What should a reformed Europe actually look like?

Leftists must fight Brexit with a progressive Plan B, or risk becoming dupes of the neoliberal right

EU flag


Owen Jones recently listed the growing number of the left’s luminaries who, in the wake of the horrors happening in Greece, are now toying with the idea of leaving the EU.

But to campaign for the same goal of leaving Europe as the deregulating, free market right in a world where neoliberalism and austerity are still in the ascendency would be a disaster.

Yet if progressives were to start campaigning from within for a different direction for Europe, this could enable the EU to present a real challenge to neoliberalism. The present turmoil will make it easier for such debates to get a hearing, particularly against the backdrop of countless millions becoming increasingly restive about austerity and uncontrolled migration and capital flows within the present open border Europe.

The appalling events surrounding the Greek coup have inevitably resulted in a torrent of detailed analysis of who is to blame and what should happen next. Sadly, what appears certain is that there will be absolutely no detailed discussions of the need for a radical Plan B to achieve a more harmonious Europe, and what policies this would require. Without this, the present European nightmare will continue with no end in sight.

An example of this was Alan Johnson’s pro-EU attack on Owen Green’s ‘Lexit’ proposal. He called for Labour to engage in reforming the EU, but did not say what kind of Europe he would like to see. He provides no concrete policies for changing the direction of today’s increasingly deregulating EU.

In the face of this weakness, Brexit starts to look inevitable. The four million UKIP voters at the last election will be joined by countless more, if leaving the EU is seen as the only way to control intra-European migration.

The first step in developing a Plan B for Europe has to be to continue demanding an end to the austerity blitzkrieg that the German-Brussels Pact has rammed down the throat of all Europe’s poorer countries. The richer ones, including the UK, have their own political panzer divisions that are creating economic and social distress domestically.

Austerity appeasement and deficit fetishism are just the latest weapons being used to force everyone to continue worshiping at the altar of Mrs Thatcher’s most corrosive legacy: ‘There is no alternative’.

But what would a new direction for Europe actually look like? A crucial priority would be to ensure a return to democratic control over our continent’s economic and environmental future, one that counters the pro-big-business EU Commission and parliament. In theory this should get the vocal support of the left and greens, but it’s tricky terrain due to the enormity of the required shifts in policies and end goals of the EU.

Most would agree that reforms should include allowing European countries to work together to fashion a more cooperative economic block reflecting the views and the needs of the vast majority. What is rarely considered is exactly how to remove the roadblocks to this, such as the Treaty of Rome and the unquestioned acceptance of the Single Market.

These have to be replaced, because to achieve a more stable, resilient and diverse economy will require a rejection of the open borders to people, money, goods and services enshrined in the Treaty of Rome. In its stead should be a ‘Treaty of Home’ which allows nation states to re-establish appropriate border controls to help the continent’s regional, national and local economies to flourish.

Europe could then concentrate on much needed cooperation between member states to deal with cross border threats such as climate change, crime and defence, and work together to lessen the gaps between the continent’s rich and poor regions.

The big losers would be corporations, no longer able to play countries off against each other via the race to the bottom inherent in open borders. The extreme right would also lose their ominous momentum, since they could no longer claim to be the only parties with a solution to uncontrolled immigration within Europe.

At this point I can almost hear the incredulous splutterings of countless left and green activists whilst they rush for the comfort zone of endless, fruitless attempts to turn today’s EU open markets into a more equal, greener and social Europe. Luckily the public is way ahead of such a hide bound, deluded approach.

People are increasingly voting in their millions for parties that want to either leave the EU, or change its rules, to allow democratically elected governments to take back control of their borders – particularly to limit trans-European migration.

Opposition is also growing to uncontrollable cross border capital flows which contributed so much to the present Greek crisis, when German and French banks lent money to Greeks to purchase, for example, German cars which the bankers knew they couldn’t really afford.

Border controls that can meet these public concerns as well as constraints on the flows of goods and services to protect and rebuild thriving domestic industries could therefore prove increasingly popular.

An EU with these priorities is likely to see a return of public support for a Europe which would at last be seen to benefit the majority. It would also be a fitting and practical way of rewarding the courage of the Greek people and prevent the ‘lexits’ being useful dupes for the interests of the neoliberal right.

Colin Hines is the author of ‘Progressive Protectionism’ to be published this summer.

13 Responses to “What should a reformed Europe actually look like?”

  1. David Lindsay

    This will not be on the ballot paper. The options will be whatever Cameron had brought back, and Out. There will be no Third Way.

  2. Selohesra

    Out it is then – I cant see Cameron gaining real reform

  3. David Lindsay

    Whatever arrangement with the EU has been renegotiated to the satisfaction of David Cameron will be horrendous from the point of view of British workers and the users of British public services.

    But then, the economic, social, cultural and political power of the British working class, whether broadly or narrowly defined, cannot exactly be said to have increased since 1973. Any more than Britain has fought no further wars since joining a body as successful as NATO or nuclear weapons when it comes to keeping the peace.

    Did no one foresee the catastrophe that the euro has become? Of course they did. On precisely those grounds, 59 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht at Second Reading, joined by a mere 22 Tories, while 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht at Third Reading, still joined by only 41 Tories. On both occasions, both tellers for the Noes were Labour, Jeremy Corbyn was among the Noes, and five Labour MPs were among the Ayes. Of those five, none is still in the House of Commons, and two are dead.

    But the Labour MPs who opposed Maastricht were ignored in favour of the far smaller cast of comedy characters on the Tory benches. Today, we have to endure the domination of the debate by people who not only supported Maastricht, but were in some cases Cabinet Ministers at the time. Plus another generation of late night television clowns to make the case against the EU appear ridiculous and lacking in the intellectual ballast that in fact it possesses by the bucket load.

  4. JoeDM

    There will be no real reform.

    For any real reform to take place there would need to be a new Treaty. That will not happen.

    The referendum will be fixed. It will not be fair and balanced. It will be a sham.

  5. Mike Stallard

    I am going to say this: you are light years out of date.

    Forget the comforting jargon, please, it does not help. Lexit, Brexit, progressive, right wing, austerity, big corporations etc.

    The truth is that Europe is in the hands of the Commission under its President M. J-C Juncker. Frankly it does not matter much what you or I or anyone else happen to think, it is what the Commission wants that is going to happen: a new constitutional treaty ready for agreement to bring in more Europe by 2017.

    Please abandon your prejudices and just look at this before you comment next time:


    The amusing thing is that you sound just like Mr Cameron who has been completely outsmarted.
    Unless the Left polishes up its act it will go the way of the Liberals a century ago: into the dustbin of history to be replaced by a party that means something and that speaks to people’s hearts.

  6. Mike Stallard

    The new constitutional convention has already been called and is sitting as we speak – it started on 1 June this year. It is due to report in 2017. It is planned to be up and running in 2025. Please do look at this:


  7. Iain Fletcher

    I agree with the article in principle. But in practice a reform package like you suggest just isn’t going to happen. No one outside of UKIP ia even suggesting it instead focusing of safe areas like benefits which don’t impact on people’s concerns.

    Labour have a chance to make this case, but they also have to be willing to back an exit if the reforms can’t be made. If the left refuse to even consider leaving Europe then they will become increasingly irrelevant to a large swathe of voters.

    There’s a chance to get out ahead of this issue and isolate the Tories, instead the left will keep talking about vague concepts of internationalism which completely misses the point. To paraphrase UKIP we can still work with other countries on crime, climate change and defence without requiring open borders.

  8. Cole

    Hardly the point. Like Wilson in 1975, the whole referendum fiasco is an attempt to keep his party together.

  9. Cole

    So the anti EU people are conceding defeat already?

  10. Wilky1

    The points made in this article illustrate 2 things.

    1. The EU could be turned around from its declining popularity within Its member states if it will but see that changes are required.
    2. The EU being blind to any need to change will flatly refuse to acknowledge the need for change, let alone agree to change & is therefore doomed to fall by the wayside.

    We can still love Europe, trade with Europe & indeed be a member state of Europe without being dragged kicking & screaming into an organisational structure that will never, ever be agreed upon by the British electorate.

    We will have to make the decision come the referendum if there are any prospects of the EU recognising the need for change, the prospects of all 28 independent states agreeing a common ground for any changes & writing any agreed changes into the treaties (promises won’t cut it any more after the €Zone EFSM revival despite binding promises to the contrary).

    If the prospects aren’t good, & all Cameron can come back with are vague promises & agreements to benefit business even further, you can bet your last penny that the UK electorate will return a resounding NO & vote to leave the institution.

  11. AB

    If you ditch the parts of the EU which come from the Treaty of Rome you pretty much ditch the EU as the bulk of EU legislation has a focus on economics and trade. So why not just advocate exit and bilateral co-operation on things like the environment and crime? There’s not really any need to co-operate on defence when there’s already a successful international body doing that in the form of NATO.

    But, even if we did do as the author suggests, what would prevent the UK from replicating the Treaty of Rome economic freedoms with other countries and for them to erect tariff barriers against the poor countries of Europe from whom we import little but who will still be reliant on us exporting to them because they have little industry of their own and economies too weak to support building them?

    Perhaps it might be in the interests of Greece to be consigned to a fate of permanent subsistence agriculture and tourism, but it is hard to see how that would represent an advance on today.

  12. Ednamcraver

    Go to Our Community l e f o t o a d Online money

  13. Linus

    To answer this question of Brexit, we surely have to look beyond Europe; to see the EU in context. A global governance system is emerging, to the point where it is largely cohesive and operational. As with all emergent realities, it is partly the result of conscious design, partly the forces inherent in the complex adaptive system that is the global political economy. There are a few signal features we need to recognise. One is the increasingly central and legitimised power of organised private capital. The EU is no different than the UN, or the G8, or any political instrument; over the last couple of decades especially they have (had to?) cede power to private interests. See the Global Compact at the UN; or the G8s New Alliance for Food Security; or the World Banks’ Doing Business Rankings; or read WEFs Global Redesign Initiative, in which many of the most powerful actors on the world stage happily and publicly profess a belief in “public/private global governance” in which, “nation states are no longer the dominant actors on the world stage”. Or any number of similar initiatives that are legimitizing private influence over the global public policy space. Democracy is suffering. Being laid to rest, even. Whether the UK stays in the EU or not needs to be a question processed within this reality. Is the EU a reformable organisation, such that it can buck this trend? I can’t see how, given what we’ve seen in Greece, and the unabashed and self-evident power it willingly gave private capital over democratic sovereignty, and given how it is, by its very design, demonstrating many of the signal features of the system we are so concerned about. I honestly don’t have an answer to this. It;’s the classic fight from within or fight from without question. It seems naive to think reform can come to the EU, but perhaps a more dangerous surrender to walk away and think we can change it form without. The only thing that seems certain to me, is that the more we connect the dots globally, the better we will understand the enemy we face, and the better equipped we will be to offer a realistic alternative. The more we succumb to seeing the centre of our analysis as the EU, let alone the UK’s role in it, the less powerful and effective we will be.

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