Rupert Read joins Baronness Jenny Jones to ask whether ‘progressives’ can really continue to take for granted that a Yes vote in the UK EU referendum is the right thing to do, given the latest developments in relation to Greece
Something that some of us have been urging for a while now (to anyone who would listen) has become clear (to everyone) in the last few days: Something is rotten in the state of Europe. The EU is in danger of being nothing more than a dictatorial neoliberal imposer of austerity, uncaring about the impacts of large corporations (be they banks or whatever) on the wellbeing of people or planet, eager to do the bidding of those corporations, and determined to derail and in effect depose any elected regime that has a different idea.
We write as Greens both of whom have in previous years stood for election to the European Parliament (Read came close to election in Eastern England in 2009 and 2014). We are the first to acknowledge how the EU can be and has been a powerful force for good (for example, in terms of keeping the peace among its member states, and in terms of its impressive role in social environmental regulation: a role now under threat from Cameron’s renegotiation, on which see below…).
But we nevertheless think that the Green Party’s – and the Left’s, and bien-pensant intellectuals’, and ‘progressives’’ – love-in with the EU needs to come to an end, to be replaced by a more honest willingness to face up to the very serious flaws besetting the EU.
The two key events of the last few days that have made starkly clear that something is rotten at the top of our continent are first, little-noticed, the EU moving a big step closer to backing the starkly anti-democratic and pro-corporatocratic ‘TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’, and second, with everyone waking up and noticing, the imposition on Athens from above of a programme for privatisation and savage cuts even worse than that rejected by the Greek people in the referendum last week onto Greece.
Take TTIP, first. This is the EU-US ‘free trade’ agreement currently being negotiated, and that the European Parliament gave, tragically, provisional approval to, last week. The Green Party is united against TTIP. And the Green Party argues strongly in favour of the EU. Is there any tension between these two facts? We think that there is…
- TTIP enables the democratic will of the people to be struck down by big business.
- TTIP is in its very essence a project of secretive lobbying.
- TTIP is about gigantic corporations being able to break open and gobble up public procurement and public services.
Our case is simple: This should not be viewed as some kind of aberration from EU-standard-practice. It IS EU-standard-practice.
The EU has been from the beginning (but also increasingly, the key examples here being the Lisbon Treaty and the ‘Stability and Growth pact’) a pro-business front, a vehicle for organisations such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists to get their way. There is far too little democracy in the EU: for example, the Council of Ministers operates almost entirely in secrecy and holds the whip hand over the Parliament on most issues; Brussels is dominated by corporate lobbyists who outnumber NGO lobbyists by about 15 to 1. EU rules would make it very difficult for (e.g.) the railways to be brought back into full public ownership in this country.
It is an illusion to think that TTIP is anything other than a natural extension of the logic of the EU as it is currently. Greens, being serious about our outright opposition to TTIP, need to be serious also about (at the least) radically reforming the EU. Anything less than truly radical reform — democratisation, an end to the impunity of the culture of lobbying and secrecy, prioritisation of public service over private profit, prioritisation of one-planet ecological sanity over business’s endless-growth multiplanet (!) agenda — would mean that the EU is, on balance, more of a hindrance than a help to Green objectives.
Similarly with regard to the ‘negotiations’ (sic.) with Greece. The plain imposition on Greece, on pain of otherwise being forced out of the Euro (a path that we would recommend should in fact be taken voluntarily by Greece – but that’s another story), of harsh and unwanted measures that eliminate its sovereignty and strip the people of the power that they sought to exercise last week in the referendum is not a departure from business-as-usual for the EU: it simply manifests the EU’s lack of interest in state-sovereignty or democracy, and the determination now endemic among EU elites to impose a particular business-friendly vision onto any recalcitrant government and people. This deal being forced onto Athens is serving as a massive wake-up call. Something is rotten in the EU: it is its undemocratic path of ‘pro-business’ convergence, that is being imposed from the centre, no matter what the cost.
Above all, the huge power of business-lobbyists in the EU — who can usually get what they want, unless the European public (which basically doesn’t exist) puts its foot down (as happened, thankfully, over ACTA but that is a very very rare event) — simply must end.
Moreover, systematic problems are caused by all four of the ‘four freedoms’ that are at the core of the Treaty of Rome: the freedom to move capital, products, ‘services’ and labour all over the EU. The four freedoms constitute a bosses charter: they form together a key demand of exploitative international Capital, a demand that should be rejected. There is no Leftist case for an unreformed EU.
There are tremendous structural difficulties in the way of reforming the EU to address most of these problems/tendencies. One of us (Jones) is frankly sceptical that there is any chance of such reforms succeeding. The other of us (Read) is determined to try. But both of us agree that an EU which does not undertake such reforms is not something that Greens should offer a blank cheque to.
We are in the early stages of an EU-referendum campaign in the UK. If that campaign is fought on the basis of ‘We love the EU!’, it will probably be lost, and it will certainly accentuate the sense of alienation among the enormous number of Britons who feel that there is something wrong with the EU. There IS something wrong with the EU: we need to name it, and (if we are not to quit the EU) seek to change it. If we leave the EU-reform agenda to David Cameron (!), we are condemning ourselves to political irrelevance and the EU to becoming in practice and on balance even more of a dogmatically anti-ecological pro-growthist pro-big-business centralising undemocratic organisation than it already is.
Moreover, just as Syriza’s negotiating position has been weakened by the fact that it is unwilling to countenance leaving the Euro, so we all lack any leverage so long as we are in effect willing for the EU to be as bad as it wants in as many respects as it wants… Until there are more voices joining ours in saying ‘So far and no further’ – until the kinds of changes that the Conservatives want (which would of course on balance make the EU even worse) are opposed by proposed changes pointing basically in the opposite direction – until there is a campaign to remake the EU in a greener image (for example) then one is batting on a losing wicket, and chasing an image of the EU that no longer reflects reality, if it ever did.
Those who want to stop TTIP, who want to aid countries like Greece, and who want to restore a social and democratic and ecological emphasis to Europe need to be consistently constructively-critical of the EU’s pro-‘globalisation’ agenda, and not to be merely blandly and crudely EU-philic. If Greens echo the LibDems’ or Labour’s vacant pro-gigantism EU-philic agenda, then we are missing a historic opportunity to set out the kinds of reasons for a radically different approach that were first brilliantly couched in Mike Woodin’s and Caroline Lucas’s book, Green Alternatives To Globalisation. Let’s not insult the intelligence of the British electorate: let’s tell the truth, and seize the moral high ground of being the true friends of the EU-project… by calling for its radical reform in the direction outlined above, as a condition for our campaigning to remain in it.
For make no mistake: a pro-TTIP EU and an EU determined to evacuate democracy in Greece of its meaning and to force the selling off of its assets – exactly what the left-green Syriza government came into power determined not to do! – is not an EU worth having.
Rupert Read is a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and Chair of Green House.
This post originally featured on the News Hub blog
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