This article was written for the June edition of “The Socialist”, paper of the Socialist Party. In the coming two years there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Here Anti-Austerity Alliance TD and and former MEP, Paul Murphy outlines why socialists oppose the European Union and why it is not a force for progress as some claim.
With David Cameron now committed to holding a referendum in Britain on the EU, a discussion about the pros and cons of EU membership is well underway. This debate is completely distorted in Britain and Northern Ireland, thanks to the prominence of right-wing arguments against the EU from UKIP and the Tories.
The negotiations that Cameron will engage in are to push right-wing opt-outs for Britain, in particular in relation to restrictions on immigrants and social welfare rights. The model of Europe that they favour is a more “competitive” Europe, with less regulation, i.e. more exploitation and less rights for workers.
“A social Europe”?
However, this debate should not blind people to the reality of the EU. Contrary to the fantasies of the Tories, the EU is not some social, progressive structure that is a force for human rights. Instead, from its very inception, it was a big business club to facilitate free trade, a bulwark against Stalinist Eastern Europe and an attempt to cut across the rise of radical left movements in Western Europe.
At times, it was forced to palely reflect the achievements of the labour movement in Europe with legislation. One example was the Equal Pay Directive, for equal pay for men and women for equal work. This was not granted from on high by benevolent EU leaders. Instead it was won by mass strikes in France after World War II and the heroic strikes of women munitions workers in Belgium, Ford workers in Britain and countless others in the decades that followed.
None of that changed its fundamental character as a capitalist club. The brutal austerity response of the EU to the economic crisis has revealed that character to millions. The reaction of the EU to the election of Syriza in Greece is only the latest, most graphic illustration.
Austerity or nothing
Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, responded with an incredible statement: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” This was a message to say that the democratic decision of the Greek people to reject austerity did not matter one bit – Juncker, Merkel and Draghi would attempt to force the government into a humiliating retreat to send a lesson to others in Europe. What he said was not only a horrifying example of the lack of any respect for democracy, but was also largely true! The EU treaties write austerity into European law. Any state which breaks from those policies can face massive fines and can lose their votes in the European Council.
For a socialist Europe
This internally undemocratic, pro-big business, and increasingly imperialistic nature is matched by the EU’s external policies. The EU uses trade to pursue the same agenda, most recently with the TTIP negotiations aiming to enshrine the rights of corporations to profit into law and creating a race to the bottom on both sides of the Atlantic. Its policy of Fortress Europe has seen twenty thousand migrants die in the Mediterranean in the last twenty years. It has a strategy of developing its zone of influence in the so-called neighbourhood of Europe – in North Africa and Eastern Europe. The consequence of this imperialism, which clashed with Russia’s own imperialist ambitions, is seen in the bloody conflict in Ukraine. The EU is also increasingly militarised, with so-called “EU Battle Groups” able to be deployed around the world, and over €200 billion a year spent by EU states on armaments.
My enemy’s enemy is not my friend, and the Tories’ fantasies don’t change the reality that the EU operates for the millionaires, against the interests of the millions.