“Cameron’s defeat was dire.”
“Cameron’s defeat was dire.” [Andrew Rawnsley, Observer]. “He f***ed up.” [Private comment of Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish foreign minister, leaked to the press.]
These are just some of the milder criticisms made by his alleged ’friends’ about the Tory British Prime Minister, following his handling of the ’Juncker issue’. He suffered a humiliating defeat by 26 votes to 2, with only extreme right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán backing his attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next EU president. Of course, this stand met with boundless praise among the ’deranged’ nationalist, eurosceptic right wing of his own party in the House of Commons.
But the mood of the main movers and shakers of Britishcapitalism is one of deep foreboding for the future, including the fear that the government has set on a path which could see it ultimately forced out of the EU. In turn, this could have far-reaching consequences for the Tory party – which is already riven with toxic divisions – even splitting into rival parties in the future.
This incident once more underlines the ’slow and inglorious decay’ of British capitalism. In the past it was able, on the basis of its colossal economic and military resources, to pursue a balance of power policy towards Europe, playing off one country against another. No more! It is now German capitalism, the dominant economic power of the EU, through its chancellor Angela Merkel, who ’balances’ Cameron and his government against the others. Cameron’s futile pleas to Merkel, now the ’decider’, in the language of George Bush, for support to block Juncker were ultimately rejected.
Cameron’s campaign included a farcical ’discussion’ in a rowing boat in Sweden to persuade her and others to come to his rescue and block Juncker. She, however, despite sympathetic noises, bowed to domestic pressures from her German coalition partners the Social Democrats, and consequently hung Cameron out to dry. His former allies, like the prime ministers of Sweden and the Netherlands, also deserted him, because “they didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Germany”.
Seemingly undaunted, Cameron and his few allies left within the EU pursued an unprecedented smear campaign against Juncker, citing his ’excessive drinking’ and smoking during meetings! But behind this ’falling out’ are posed serious issues as Cameron, backed by his baying parliamentary band of eurosceptics, objected strongly to Juncker’s ’federalist’ tendencies.
Juncker was the candidate for EU president of the right-wing bloc in the European parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), largely Christian Democrats, who emerged as the group with the biggest number of seats in the European Parliament. Cameron accused the Parliament of a “power grab”.
Up to now, the selection of the president had come from the heads of the 28 countries in the EU, which indicated a determination to concentrate decision-making powers in the national governments. But now, for the first time in its history, they endorsed a candidate recommended by the largest party in the European Parliament and overruled the objections of a big country like Britain. This has taken “the running of the EU into uncharted territory”. [Financial Times]
Juncker’s selection has led, potentially at least, to “a historic rebalancing of power among the EU institutions in favour of the European Parliament”. Consequently there is much talk among EU parliamentarians of establishing a real ’pan-European democracy’ to supersede the powers of national governments. But this will not materialise on the basis of capitalism. It is more likely that this will open the possibility of a fracturing of the EU.
Even Juncker declared: “I am rather allergic to this term ’the United States of Europe’ because it’s an obstacle. It’s certainly offensive to people.”
The European Parliament and the elections which decide its composition have even less authority among the peoples of Europe than their own increasingly discredited parliaments and the often out of touch and corrupt ’representatives’ which inhabit these institutions. Participation in European elections is much lower in general than those for national parliaments. Just 7% in Germany even knew that Juncker was the EPP’s candidate!
Notwithstanding Juncker’s election, the majority of real power will still reside in governments and parliaments. The possibility of the present EU leading to some kind of ’superstate’ is ruled out on the basis of capitalism. The EU Commission and Parliament spend a budget that accounts for just 1% of EU gross domestic product.
That does not mean that we do not have to fight energetically against the undemocratic structure of the EU and its anti-working class measures.
The clashes over Juncker go to the heart of the insoluble contradictions of the ’European project’ and particularly the attitude historically of the Tories towards this. Such is the scale of production and technique today, with giant multinationals and transnationals increasingly predominating, that it cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of the nation state.
The capitalist markets are of a continental and worldwide character, not just domestic. The foundation of the EU seeks to give expression to this as, in its own way, the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) does, and as is the intention of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
However, capitalism will never be able to peacefully overcome the nation state, with its separate governments, bureaucracy, police, etc. During periods of economic upswing, the different national powers can collaborate, share out the swag arising from a growing market and combine to super-exploit the working class. This the EU has done very effectively in systematically underpinning and reinforcing neoliberal measures, such as the Lisbon Treaty, which adversely and profoundly affects the working class.
Big business opposition
To this aspect of the EU, right-wing parties like Ukip and the Tories have no objection. Nor do the British capitalists – the financial sharks of the City of London or the giant corporations – as they seek to exploit the 500 million people in the EU, already the biggest market for the export of British goods and services. But the dominant sections of big business view with horror any idea of Britain separating itself from the EU. If a serious campaign to leave the EU was initiated by the Tory party, then they could expect to meet with ferocious opposition from their current big business backers.
The same applies to foreign capital, which is now entrenched in Britain, having taken over whole swathes of industry. Many of these multinationals currently view Britain as a launch pad for penetrating and exploiting the EU market as a whole. All of this could drastically change if British capitalism found itself outside the EU, with investment switching to countries still within the EU, which in turn would severely impact on the economic fortunes of Britain itself.
Opponents of Cameron, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, warn him that three million jobs could disappear from Britain if it was outside the EU. This is just a taste of the kind of campaign that will be launched if a referendum on EU membership is held in Britain.
Seeking to reinforce this message, the TUC and right-wing trade union leaders argue that the EU is ’progressive’ and somehow a ’force for good’. Unable to defeat the capitalists at home, they have looked to the EU and its institutions to do the job for them. What the right-wing trade union leaders are incapable of doing through union power and organisation, such as cutting the working week, improving workplace conditions, increasing wages, etc, they expect the EU to achieve.
But, from its inception as the ’Common Market’, the EU has sought to ’legally’ prevent governments from acting in workers’ interests, for example by outlawing the nationalisation of industries that have been ruined by the capitalists, resulting in mass unemployment. It also energetically supports privatisation.
It is therefore vital that the working class intervenes in the discussion raised by Cameron for an ’in-out’ referendum, which he has promised for 2017. Events may push Cameron to bring this forward, with suggestions that he could make this an issue up to and during a general election.
It is therefore incredible that Ed Miliband has rejected the idea of a referendum on behalf of New Labour. Unite and Len McCluskey were right to oppose him at their recent conference and demanded that the whole labour movement should support the democratic right for a vote on this issue. Failure to do this will play into the hands of Cameron and Ukip, who pose as ’friends of the people’ and upholders of the democratic will of the British people.
They can only be countered effectively with a fighting class programme. The EU has become a lightning conductor for the manifold discontent of working people, which capitalist parties seek to exploit for their own ends.
The left of the labour movement has always been opposed to the EU ’project’, a vicious vehicle for enforcing anti-democratic as well as anti-working class measures. But the Socialist Party never opposed the EU on narrow nationalist grounds.
It is not possible to turn back the wheel of history to a period of supposed national ’splendid isolation’. Modern production demands the organisation of science, technique and the organisation of labour on a continental and worldwide scale.
The capitalists cannot achieve this. A victorious working class and Europe-wide movement can, through the voluntary organisation of a democratic Socialist United States of Europe, with widespread national autonomy and the full democratic involvement of all the peoples of Europe.