going to see this system spinning out of control and destroying itself in the very way its critics have for so long foreseen it well might.
When Trump announced his big tariffs on China, we saw the stock market dropped 700 points in a day. That's a sign of the anxiety, the danger, even in the min…

Austria has just returned to the Middle Ages

The Austrian government confirmed that the far-right is an emergency reserve of neoliberalism
globinfo freexchange
Haven't you yet convinced that the nationalists and the far-right are the most faithful dogs of the big capital? Then, look at what just happened in Austria. In the end, despite the mass protests in Vienna, Austrian employers will be able to introduce 12-hour working day without increasing wages. The relevant law adopted by the Parliament of the country, reports on Friday, July 6.



What's the first thing that Emmanuel Macron did after his election in France? He rushed to complete what Francois Hollande - the other puppet of the neoliberal establishment - had started: destroy trade unions, completely deregulate the labor market.
Yet, the media in France were promoting him as a 'progressive' (what a joke) who will stop the far-right threat.
In reality, big capital’s reserve, Marine Le Pen, is waiting in the 'bench', ready to take action any moment, now tha…

The idiotic circus of terror leads us to the final collapse

There is a familiar checklist for extinction and we are ticking off every item of it. The idiots know only one word: more. They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their own vanity.

failed evolution
The idiots seen in the decay the chance of personal advancement in profit, takeover in the final days of crumbling civilizations.

Idiot generals wage endless unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation.
Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor. And project economic growth on the basis of myth.
Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air. Slash jobs and depress wages.
Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens.
Idiot journalists and …

The vicious circle of modern slavery

globinfo freexchange
It sounds unbelievable, but in one of supposedly the most advanced European nations, the government plans to allow the working day to be extended to 12 hours!
We are talking about Austria, where tens of thousands of people in Vienna packed the streets on Saturday to voice their opposition to loosening labor laws to allow for a 12-hour workday and subsequent 60-hour workweek. Police in Vienna said some 80,000 people took part, while the trade unions that organized the protest said some 100,000 people attended.
What can someone say about this unimaginably absurd decision?
In an age of all this advanced technology, with AI and hyper-automation, people should work less hours, enjoying all the benefits and extra free time for their families and themselves. Yet, in the homeland of Austrian economics that led us to brutal neoliberalism, it seems that the elites push things to the opposite direction. Why? Is it just because human labor can't compete the machines?
Think ab…

Bernie's revolution starts to wipe out the establishment with a huge political earthquake!

globinfo freexchange
It happened! A 28-year-old super-progressive beat the personification of the establishment in the Democratic primary! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district, defeating the establishment baron, Joe Crowley. This has been described by many, rightfully, as the biggest upset victory in the 2018 midterm election season.
What are the origins of this amazing, unprecedented result in the US political process?
We can find them in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Back then, Bernie Sanders put the foundations of a truly progressive movement that could beat the neoliberal establishment. We wrote then that Bernie speaks straightly about things buried by the establishment, as if they were absent. Wall Street corruption, growing inequality, corporate funding of politicians by lobbies. He says that he will break the big banks. He will provide free health and education for all the American people. Because of Sanders, Hillary w…

Corporate media pundits depict establishment's evident panic in front of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's huge victory

globinfo freexchange
Shortly after recent political earthquake with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's huge victory, the establishment apparatus started to react as expected.
TYT immediately responded by identifying the common narratives used by the corporate media pundits in the following video:

In this video you can track at least two kinds of typical 'arguments' provided by the neoliberal ideological framework. We wrote several times in this blog about such arguments that their carriers present them as being perfectly rational using 'logical leaps', while in reality, they are deeply irrational.
In the first argument, Steve Schmidt labels progressivism as 'dishonest', simply because it fights for free education, free healthcare, etc. The basic 'argument' is the usual: ordinary people can't have such things because of the enormous debt. Of course, the logical leap here is the fact that the neoliberal pundits always avoid to refer to the billions in bailout…

Key parts of the Matrix: the faithful little soldiers of the mainstream media

globinfo freexchange
Ludivine Bénard describes almost perfectly a key part of the Matrix of our times:
Journalistic titles hire journalists whose social background – socially, culturally, educationally and morally – fits perfectly with what the current capitalist order asks for.
People working in media are mostly middle-class types with the same interests, favouring consumerism, hedonism, libertarian individualism and unconditional Europeanism from Brussels. And they're all subject to this form of political illiteracy – they reduce reporting on politics to reporting on political personalities. The journalists and pollsters in the press turn political life into a theatrical stage, where personalities just endlessly talk and debate.
All that talk drowns out any serious criticism of the system.
The French people have been indoctrinated that way for decades – we've had more than 30 years of a certain consensus between the centrist powers of the conservative right of Les Républicains…

The 'anti-establishment' Trump admits he is more elite than the elite!

globinfo freexchange
He said it!
From the first moment in this blog, even before Trump's election, we repeatedly said that Donnie is only a reserve of the establishment.
Finally, he essentially admitted that he is more elite than the elite! Or, more establishment than the establishment if you like. During a campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Trump said "Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I'm smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn't."
Kyle Kulinski is right. Donald Trump wants to be fully integrated in the Establishment Inc. He wants to be loved by the elites, join them. He sends signals to them, saying 'I did what you want, why don't you play with me?'.
The message to the American citizens is this: do not trust the orange clown. In case that will grab your vote for a second term, he will do whatever the establishment wants, and more. Meaning, more tax-cuts for the rich, more for-pro…

The real E CORPs seek complete control of global food supply

Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world
globinfo freexchange
In the famous TV series, Mr. Robot, E Corp (which the central character, Elliot Alderson, perceives as Evil Corp), is an extremely powerful company that controls societies through consumer debt.
Yet, in the real world, a couple of mega multinationals could be proved even more ruthless. In another interesting report, James Corbett exposes the ultimate goal behind the merge of two of the biggest corporations in the food, medicine and agricultural sector. These are the real ECORPs:
What does a pharmaceutical giant have to gain from buying out and merging with an agrichemical giant, especially one that carries as much baggage as Monsanto?
If the connection between these corporate behemoths seems tenuous, then perhaps the key to understanding it is presented in that 1995 quote from former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro: “We’re talking…

Three years from the coup against Greece by the European Financial Dictatorship

globinfo freexchange
Three years passed (July 5, 2015) since the European Financial Dictatorship through the European Central Bank (ECB) and its head Mario Draghi, was forced to proceed in an open financial coup against Greece.
The start of current decade revealed the most ruthless face of a global neo-colonialism. From Syria and Libya to Europe and Latin America, the old colonial powers of the West tried to rebound against an oncoming rival bloc led by Russia and China, which starts to threaten their global domination.
Inside a multi-polar, complex terrain of geopolitical games, the big players start to abandon the old-fashioned, inefficient direct wars. They use today other, various methods like brutal proxy wars, economic wars, financial and constitutional coups, provocative operations, 'color revolutions', etc.
In this highly complex and unstable situation, when even traditional allies turn against each other as the global balances change rapidly, the forces unleashed are abs…