A Political Vacuum in Europe

The failure of the mainstream political parties across Europe to represent the interests of ordinary people has led to a political ‘vacuum’. This has seen a rise in populist parties offering an ‘alternative’.

Left-wing parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain correctly call for a break from austerity and capitalism. Anti-immigration, right-wing parties such as the AfD in Germany and Front National in France have, with help from the capitalist media, placed the blame at the feet of immigrants and refugees.

Due to the rise of UKIP in Britain, the Tories were forced to call a referendum on our membership of the EU. Now despite the left being less Eurosceptic and correctly refusing to blame immigration for the crisis in capitalism, it is important that the views of those of us on the left who also wish to Leave the EU for socialist reasons are still heard.

Thumbs.jpgOn the left, we want to see a Europe that guarantees the rights of workers, does not put the interests of big business above that of ordinary people and improves our lives through the protection and improving of public services. This is not possible within the EU.

Workers’ rights are one of the fundamentals of socialist ideology. Despite what we are told by some trade union leaders, it is not the European Social Chapter that protects workers but our collective strength. If those trade union leaders had led a coordinated and determined struggle against austerity and privatisation, we could have won far more than the few crumbs provided by the Social Chapter. The Social Chapter, while giving some legal protection, was merely created to disguise the reality of the EU as an ‘employers union’.

The ‘social dumping’ of exploited foreign workers in Britain, subsequently politicised by the right-wing as the cause of economic crises across Europe, is being carried out under EU rules demanding the “free movement of capital, goods, services and labour”. While the right to travel and work should be defended, using workers as living commodities must be opposed. Successive EU Directives and European Court of Justice decisions have also been used to attack trade union collective bargaining, the right to strike and workers’ pay and conditions, creating a “race to the bottom” as workers exercise their ‘right’ to economically migrate.

The EU is undemocratic, even secretive, in much of its decision-making. The most high-profile case of this would perhaps be The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which the left has correctly, though arguably inadequately, opposed. TTIP allows backdoor privatisation deals to be made through legitimate bilateral trade agreements between the EU and the US. Member states can only accept or reject, not amend the deal and it has the potential to open up public services to ‘competition’ from US firms. The tendering of contracts, overseen by Brussels bureaucrats, without the authorisation of the British electorate, risks our NHS being sold off to US firms. We must reject the curtailing of democracy and block the sale of our NHS.

cameron_pollThose that say it is ‘internationalist’ to be in the EU ignore the current immigration crisis. The EU is being isolationist and doing everything it can, including allowing refugees to drown in the Mediterranean, to prevent those fleeing for their lives from Syria and other places being able to enter the EU. Within the European area it increases tensions between different nations, aiming to impose unity from above, in the interests of the capitalist classes of Europe, favouring the most powerful nations.

The EU 'troika' have imposed austerity on the economically weaker countries, most notably on Greece, and while many of these governments have used EU rules as the excuse for the misery they have imposed on their populations, the European Commission, using the European Semester System, ultimately checks-off government budgets. The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (or the Fiscal Stability Treaty), effectively enshrines into law ‘balanced’ budgets and near-zero structural deficits, which in turn outlaws expansionary fiscal policy.

Ordinary people across European countries have huge common interests. We are facing the same fight against low pay, casualisation, cuts, privatisation, austerity and a reduction in our living standards. Successful social movements in one country would have huge support and be emulated across the continent. However, like with Syriza in Greece, the EU would do all in its power to crush such movements in order to demonstrate to other EU countries that there was no alternative to endless austerity. If Syriza had continued and fully implemented the socialist policies it was mandated to, it would have been kicked out of the Eurozone and the EU. But by showing an alternative to austerity, it would have inspired millions across Europe to fight for the same socialist policies in their own countries.

Some use ‘European harmony’ to try and strike a chord with many on the left who oppose war. But the EU has pitted more economically stronger countries against the poorer ones. With its capitalist ethos, countries such as France and Germany act as creditors to the debtors like Greece and Spain. These loans, bound by The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, are completely unsustainable, demanding unachievable levels of cuts to public spending and austerity measures that decimate the working classes.

A UN report has revealed that around seven million more people, including over 800,000 children, have fallen into poverty as a result of EU economic policies over the last six years. The report argues that fiscal consolidation, meant to reduce debt, has failed to stimulate the economic growth needed to create jobs. At the same time the EU forces governments to hand public services, including railways, schools, post, energy and even social services over to fat-cat private corporations across Europe.

There are some who agree with these criticisms but argue to stay in the EU to try to reform it. However, the MEP’s we elect sit in the European Parliament; an almost completely powerless body. It is not the European Parliament but the European Council, made up of the heads of government of the 28 nation states of the EU, which makes the majority of EU decisions.

A movement strong enough to reform this fundamentally undemocratic practice would have to be so strong that it would be able to achieve so much more than EU reform; it would have the ability to create a socialist federation of Europe!

On the left, we should be making the case for why Britain must Leave the neo-liberal, capitalists’ club of the European Union and also highlight that the referendum on 23 June is an opportunity to strike a mortal blow to this vicious government. A vote to Leave could lead to the calling of a general election and the downfall of the Tories from power. Another reason why voting 'Leave' is particularly important!

For the ordinary people, being inside or outside the EU offers no long-term solution either way. Only international workers' solidarity with each other's struggles and fighting for a democratic socialist confederation of the continent can create the ground for societies that would transform the lives of the majority of people across Europe. After all, what is socialism if not the large-scale committee of working people?

 

Carl Harper is a Member of Christians on the Left and is standing as a Labour Council Candidate in Eye, Thorney & Newborough on May 5th.

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