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

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