Rather, the main discussion at the party’s European conference was whether or not to boycott the euro referendum altogether, if there ever is one (the party voted not to boycott by a 2:1 majority). Wasn’t the euro just a way of “promoting one form of exploitation over another (the pound)”? demanded party member Mary Ward. “We are being sucked into a false debate.”
Most members will agree that it doesn’t matter whether you’re in or you’re out of the eurozone: of far greater urgency are the need to make the EU institutions more accountable and the question of how to defend public services. So the SSP, strengthened by its recent local achievements, has looked at the bigger picture – and has turned to its European counterparts to form a common solution. The party is a member of the recently formed European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL), which will try to get a shared platform for next year’s European elections.
In the alliance, the euro debate takes a back seat – most member countries have been using the euro for some time already, whereas in Britain the issue is only just hotting up. Instead, the EACL plans to provide “a European anti-capitalist formation that would constitute a credible alternative to the social-liberal left in government” (a dig at the Social Democratic, Socialist and Labour Parties in Europe).
Along with the SSP, the EACL includes parties from 15 different countries, including such bigwigs as Italy’s Rifondazione party (PRC), the Red-Green Alliance (RGA) from Denmark, France’s Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and Portugal’s Left Bloc (BdE).
With recent legislation that would almost certainly allow for – and fund – all European election campaigns, the EACL has agreed to work on a shared manifesto that centres on saving public services, opposing privatisation and deregulation in the workplace, and working against racism in solidarity with asylum seekers.
The EACL’s attraction is that it gives small parties a presence in a big group. The SSP needs to get 13 per cent of the vote to send just one elected rep to the European Parliament. “Some people will ask, ‘What’s the point of having one MEP from the SSP?'” admits Alan McCombes, who recently represented the SSP at the EACL conference in Athens last month. “But it’s different if MEPs across Europe link up.”
The EACL’s manifesto will be modelled on the SSP’s successful electoral strategy of having “core” pledges. Although not set in stone, some proposals include renationalising industries and allowing subsidies to continue, a just, publicly funded pension system, a 35-hour work week and an increase in the minimum wage. The alliance is also opposed to a European defence force, that is, in the words of McCombes, “an attempt to control US imperialism with European imperialism”. He argues instead that “we should be calling for demilitarisation”.
At the same time, the EACL promises future battles over the powers of the European Central Bank, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. While there’s anticipation that the new constitution will call for more democratic structures and more power to the EU parliament – such as directly electing the head of the commission, most bodies remain unelected. They make most of the decisions, while the EU parliament only has the ability to comment and take a position on legislation – it cannot initiate legislation independently.
In the short and medium term the EACL, says McCombes, will try to get a strong, united left in the European institutions ‘to fight for every democratic advance that is possible to achieve, and to counter every attack launched on democracy or workers’ living standards”. EACL’s vision is to one day have a social, federalist Europe of nation states driven from the bottom-up, perhaps with integrated resources, which bears little resemblance to the EU we have now.
The idea of a socialist Europe seems far off, especially when there are important gaps in the alliance – no parties have joined from Sweden, nor from the central and eastern European countries that are not yet part of the EU (but may find themselves being exploited as an easy way in to the European market or as a source of cheap labour).
And the EACL acknowledges it still has a long way to go. “There are issues that really divide us,” says McCombes. “Some of the left parties in the South are more pro-Europe. They see the EU as a levelling up of public services. But parties in the North, such as the Danish Red-Greens, want to withdraw from the EU completely because they see it as a threat to their welfare state. For now, we’re just trying to raise agreement on a few key issues that we can put to the electorate, and to focus on changes at the local, regional, and national levels.”