writes KELVIN HOPKINS
THERE should be no doubt that the European Union is anti-working class, anti-socialist and anti-democratic. This has been the case since its first incarnation as the European Common Market in 1957, and the evidence is now overwhelming.
One in four workers are now unemployed in Greece and Spain, with youth unemployment at double that. Living standards have been cut as economies have contracted under the lash of austerity and thousands have been forced to move abroad to look for work.
Unemployment in Spain has been the equivalent of over seven million without jobs in Britain.
Three-hundred thousand Irish working people have left their homes to look for work overseas since the 2008 banking crisis, the equivalent of over four million in Britain.
Membership of the euro has acted as an economic vice on these economies, fixing them at unsustainable currency parities above all with Germany.
Only when the euro is dismantled so that those EU members in severe economic difficulties can begin to manage and rebuild their own economies again will the sufferings of their peoples be reversed.
Gordon Brown’s 1997 decision to resist British membership of the euro saved Britain from economic catastrophe after 2008.
Larry Elliott, writing in the Guardian, rightly suggested that if Britain had joined the euro at the then prevailing parity, and had been unable to depreciate after 2008, the economy would have been wrecked.
Britain would have been the first to crash out of the euro and the whole edifice would have collapsed.
As it is, sterling depreciated by 27 per cent against the euro after the crisis and gave a degree of protection from the savage economic storms which have devastated other EU economies.
But the anti-socialist and anti-democratic nature of the EU were long ago recognised by the left and it is the left which threatens it today.
The virtual disappearance of Pasok, the formerly socialist Greek political party, which chose to walk into a deadly embrace with the Conservative New Democracy Party to inflict austerity on Greek workers, has been a modern Greek tragedy.
Other pro-EU social democratic parties elsewhere in the EU are suffering too.
Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have grown quickly to fill vacuums on the left.
But to return to the nature of the EU and what it is for. It is of course a branch of global neoliberalism, of laissez-faire capitalism, constructed to raise up the power of the market and progressively dismantle the socialist and social democratic structures which were established and were so successful in the immediate post-war decades.
The EU political class does have a serious problem, however, because working people have a strong attachment to these post-war structures — welfare states, public services, redistributive taxation and the public ownership and democratic accountability of public utilities and other sectors.
The reactionary Thatcherite revolution inflicted on Britain has pushed the neoliberal agenda far beyond that of Continental Europe, but the direction and objectives are the same.
It is of significance that the neoliberal push in the European Union was actually initiated quietly by Thatcherite ideologues in Britain, including the then deputy governor of the Bank of England in the mid-1980s.
The so-called Single European Act was the first major step on that road.
However, on the Continent, it is fear of the likely political reaction by millions of workers which has held back the neoliberal thrust.
The left and the working class resisted the attempt to impose a “European constitution” on the EU, voting against in referendums in France and the Netherlands, despite pressure from allegedly socialist parties to vote in favour.
The Swedish elite failed to persuade the Swedish people to join the euro and the Norwegian political class twice failed to get Norwegians to vote to join the EU.
Eurosceptism is indeed growing right across the EU, and an early Greek exit from the euro remains a probability.
The EU is in trouble and it is the working class which poses the real threat to its future.
It is time for democratic governments across the EU to reclaim power from Brussels and begin again to represent the real interests of their peoples and move in a socialist direction.
The EU economy is failing, and it is not just the southern fringe where problems exist.
The elephant in the room, so to speak, is in fact France, and as France finds it increasingly difficult to sustain its membership of the eurozone, a seismic change really is in prospect.
It is the EU which has in effect derailed President Francois Hollande’s initial progressive agenda promised before his election.
The French, like other members of the eurozone, need to be able to adjust the value of their currency, against Germany in particular, which means re-establishing the franc and beginning once again to manage their economy at a national level with appropriate monetary and fiscal policies and direct state intervention to generate full employment and long-term economic stability.
The whole EU economic strategy has proved a failure, and while a useful level of co-operation between economies on a voluntary and mutually beneficial basis is appropriate, bureaucratic control and economic dictats from the EU institutions do not work.
It is time for the EU to recognise its failure and leave the countries of Europe to reconstruct the democratic socialist/social democratic post-war world which worked so well.
- Kelvin Hopkins is Labour MP for Luton North. He has recently written The European Union — A View From the Left (published by Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign).