Can the Left Really Support Remaining in the EU?

12/06/2016 21:34 | Updated 13 June 2016

young voter

According to the media and polls, I'm in the wrong camp. As a 19-year-old university student and Labour party member, the demographics say I should have a tattoo of the EU flag over my heart and the phrase "ever closer union" should send shivers of joy down my spine. When strangers find out I'm a 'Leave' campaigner they think I'm a Ukip supporter, when friends find out I'm met with mostly confusion. This is a testament to how under-represented the "Lexit" (left-wing exit) argument has been in the referendum debate.

It is so underrepresented that many forget that the British left was traditionally Eurosceptic. Tony Benn and Bob Crowe both campaigned against the EU right up until the end, and if one or both were still here today, we might have seen a strongly led and listened to Lexit campaign. As it is we have had a debate almost entirely dominated by the Conservatives and UKIP. The only Leave arguments many people hear are those of BoJo, Gove, Farage and IDS - a group to whom Labour supporters are unlikely to listen. No wonder Remain has such a lead amongst Labour voters. The case for Lexit is fairly simple, looking at three factors - the EU's lack of democracy, its commitment to neo-liberalism and its record on international issues.

The first is obvious to see. The major principle behind Parliamentary Democracy is that laws should be written and passed only by those who are elected by, and are accountable to, the people whose lives are governed by those laws. While we remain part of the EU, that principle cannot exist.

The EU Commission, the group responsible for drafting all EU legislation, is completely unelecected. Juncker and the Commission are, now in office, completely unaccountable to the people, decisions in the EU are made with all the transparency of a concrete wall - making those in power even less accountable.

The European Parliament, which is elected, has far less power compared to the Commission than the Commons has over the UK Government. It cannot initiate legislation, and in certain areas, including taxation, it gives only an "advisory opinion" i.e. its decision is not binding.

The EU is not just undemocratic; it is anti-democratic. When democracy gets in the way of the neoliberal European Union project, democracy must try again until it gets results that satisfy the project. There are two very obvious moments when this showed: the treatment of Greece and Portugal. In Greece an anti-austerity government was elected, and then the Greek people voted against austerity in a referendum. They were strong-armed into following austerity under threats of a liquidity crisis and an economic collapse, until Prime Minister Tsipras signed a deal effectively giving the EU the ability to govern Greece over and above the wishes of the Greek people.

In Portugal, a left wing, anti-austerity, anti-EU coalition won an absolute parliamentary majority, and yet have been blocked from forming a government by the Conservative President, backed up by the European Commission. Can any left-winger, or anybody who believes in democracy, seriously continue supporting such an organisation?

The EU's commitment to right-wing, neo-liberal economics is also obvious. Not only has the EU imposed austerity across Europe, with hugely damaging effects, but the Eurozone has effectively banned Keynesian economics, with a 2011 treaty committed to eliminating structural deficits and outlawing expansionary fiscal policy.

There is a reason that the Remain campaign is funded by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and CitiGroup, and that there are nearly the same number of professional lobbyists in Brussels as European Commission staff. Brussels is second only to Washington in its concentration of special interest lobbyists attempting to influence legislation, and some estimates say lobbyists influence up to 75% of European legislation.

Any analysis of the funding and power structures of the EU shows that this is not a Union run in the interests of European citizens. Rather, it is a club for big business to do business - free movement of capital allows large multinationals to move operations between countries with ease, giving them much greater power relative to national governments, while the free movement of Labour has not been part of an internationalist attempt to remove borders, but rather an opportunity for unscrupulous companies to bring in lower-wage workers from different regions, leading to greater wage compression and an undercutting of working conditions in many areas.

Many in the Remain camp argue that we need to stay in the EU to tackle international issues, ignoring the fact that cross-border co-operation does not require an undemocratic political union. Let's examine the EU's record on three of the most important international issues of this century: the financial crisis, the migrant crisis and tax evasion.

The EU's response to the financial crisis was to impose damaging austerity, with the euro area facing economic pain far beyond that seen in the UK, while the ECB's one-size-fits-all interest rate proved wholly inadequate to respond to the disparate needs of the different economies within the Eurozone.

Eight years after the great crash, and the results are plain to see: The Spanish and Greek economies are nearly completely destroyed, Italy's economy is barely bigger than it was a decade ago, France has economic stagnation and unemployment figures almost double that of the UK, and even the Eurozone's powerhouse Germany has seen growth only at the cost of real terms wage cuts for its workers.

Turning then to the migrant crisis, probably the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in the 21st century, the EU's response has been both incompetent and inhumane. The inadequate responses of the EU have seen Greece pushed to the brink of collapse, borders rising across Europe and the return of far-right nationalism to the political mainstream, with still no viable solution to the crisis beyond a dodgy deal with the Turkish President Erdogan - a nationalist dictator with little regard for human rights or international law - to illegally deport refugees back to Turkey.

Finally, a look at tax evasion - something the EU has never seriously clamped down on. The record on closing down tax loopholes and EU tax havens is abysmal, and can we expect any less by a body currently led by Jean-Claude Juncker, who spent most of his political career running an EU tax haven.

Examining all this, it seems strange to me that so many on the British left are still banging the drum for the EU. Some argue that it is necessary for British workers' rights, to that I would argue that the best defence of the rights of British workers is, and always has been, the Labour movement. The idea that our rights and protections were given to us by benevolent European leaders, and not fought for through workers' struggles is laughable. If Juncker is the greatest defence of working rights in the UK, then the British Labour movement is well and truly finished. Other say that a vote to leave would strengthen the far right but, in fact, it is partly the abject failure of the EU to deal with the aftermath of the economic and refugee crises which has helped fuel the resurgence of far right nationalism across Europe, and a vote to remain will see us tied into a political union with increasingly more fascists in government.

Vote for democracy, vote to unshackle ourselves from a right-wing cartel, vote leave.

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