A different Europe or bust

As David Cameron’s renegotiation nears its uneventful conclusion, the big picture of what kind of Europe we want to live in is in danger of being lost, writes Luke Cooper. What can we do to change it?
4 February 2016


That Europe is in urgent need of reform is beyond question. At risk of being lost in the current British public debate, however, is the discussion as to the type of reforms that Europe needs. The focus on David Cameron’s ‘wish list’ of demands has established an accepted discourse that presumes that these demands reflect ‘British interests’. It also presumes that were Cameron to win European acceptance for all of his demands, then this would be ‘a good deal for Britain’.

One of the key benefits of European integration are the non-discriminatory labour rights and social provisions between member states, which allow European workers to access the same benefits as ‘natives’ when working in one another’s countries. By seeking to ban EU workers in the UK from accessing in-work benefits until they have lived in the country for four years, Cameron has been attempting to roll back a fundamental achievement of European integration. If this were only happening in Britain the future of the union would not be in question, but all across Europe a rising tide of nationalist sentiment – and with it the inevitable lurch towards discriminatory practices aimed at non-nationals resident in the ‘home’ country – is putting in question Europe’s unity.

Those of us on the left who believe that workers of all countries have common interests, that they should all enjoy the same rights and protections and that they are being failed badly by a broken economic system, face a particular difficulty when looking at the current state of the European Union. None of us support the status quo; we all recognise radical institutional and political change is needed. Most of us also know, however, that a British exit would leave workers even more vulnerable to a Tory government and would not be a step towards the social Europe we believe in.

Rising nationalist sentiment, the structurally embedded neoliberalism of Eurozone institutions and the new downturn in the global economy all create a significant challenge for how to go about constructing an alternative. Taken together they require the left to construct a political alternative that is, firstly, bold and radical enough to address the systemic causes of the current crises and, secondly, rejects the illusion that a retreat into competing protectionist states offers even a partial answer.

Internationally, there are promising signs of movement in this direction. A range of parties and movements across Europe have come together around the goal of a Plan B for Europe; breaking with austerity and constructing a European new deal based on ecologically sustainable investment in jobs and growth. Meanwhile, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has launched Democracy In Europe 2025 to push for the radical democratisation of European institutions in order to give power to the people.

In Britain, however, we remain too isolated from these developments and the referendum vote itself increasingly seems to be on a real knife-edge. Cameron’s demands directly feed the nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric that is fuelling the ‘out’ case and it is little wonder that a recent YouGov poll showed a four point majority favouring ‘leave’ over ‘remain’.

The official ‘in’ campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, also parrot a similar big business and nationalistic agenda, failing to offer any kind of compelling progressive vision of what a better Europe might look like. With Conservative voters likely to split equally between ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ and Labour voters consequently critical to the outcome, the message of the official ‘in’ campaign has little to offer what is arguably the key constituency that will decide the vote.

There are, however, promising signs that the left is beginning to move. Unite the Union will soon launch a campaign to persuade its 1.4 million members to vote to stay. Frances O’Grady has indicated the TUC is likely to soon come out for ‘in’, citing key workplace rights protected in European law. ‘It’s one hell of a gamble’, she told Reuters, ‘to depend on the government we have now to protect these rights.’

Beyond the unions and parties of the left, grassroots campaigners also have a critical role to play. That’s why Another Europe Is Possible, the campaign I have helped to establish, will launch on 10 February in East London, as a broad based movement saying ‘stay in Europe, to change Europe’. A range of campaigners, politicians and public figures, including Michael Mansfield, Ann Pettifor, Richard Murphy, Stephen Gethins, Clive Lewis, Caroline Lucas, Cat Smith, John Palmer, Sunny Hundal and John Christensen have already formally backed the campaign.

Another Europe Is Possible has a very different message to the official ‘in’ campaign. Determined to work together with movements and parties across the continent to deliver the open, democratic and socially just Europe we so urgently need, the campaign offers a message of hope in a referendum likely to be heavy on fear.

We share the anger at the neoliberalism that has caused so much damage to European societies, but recognise that an alternative has to be built internationally. A British exit on the back of a campaign fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment would take us further away from a social Europe that offers the only real answer to Europe’s multiple political crises.

Another Europe Is Possible will hold its launch event at 7pm on 10 February at 93 Feet East, Brick Lane. For more details and for free tickets see Eventbrite. This article was first published by OpenDemocracy.


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Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Will Podmore 5 February 2016, 09.20

Frances O’Grady has indicated the TUC is likely to soon come out for ‘in’, citing key workplace rights protected in European law. No, EU law does not promote or protect collective bargaining. It does not protect the right to strike. It does not protect any of the rights we have won.
We first won our right to guaranteed paid holidays through the 1871 Bank Holidays Act. We did have paid holidays before 2003 and the EU’s Working Time Directive.
All the Acts outlawing discrimination in Britain – the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the 1976 Race Relations Act, and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act – were passed well before the EU’s Employment Equality Directive of 2000. So our equality rights did not come from the EU; they do not depend on our being in the EU.
All EU directives require member states to enact their provisions in national legislation. So laws on paternity leave, the 48-hour working week and TUPE rules stand until parliament repeals them. They do not depend on our being in the EU.

Tony Martin-Woods 6 February 2016, 16.27

I wrote this in response to the meeting in Yorkshire last week. http://tonymartinwoods.com/2016/01/31/another-europe-is-possible/

Will Podmore 12 February 2016, 12.45

Tony in his piece writes of ‘the inherent democratic and social deficit of the EU’.
The EU does not have a democratic deficit; the EU is an opponent of democracy.
Like Thatcher, the EU says TINA, there is no alternative. “Every new government needs to fulfil the contractual agreements of its predecessors”, as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said, “Elections change nothing.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” Within the EU, there is no escape, no reform, no progress, no democracy.
51 petitions have got more than a million signatures under the Citizens’ Initiative. But not one resulted in any legislative proposal from the Commission.
In the referendum of April 2014 the Swiss people approved limiting the number of migrants by national quotas. The EU has demanded that Switzerland calls a new referendum by the end of this year.
Leaving the EU would advance international solidarity. Since 1975 we have let the City of London dominate the EU. Taking Britain out of the EU would take the City of London out of the EU, which would be a boon to all the working classes of Europe.
Leaving the EU is positive – for sovereignty, democracy, industry, energy, planning, for Britain, for a new working class creating a new Britain.

chris carter 12 March 2016, 02.59

I thought to vote to leave Europe. Why, please read further.Before reading the writing of Will Podmore, I considered that Europe had done nothing for the working class, here in the UK. I considered Jeremy Corbyn represented the left; and when I attended Sheffield last year, hearing him speak, I came to this conclusion. I considered that his position was very similar to the views of the late Ralph Miliband, Tony Benn and Brian Gould, former Labour MP whom I always thought had left Britain because of Blairism. All the “Acts”, Will Podmore refers to, in my view, do have credence in their implementation, within national governments. What becomes implemented at home. Whatever Europe says must stand, until national parliaments say to the contrary. We only have the nation state; one cannot build equality/Socialism through Europe when it does not exist at home. Thus my view is that we in Britain have always needed a “Left ” government, and to this effect, we need Jeremy Corbin to lead it. Take the debacle with the comment by Ken Livingston, on the MP who had commented on whom should fund the Labour party, ie “Hedge Funds”. The importance with this, is not the Hedge Funds, but the nature of the comment around the 2 protagonists, where media always construct conflict around anyone “Left”, in Political terms, ie Ken Livingstone. The MP in question, voted to Bomb Syria. We do not need another “Right”, Labour Government. And this person, I have forgotten his name, was apparently a future leader of the Labour Party, a former Army Major? Should we elect such a person, will make whether we are in Europe or not, irrelevant. A second Right wing Labour government? I am old, and am a part of Labour History, and am constantly, academically, paying attention to the enduring Politics of the Conservative Party, for whatever one’s specific critique of them, from a Marxist position, shall we realistically conclude, they do have the ability to win elections. Are we still a nation of “plebs”, internalizing therefore, to borrow a phrase from Zizek, an acute sense of false consciousness.

Will Podmore 14 March 2016, 16.34

The MP in question, who voted to Bomb Syria, would be, I think, Dan Jarvis. I agree that we do not need another “Right” Labour Government.
Now we have a chance to vote on whether the British people are to make our own decisions or have those decisions made for us. It is about sovereignty, which is also democracy. The EU says TINA, there is no alternative, just as Thatcher did. Its Treaties, not its peoples, bind EU policies. The EU is not under any democratic control. European Commission President Juncker said, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” Within the EU, there is no escape, no reform, no progress, no democracy. The EU can only get more unpopular, as the euro and the EU’s ‘free movement of labour’ policy prove ever more disastrous.
Inside the EU there is no alternative. Inside the EU we are trapped into its Treaty-bound ‘austerity’ policies. Outside, we are free to choose better policies. A vote against the EU would be a vote against austerity. Cameron and Osborne are for austerity, so is the EU. Inside the EU we cannot control our borders. Inside the EU we will be made to join the euro. Inside the EU we will be forced to merge into a single EU state. Inside the EU there’s no way we can kick out our rulers, no way we can kick out Juncker.

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