The group has traditionally focused solely on democracy within the UK, but, they argue, with the forthcoming European Union Constitution and possible entry into the euro this is no longer tenable.
Assembled by a working group of think-tanks experts, both pro-European and Eurosceptic, the five tests are:
-# Representation: Are EU citizens fairly represented in EU institutions?
-# Participation: Are there opportunities for EU citizens to participate in EU affairs?
-# Rights: Are the rights of EU citizens and Member States safeguarded?
-# Accountability: Are EU institutions held accountable for their actions?
-# Openness and transparency: Are EU institutions open and transparent?
While not indicating whether the tests are currently “passed” or not, Charter88 suggests a number of possibilities for ways in which the EU might be improved in all these areas, accompanied by poll results from a survey conducted by YouGov. Alongside unsurprising proposals – such as aiming to increase turnout in European Parliament elections and the possibility of electing European Commissioners – are findings that point to the dilemmas faced by the left regarding Europe.
The British left’s position on Europe often appears fractured and not a little vague. Frequently UK reds and greens claim to be against the euro, but “in favour of Europe” (though many on the left do embrace the single currency for economic and/or political reasons). The anti-euro but pro-Europe position however often appears rather weakly defined – what constitutes this “Europeanness”? Does it include EU membership? How much integration or independence does it require? How does it position itself relative to the Europhobia of the Daily Mail?
The YouGov poll suggests that EU membership should be a part of the pro-European left’s position: only 28 per cent responded that they were against UK membership of the EU and only 14 per cent described their “ideal” EU as being non-existent. As regards integration, the UK public are clearly not ready for a solidarity which extends to federalism: 52 per cent see their ideal EU as a “group of independent nations working together on certain common issues”.
The lack of clarity over what pro-European left-wing politics might look like has left a gaping hole in the public arena which the right and their press barons have been only too happy to fill. A lack of vocal leadership in this area has placed the left in an awkward position. Charter88 suggest that a referendum on the EU Constitution would be an essential step in building trust in a forward-looking EU, but with no clear vision from the radical left and with the Labour government hoping that voters will forget Europe exists if it goes unmentioned, any referendum would likely be dominated by the Little Englander politics of the Mail and the Telegraph. No wonder 82 per cent of poll respondents think that the UK is not having an open and honest debate about the future of the EU.
The questions surrounding economic policy and direction within the EU are some of the most perplexing, and contribute to the fragmented nature of the left’s position. Those arguing for Britain to stay outside the eurozone point to the difficulties of managing so many disparate economies under a single interest rate, pointing to the problems within Britain in trying to reconcile the need for growth in the North East with an overheating housing market in the South East.
Even those with more pro-euro tendencies are sceptical about current arrangements for the single currency’s governance, pointing to the deflationary bias of the European Central Bank (ECB)’s inflation target and the Growth and Stability Pact, which force cuts in public spending at just the time in the economic cycle when they are most needed. Charter88 – and even the Chancellor – suggest that reform is required to place goals such as high employment on the table alongside low inflation.
But can the left reconcile itself to membership of an EU which seems fundamentally wedded to a vision of neo-liberal economics? Long a reason that the British left has been sceptical about the single market, the EU remains as committed as ever to the rhetoric of free trade and competitiveness, hacking back the welfare state, while engaging in agricultural protectionism and pressing for corporate globalisation at the WTO.
Gordon Brown’s failed “flexibility” test for the euro appears partly as an attempt to further deregulate the UK labour market and despite his calls for ECB reform, he remains committed to the idea of an “independent” central bank to set interest rates. In contrast, Charter88 ask whether the European Parliament or Council of Ministers shouldn’t have more power over ECB policy, to improve accountability.
The left needs to come to terms with what being “pro-Europe” entails in order to stop the surrender of the argument to the right. In doing so it must either come clean about its rejection of the EU or provide a road map for reform of its institutions and economic framework.