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Can the Left Still Support the EU?

Is this the type of organisation we want the EU to be? One that supports corporations over the welfare of its population. One that ignores referendums, lacks democratic legitimacy and is focused upon the privatisation of public services...

Thanks to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership victory, Labour are finally taking an anti-austerity, anti-neo-liberal economic stance with the belief that they can challenge the political status quo. Stripping themselves from their Thatcherite lined New Labour cloak and dagger, they are now willing to oppose the welfare cuts, reverse the privatisation of public services and re-empower Trade Unions. JC has also made it clear that he opposes how the EU operates and has accused it of "tearing up the social chapter, damaging (the) working class and working interest across Europe (whilst) hiding tax evasion" With the EU referendum poking it's head over the horizon, Cameron will be relying on Labour's support to win the yes campaign. Yet, what exactly are we saying yes to? Does the left really agree with the way Greece has been treated? What is the role of the 'European Central Bank' and how much power does the 'European Commission' have?

At the centre of economic decisions in the EU sits the European Commission. Even though this body has very little democratic legitimacy, every Government is forced submit their budget and economic strategy to the organisation for approval. The EC is supposed to be neutral public and private ownership yet, in 2012, admitted to deliberately promoting the privatisation of water as one of the conditions of its 'rescue' packages to Spain, Portugal and Greece. It has also been quoted to state that its fundamental aim is to "reduce the footprint of government in the economy through the bold structural fiscal reforms and by privatizing public assets".

Thanks to a number of treaties such as, the Maastricht treaty of 1992 and the Lisbon treaty of 2007, The EC is supported by legislation which backs the rigid frame-work of permanent neo-liberal economics. For instance, the Lisbon treaty subjects all public services to 'uniformity in measures of liberalisation" that empower the free market, and ensures that "competition is not distorted". This complex jargon is simply a code for privatizing profitable public assets. The most recent example of this in Britain, was the privatisation of the 'Royal Mail', a move over 66% of the British public disagreed with, left the tax payer £1billion out of pocket, and was described by Billy Hayes as a national scandal.

Greece is the best example of the power, The EC and the ECB, hold over national governments and their economies. After two disastrous economic bailouts, which sent Greece's national debt hurtling to 180% of GDP, doubled poverty, left 50% of young people without work, and implemented severe cuts to pensions whilst increasing the retirement age, the Greek population voted the left wing anti-austerity party Syriza into power. The government quickly organised a referendum on whether they should accept another package for austerity. 61% of the population voted against the idea. So here was a government, democratically elected, with a mandate to roll back the damage of austerity. However, in what Yanis Varoufakais, the ex-Greek finance minister, has called an economical coup d'état, the EC and ECB totally overruled these democratic decisions and forced a third bailout on the population.

This was an economic package with a political message. It doesn't matter how you protest, whether by marching, banging drums, waving banners or voting via the ballot paper. Your leaders are not in control of your economy. The power they have is minimal, the power you have is non-existent, so just do as you're told. What makes things worse, as Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize Laurette economist highlights, "almost none of the money loaned to Greece has gone there", instead it has gone to pay out the private sector creditors who are mainly German and French banks. Therefore, while the Greek people are suffering with further cuts to their pensions, the 'bailout fund' is flooding into the institutions who helped cause the economic catastrophe.

This was not the only case where the needs, and democratic rights of the people, have come far behind the needs of business and the financial sector. The controversial bill the Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership (or TTIP) aims to turn the EU and the US into the largest free-trade area in the world, by stripping away trade tariffs and any obstacle that effect the profit of large corporations. These 'obstacles' include, regulations that protects our privacy, public services, food and environmental safety, banking regulations and the rights of Trade Unions.

The TTIP also poses a direct threat to democracy. One of its side projects, is the Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). This will allow companies to sue governments if they believe the government's economic policies have restricted, or caused a loss, to their profits. Not only does this turn the NHS, into a flood lit pitch waiting for UK and USA pharmaceutical companies to come and stomp all over it, it also means that corporations will be able dictate and influence the polices of elected governments. Through a similar bill, a Swedish energy company called 'Vattenfall' has sued the German Government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants. There has also been a case where Philip Morris (The Company that makes Marlborough cigarettes) sued Uruguay's government for increasing the size of health warnings on their packets.

Is this the type of organisation we want the EU to be? One that supports corporations over the welfare of its population. One that ignores referendums, lacks democratic legitimacy and is focused upon the privatisation of public services. Whilst I am sure, that an economically and culturally united Europe is a positive and progressive concept, it is crucial that in the forthcoming EU referendum, Labour highlights these criticisms. An argument for a more social coherent EU must be made and must be won. If it is not, then yes, perhaps all of the European left should seek for an alternative.

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