The left must confront the EU’s shortcomings and offer an alternative

Democratisation of Europe has to be front and centre of a progressive vision.

Democratisation of Europe has to be front and centre of a progressive vision

It’s a fairly obvious truism that this is a critical time for the future of the European Union and the UK’s relationship with it. At this year’s European parliamentary elections and beyond it it is vital that progressives offer a genuine alternative based on the principles of environmentalism and social justice.

That’s what we set out to do in ‘A Different Europe’ (PDF). It’s a future looking vision of Europe which we hope will resonate with trade unionists, people in different left, green, and regionalist political parties, as well as activists, trade unionists and others outside of party politics.

We’ve positioned the paper in a ‘third space’ that’s pro-European whilst critical of many aspects of the current EU. As we saw during the recent Clegg/Farage debate – pro Europeans won’t be successful if they continue on the back foot, simply defending Europe by pointing out the positive benefits of the EU.

Instead we need to understand both the current disillusionment with Europe and the emotions UKIP are successfully tapping into. That’s why offering a greater sense of security and safety regarding the sustainability of the economy, the environment, the future of employment, pensions and social security benefits is central to this vision.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we face is finding a path for coming out of recession and austerity without going straight into unsustainable forms of economic growth. Fighting the immediate battles is important but this can’t be at the long-term cost of our environment.

We need policies to create employment and reduce unemployment, which would completely change the prospects for millions of people across Europe. Green investment is required to create jobs, cut carbon and reduce our use of the world’s scare resources. This includes significant investment in insulation of existing and new housing, offshore wind, solar, and other renewable energies, public transport and nature conservation.

This should be paid for by a mixture of ‘Green QE’, shifts to green taxation, a financial transactions tax and clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion.

Democratisation of Europe has to be front and centre of a progressive vision. The European Central Bank should have the deflationary bias removed from its remit and become democratically accountable to MEPs. Countries needing financial support should not have austerity policies imposed on them in return for that support, which should be viewed as an essential part of building the cohesion necessary for the single currency to work.

The entire process of the EU Council of Ministers meetings should become open to public and parliamentary scrutiny. Member states should be more open about their actions at a European level and accountable to their individual parliaments. Information about the activities of lobbyists should also be published, including any payments to MEPs and any meetings with senior Commission officials.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would be a disaster for environmental and social rights. The EU should defend its environmental, public health, cultural, labour and other standards and not bargain them away for the benefit of big business interests. The free market origins of EU thinking enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, which established the EU in the 1958, still remain influential in keeping many politicians and civil servants stuck within the dogma of ‘free trade’.

In its place, the principle of resilience now needs to be given priority, to ensure that local, regional, and national economies are equipped to bounce back from economic shocks and downturns.

If we are to realise a European project with social justice and environmentalism at its heart, we need to confront the EU’s shortcomings and offer an alternative. This must consist of democratising and opening up European processes, prioritising local and national economies and providing a sense of security to European citizens.

Joe Cox is a research coordinator at Compass

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

One Response to “The left must confront the EU’s shortcomings and offer an alternative”

  1. David Lindsay

    In March, Ed Miliband made it clear that there would as good as certainly be nothing so much as the suggestion of any further transfer of powers to the EU while he is Prime Minister. Since Michael Foot, no major Party Leader had ever before said that, or anything remotely approaching it.

    Consistently, all of two per cent of people place the EU at the top of their list of priorities. Even only 20 per cent of UKIP supporters see a referendum on EU membership as important. Cameron’s commitment is to hold one only after his imaginary renegotiation, itself following his inconceivable General Election victory.

    He and Miliband are both saying no to one. It is just that one of them is doing so on the basis that there would be no further transfer of powers. Cameron is not saying that: a renegotiation could result in anything. But there is not going to be one, because he is not going to be in office.

    The main cause now is opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which perfectly embodies everything that the Eurofederalist project has always been about, and which gives incomparable explanation to the fact that, whereas the Left has opposed that project since the 1940s, next to no one on the British Right, including Margaret Thatcher, was anything less than wildly enthusiastic about it until the perceived need arose to oppose John Major on absolutely any available ground for his daring to be Prime Minister while not Margaret Thatcher.

    To this day, someone like John Redwood, the intellectual guiding light who had wanted Teresa Gorman and Tony Marlow in the Cabinet, could not tell you anything in particular about the EU to which he was opposed. He could have written the TTIP, just as the framers of the Treaty of Rome, of Thatcher’s Single European Act or of Major’s Maastricht Treaty, against which Redwood did not vote, could have done.

    It offers the culmination, at least to date, of the entire dream. Attempts to claim that that dream was ever about anything else are the stuff of borderline, if borderline, insanity.

    Which privatisation did the EU prevent? Which dock, factory, shipyard, steelworks or mine did it save? Well, there you are, then.

    If we needed the EU for the employment law that, since we do not have it, the EU is obviously powerless to deliver, then there would be no point or purpose to the British Labour Movement.

    Beyond fighting the TTIP every step of the way, Labour needs to commit itself, not to a referendum the result of which, as of all such, would be determined in the month leading up to it by the BBC, exactly as happened in 1975, but to primary legislation in and through the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of United Kingdom over EU law, and its use to give effect, both to explicit Labour policy by repatriating industrial and regional policy (whereas the Conservatives are not committed to any specific repatriation), and to what is at least implicit Labour policy by repatriating agricultural policy and by reclaiming our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law: 200 miles, or to the median line.

    Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them.

    Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard.

    Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

    Fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons, with the provision that no MEP who was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or of anything that the Speaker or the House deemed comparable, would be eligible to be so certified.

    Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, of members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of people who believed the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who would not have women candidates.

    And sixthly, the giving of effect to the express will of the House of Commons, for which every Labour MP voted, that the British contribution to the EU Budget be reduced in real terms.

Leave a Reply