IT’S A SIMPLE FACT THAT EU INSTITUTIONS are badly failing the vast majority of people, as neoliberal doctrine dominates political thinking in its core decision-making centres. These assumptions were built into the structural framework of the Eurozone by Maastricht, unleashing swingeing austerity on the peoples of southern Europe in particular. The effects of these policies have been growing inequality and deprivation. Oxfam has estimated that as many as 123 million people – a shocking one in four EU citizens – were at risk of poverty in 2015. Meanwhile, the open capital regimes established across the world over the last four decades have super-charged the wealth of the very richest and allowed them to evade colossal amounts of tax, with an estimated €1 trillion lost from EU states’ tax receipts through evasion and avoidance every year.
Be in no doubt, then, that to reverse these trends and construct an alternative political economy, radical political and institutional change is needed in Europe. But how do we go about achieving this? Can Brexit offer a path to a social Europe? While the argument has receded in recent months, many people on the left responded to the Greek crisis of summer 2015 – which saw the brutal imposition of an austerity programme in defiance of the electoral mandate of Syriza – by arguing that the time had come for the left to countenance Brexit. But since then the mood has shifted as those considering the possibility, including Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones, George Monbiot, and some trade union leaders, have swung back in favour of the In side.
As someone who has recently helped found Another Europe Is Possible, the left campaign for an In vote in the upcoming referendum, I welcome this rethinking. The case for an In vote rests on a fourfold assessment of the political situation.
Firstly, the recognition that ‘Britain is not Greece’ and the brutal cuts inflicted on public services seen in this country since 2010 have not been imposed by any foreign government or international institution, but reflect the ideological agenda of British Thatcherism. Whether In or Out, under the Tories this war on the social fabric of society will sadly continue.
Secondly, the referendum itself is seen by those who pushed for it as part of the continuation of Thatcher’s legacy, the logical implication of her famous Bruges speech and the alleged private belief in a British exit she held in her last years. David Cameron was pushed into this referendum by right wing Thatcherites within his own party – not by anything even resembling a socialist campaign for Out. This fanatical but increasingly significant layer of Tory opinion resents the EU for the workplace and environmental protections that exist at a European level. This means key protections, such as the right not to work more than 48 hours a week and statutory twenty days holiday, would clearly be at risk if Britain voted to leave.
Thirdly, there is no escaping the fact that support for the Out campaign has been fuelled by xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment. Myths of migrants stealing British jobs, or benefit tourism, abound. They do not stand up to any proper scrutiny but are happily parroted by Nigel Farage and others. A defence of the principle of free movement is vital in this context. The right to work and study in other EU states, and not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality when we do so, is a key achievement of European integration. Some 1.8 million British citizens living in other member states are currently benefiting from this precious right.
Lastly, fixing Europe’s many problems requires international co-operation of social movements, trade unions and political parties across Europe. New and promising transnational projects are now emerging to promote a radical vision for the continent. Plan B For Europe is advocating radical alternatives to austerity, while the Democracy in Europe 2025 movement calls for the long overdue radical democratisation of the EU.
Another Europe Is Possible sees itself as part of this family of movements projecting an alternative vision. Rather than walk away from these new developments, it’s time for the left in Britain to shake off its exceptionalism and orientate to these campaigns.