ON THE ONE SIDE WE ARE FACED WITH THE REMAIN CAMPAIGN largely talking about superficial reforms while the Leave campaign appears to be little more than xenophobic Tories engaged in an auction on workers’ rights among other things.
The left has made a mistake in leaving Europe to the Tories and it is failing to recover. As soon as David Cameron started his renegotiation tour there was a chance to put forward a vision for a better Europe. While the Another Europe is Possible campaign has started to do so, there are still big questions to be answered.
It’s worth remembering that the labour movement largely became reconciled to a future in the EU during the 1980s. With the Thatcher government running wild, Jacque Delors came to the TUC and set out a vision for a Social Europe – a Europe based on equality and protection of rights. It’s a vision that few on the left could argue with, but one which seems as far away now as it did under Thatcher.
The EU has failed to deal with the two greatest crises it has faced in the last ten years. The euro debacle has left millions of young people unemployed and enforced unimaginable austerity on swathes of the continent. When the Syriza government tried to end austerity in Greece they were put firmly in their place and the cuts continue. Is this what we mean by a Social Europe?
Then there is the refugee crisis. Millions of desperate people fleeing war and killing, risking their lives to get to Europe only to be met by hatred and barbed wire. Is the sight of military patrolling the hastily erected borders to keep out some of the most desperate people in the world really what we mean by a Social Europe?
We don’t even have to look past our own doorstep to see how the EU is failing. The steel workers who risk losing their livelihood because EU rules limit the support a government can give – or the people stuck in Calais who have had their tents and shelters set on fire – are but two examples
While much of the Labour Party wants to stay in at any cost, the left must be prepared to argue for a better future for Europe outside the EU:
» where Europe is more open and democratic without the unaccountable bureaucracy and backroom deals;
» where free movement of people works for the people and not just for big business;
» where the threat of trade deals like TTIP are no more;
» where austerity can be opposed and socialist agendas can be taken forward.
I totally understand why the Labour leadership has taken the position they have on this issue. It’s difficult to get worked up either way about the referendum and they have to choose their battles carefully. That doesn’t mean that we have to follow their lead, though. It’s still possible to support Jeremy Corbyn (and oppose the xenophobes on the right) while calling for a vote to leave.
At the heart of the argument is self-determination. Britain can no longer hold on to the apron strings of Europe. We need to be able to forge our own destiny in the 21st century and build a future based on the principles of equality, solidarity and genuine social justice.
It’s true that another Europe is possible, but not within the existing EU framework. Do we really think that Viktor Orban in Hungary, busy using barbed wire to try to stop the humanitarian crisis and Andrzej Duda in Poland, busy cracking down on media dissent, are really interested in working with Jeremy to bring about a Social Europe?
The EU is too cumbersome to be reformed and the vested interests wouldn’t allow genuine reform anyway. It’s much better in the long term for the left to advocate leaving the EU now in order to build something better for the future.