Only by staying in the EU will we make our voices heard

Now is not the time to pull up the drawbridge on the European Union


The list of conditions presented to the Greek government on Sunday night as an ultimatum for releasing funds have been described as ‘brutal’ and born out of ‘pure vindictiveness’. This was an offer that, to the thousands of Greeks who voted ‘Oxi’ to yet more austerity in the referendum of 5 July, laughs in the face of their plight.

The hubris with which these demands were made has shocked many on the left and led them to question whether the European project really is place of progressive politics or a club we want to be in.

This is just the latest round in a long struggle between the Greek people and their creditors – the unaccountable ‘Troika’. The policies, put in place in exchange for billions of euros worth of funds to finance Greece’s crippling debts, have had terrible consequences that will affect generations to come. Greek GDP has fallen by some 25 per cent, unemployment has hit record levels (including over 50 per cent youth unemployment) and studies have proven that suicide rates increase for every 1 per cent decrease in Greek government spending.

Make no mistake about it: this is worse than a Greek tragedy.

However, now is not the time to pull up the drawbridge and withdraw from the European Union. This week’s decisions have been made by elected politicians, not institutions. We should be holding them accountable, not dismantling the building they took the decisions in.

Owen Jones penned a piece in this week’s Guardian in which he describes “building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice”. I support all of these things and believe they are possible; but sadly I disagree that making the case to leave the EU makes all this happening more likely.

The first reason not to leave is the most important in my eyes. Without the safeguard of European legislation, the Tories would have a bonfire of our social and employment rights.

With leaks this week suggesting that David Cameron will seek to withdraw permanently from the Working Time and Temporary Workers Directives, we have a clear idea of his vision for the UK – whether we are in the EU or without. Under this government’s direction, we would no longer have four weeks’ guaranteed paid holiday per year, no regulation requiring employment agencies to provide the same pay and conditions to temporary and permanent workers and no guaranteed equal treatment of men and¬†women in the workplace. The list goes on.

European legislation is far from perfect, and there remains much to be done in terms of securing greater protections for workers. However it is by working together and establishing common principles that we have the greatest chance of improving the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Labour has campaigned hard to close loopholes in European rules which allow employment agencies to routinely pay agency workers far less than permanent staff doing the same job in order to drive down costs.

It is a sad fact that Europe is suffering from a technocratic and bureaucratic right-wing swamp: more than half of the 28 EU governments are run or led by Conservative and right-leaning Liberal governments. But it is only in being present and speaking up for socialist principles that we can achieve things like the Financial Transaction Tax, regulate casino capitalism and champion social justice. Europe needs some imaginative left thinking and vision to lift it out of its current torpor.

Without the hard work of the Socialist and Democrat Group, of which Labour is a member, the European Parliament’s resolution on the infamous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership passed last week would contain few or no protections for public services, workers’ rights or the environment. It is down to the very presence of the left in the European Union that the negotiators of a trade deal whose impact will be felt by all will be forced to listen to the people.

As many have pointed out, the money that was intended to ‘save’ the Greek economy actually went to those British, French and German banks that had recklessly lent money to Greece in the first place, raising the country’s private debt to unsustainable levels. The effect of the creditors’ bailout has been to transfer this private debt to Greece’s public institutions and population, in a sequence of events not dissimilar, albeit with much more devastating consequences, to what happened in the UK following the 2008 crash.

Preventing such a situation from happening again requires regulating banks on an international scale: something that can only be achieved through vehicles of international cooperation such as the European Union. Leaving the table would mean we cannot be part of that discussion.

It would put the UK on an unequal footing against our European neighbours, leading us nowhere but down the path to social dumping and the undercutting of wages. Moreover, if we went for UKIP’s touted ‘Norway solution’, we would be subjected to the same rules as we are now (including on the free movement of labour) but have absolutely no say on how these rules are formed.

Owen Jones is right to call the events of the past few weeks ‘ugly’. He is right to call for a leftist campaign, reinvigorated by revulsion over and rejection of the creditors’ implacable demands and bullish tactics. But this must not be a campaign to retreat from Europe and create a socialist paradise in the UK: it’s about organising with our European neighbours and building a collective voice, all the louder because we are greater in number.

Only by working together will we make ourselves heard.

When we are angry with Westminster we do not argue that we should leave: we argue that we should get more people like us into the Commons to change the direction of political decisions. This is how we change the EU too.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England. Follow her on Twitter

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23 Responses to “Only by staying in the EU will we make our voices heard”

  1. Foullaini

    Like the Greek people have been listened to?

  2. Steve Larson

    Ahh you are a well paid MEP. Makes sense why you support this extreme neo-liberal project.

    The Euro zone can only be held together by an authoritarian style approach to economics and conformity.

  3. swat

    Ok you’ve convinced me. But most of those right leaning Govts are Eastern European; it was a mistake to let them in to the EU in the first place. Owen Jones is usually wrong about most things, but his heart’s in the right place. After 50 years of the EU surely the time has come to restructure it and make it a more Democratic organisation, accountable to the people, but that can only happen if we work towards a more Federal approach to Europe, otherwise each Nation is going to stand on that ‘sovreignity’ argument. And I’m ok with that.

  4. Kenny D.

    The Eu is undemocratic and corporate. We should get out now, while we can, the opportunity may never arise again.

  5. Deirdre Shaw

    I have a lot of respect for Owen Jones but must disagree with him about the EU. It doesn’t serve us well but that is our fault. We sit on the sidelines, refusing to be properly committed, and then whine when we don’t get what we want. There is a hell of a lot wrong with the EU but it can be made fit for purpose. However, that can only be done by proper commitment and drive to reform from within. The alternative is crippling isolation. ‘Splendid Isolation’ didn’t work in C19, leaving the EU will hurt us now.

  6. Ben1969

    The EU provides a permanent framework for continuous cooperation among the countries of Europe. This allows us to discuss common challenges with our neighbours – from air pollution and climate change to migration and foreign policy. It has enabled us to build a Single Market with common rules to reduce red tape and facilitate cross-border trade. If the EU did not exist then we would have to invent it.

    If there are things about the EU that we don’t like, then we should build alliances with our friends across Europe to make it better.

  7. Cole

    And you think you’ll be better off left to the tender mercies of an unconstrained Tory government?

  8. Steve Larson

    At least Tories can be voted out.

    Democracy and the Euro are not compatible, you cannot have independent monetary policy across varying parts of a currency zone.

    To work it must be politically united, given the size of the currency Union there will always be economies with different needs. We have seen repeatedly in the Eurozone that the need of the largest economy in it trumps all others.

    We saw that the largest now aggressively expect conformity and will be vindictive against those who do not do it.

    There is the possibility of moderating the Tories via coalition or replacing and at least the Bank of England will set rates according to the needs of the economy.

    That does not exist in the EU and especially in the Eurozone.

  9. David Tough

    Simple give the European Parliament more powers over the EU Commision

  10. David Tough

    Nice simple argument but not true

  11. stevep

    The Tory Party have made a rod for their own back by agreeing to an in/out referendum – all for short-term party political gain. They are going to tear lumps out of one another, whatever the result. UKIP will be a busted flush too, afterwards.
    Whether we are still in Europe or not afterwards, it will not make a jot of difference to the Tory party regressive far-right agenda: To destroy the welfare state, including the NHS, and to reduce working people to wage slavery with few rights remaining.
    Europe will probably head down that route too, in time. It`s not the Social Democratic alliance of countries Labour hoped it would become.
    It`s become a Capitalist Superstate, as Greece has just found out.
    When it joins the TTIP agreement, Capitalism will be cemented in as the dominant economic doctrine for the foreseeable future. Democracy is likely to take second place to the wishes of large Corporations. Benito Mussolini defined the merger of state and Corporatism as Fascism.
    We should be worried.
    For years I saw the European Union as a positive force for change and progressing humanity. Now I`m not so sure. I sense other member countries thinking along these lines too.
    If the EU power elite could demonstrate greater respect for democracy and public opinion over TTIP it would go a long way to assuage current anti EU feeling.
    As for The UK and the future of the Left, we might well be better off out of it all and seek alliances with other countries.
    I don`t know the answer, the jury is still out for me.

  12. steroflex

    Jude, who do you think takes all he decisions for the EU?
    Let me guess…
    Could it be the Commissioners who decide what the parliament discusses? Could it be the Commissioners who decide what the Council of Ministers discusses? (Decisions taken by majority vote and we are 1/28)
    Could it be the Commissioners who demand More Europe and are planning (Spinelli Document – have you read it?) a Federal United Europe to be up and running by 2025?
    Allow me to ask whether or not you voted for Mr Juncker? Or perhaps Guy Verhofstadt? Do you even know who the unelected unaccountable Commissioners are? Names?
    Of course you believe that people who are unelected, unchecked and who take all the decisions are always reliable, honest and determined to support workers’ rights. Naturally, because they are nice people…

  13. steroflex

    My advice: continue reading the Guardian and sit on the fence while all hell breaks loose in Greece and, later all the club med and the Germans get very angry for being constantly lied to.
    At that very moment, the Russian giant will arise after being provoked by the EU for too long in Ukraine and the Batlics.

  14. steroflex

    And what about the fairies in the ? Do you believe in them too?

  15. steroflex

    I have never read such a muddled, unresearched comment for a very long time.

  16. Neiall Mullery

    How to reform _parliament_ whilst they’re still blaming the EU for not letting them ‘do what’s needed’
    how both the voting system & social media is an embarrassment to major political parties in light of recent election
    how to blame our government, the house of Lord’s, and their multiple vested interests stopping us achieving a true democracy, and a safe environment for the people
    how to NOT reform housing, prisons, education,right to die, the monarchy, get elected and hide behind a conglomerate of vast unaudited wealth & power, helping arm conflicts and calling themselves peaceful whilst bludgeoning human wealth _by decree_ for the good of who exactly?

    We have other places to put environmental protections in place, like the G20

    I must have missed the memo where war & environmental criminals are being hounded into the justice system by “the powerful EU nations”

    They’re playing tag
    we ain’t even in the game
    let’s get out and either revolutionise OUR governance, or just be swindled more slowly

  17. Lomond Handley

    Fuhrer Angela Merkel states that ‘…where there’s a will. there’s a way…’.
    Her will. Her Way !
    Pigs will fly, before any significant changes which benefit the British People are made to the EU and anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly misguided.
    We all make mistakes and it will prove to be a monumental mistake if Britain remains in the EU.
    We need to exit the EU and escape from the jackboots of Merkel and her gang of bullies.

  18. Bill Lawrence

    David Tough is so correct – What is needed is to give the EP (people like Jude K-D, et al) powers over the Euro Commission. Deirdrie Shaw has it true too – Sitting on the sidelines as so many British politicians, institutions, etc do is the way to ruin for this country. I am from a UK trade union, active with its pan-Euro federation on an EC social dialogue committee alongside a dozen trade unionists debating employment, H&S and social conditions with employers organisations. I’m the only Brit at the table – the unions may not see the value and our employers just don’t turn up, something which even baffles their own side.

  19. stevep

    I don`t read the Guardian, or many other newspapers. I like to get my “news” from a variety of sources and make my own mind up.
    It was said before the election that Putin was hoping for a Conservative victory in the UK as an in/out referendum would weaken the EU.
    The Russian Bear`s going to awake from it`s slumbers anyway, possibly with China in tow. What political system will emerge afterwards and what effect it will have on the world is anyone`s guess.
    Perhaps emboldened western leaders shouldn’t poke Bears while they`re sleeping.

  20. Mike Stallard

    But did you see Baroness Ashton in Kiev? And read the way that the EU is determined to get Ukraine into the system?
    These unelected people with a foreign minister from Italy – Federika Mogherini – are not capable of doing foreign policy at all. If only they were! Look at the mess they are making over immigration from Libya. All very funny until you happen, as I am, to be teaching the immigrant “children” before they are sent back to an empty room in a war zone with just a mattress on the floor to sleep on – worse than an English jail actually.

  21. stevep

    I despair at the human condition sometimes. We`re capable of walking with the gods and yet we`re perfectly happy to sink to sub-animal levels of consciousness and behaviour.
    Politics is no exception. We could be creating the world of our dreams. We end up with one out of our nightmares.
    I live in hope.

  22. David Poyser

    Well said Jude
    “More than half of the 28 EU governments are run or led by Conservative and right-leaning Liberal governments. But it is only in being present and speaking up for socialist principles that we can achieve things like the Financial Transaction Tax, regulate casino capitalism and champion social justice. Europe needs some imaginative left thinking and vision to lift it out of its current torpor.”

    Now is not the time for the Left to join UKIP’s followers in waffly chat about Brexit – now’s the time to speak up for socialist values and work with the community of nations and campaign to stay in the EU. Only though the EU – the world’s largest trading bloc -can we negotiate with China, and the US. Only through the EU and working internationally can we save the planet. We have to set aside the parochial UK debate framed by 40 years of Daily Mail euromyths, and join the community of nations to create a better world!

  23. mervynhyde

    The EU is hell bent on dismantling Europe’s public services and using the so called crisis just as the Tories are doing here.

    Schaeuble is the spokesperson for all that is wrong with the EU, he spells out that anyone seeking to go against EU diktat will be treated in the same way as Greece, the European Banks crashed the European economy not Greece even with their difficulties, they in fact are only 3% of Europe’s GDP.

    People generally do not understand that Neo-Liberal theology is the driving force behind everything these politicians do and TTIP is the culmination of the corporate takeover of our democracy.

    The other point is that this Neo-Liberal journey started in the 1970s, when even Labour were advocating cuts in public expenditure, something that was a Tory doctrine until then, and that of course was the period that Heath took us into Europe.

    What we used to call Thatcherism (Friedman’s monetarism), is what we now know to be Neo-Liberalism.

    In 1982 Thatcher was accused of having a government document that was to be used as the blue print for dismantling the state, she of course denied its existence. That secret document was released in 2012 and shows how they and New Labour have dismantled the state since the 80s.

    Sorry I can’t paste a link to this document.
    But you can google it by asking, Margaret Thatcher’s 1982 cabinet papers, the longer term options at the national archives reference number CAB/129/215/6

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