In the establishment media, the EU referendum has been reduced to a clash between different wings of the Tory party. It’s Cameron vs Johnson, they say – two old Etonians. Many working class people are no doubt worried about the prospect of leaving the EU but socialists believe it is necessary to break with this capitalist institution. Since its formation, the EU was designed to further the interests of the European capitalist classes at the expense of working class people. Here are six reason why you should vote to leave the EU.
- The EU is pro-austerity and neo-liberal
The ‘Troika’ of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund have waged class war on the people of Europe, driving an austerity agenda which has had horrific humanitarian consequences. After years of crippling austerity, SYRIZA came to power in Greece with a mandate to end austerity. This was arrogantly dismissed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, who stated, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”
Then, in the referendum on 5 July 2015, a magnificent 61% people voted ‘Oxi’ to a new austerity deal despite the blackmail of the Troika. What happened next was described by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, as “terrorism” and by an EU official as “extensive mental waterboarding.”’ The EU responded by threatening an immediate banking crisis by cutting off access to liquidity.
The Greek government capitulated and billions more austerity measures have been imposed on the country’s people. SYRIZA are now responsible for imposing austerity primarily because they didn’t have a programme that was prepared to break with the framework of the EU and capitalism itself.
- The EU is undemocratic
These events show how the politics of austerity is institutionalised into the EU by successive treaties and pacts. Restrictions are placed on government deficits, public spending and national budgets are “monitored”. The so-called Fiscal Stability Treaty states that government deficits must not exceed 3% of GDP and public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP. This effectively renders not just socialist policies but also Keynesian and social democratic measures illegal
This will have real consequences for left governments elected anywhere in Europe, including a Corbyn-led government in Britain. If Corbyn was to implement the popular policies which saw him elected as Labour leader – such as nationalisation of the railways and energy companies – he would find himself in a confrontation with the EU, whose laws and directives forbid such actions. Even to stop the dismantling of the NHS would mean violating EU competition laws. The idea of “People’s Quantitative Easing” proposed by John McDonnell would be illegal under EU treaties. It is, therefore, in the view of the Socialist Party, a mistake for Corbyn and Labour to support remaining in the European Union
- Fortress Europe: Blood on EU’s hands
It may have won a Noble Prize and boast about free movement of people, but the EU’s appalling treatment of refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria and elsewhere makes this a sick joke. Over 50% of Syria’s population are displaced. Tens of thousands have died trying to enter Europe, in the hope of escaping the barbarism of war and dictatorships. Despite a wave of solidarity with the refugees from ordinary people, the EU now plans to establish a border agency which will act to reinforce its racist migration policy.
Member states have been guilty of human rights abuses, often egged on by EU Ministers. For example, the Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas claims that at one EU meeting he was told to “push” migrants “back in the sea”, with a Belgium representative saying, “I don’t care if you drown them.”
The EU has agreed a dirty deal with the increasingly dictatorial regime of Turkey. Now, NATO ships are stopping people fleeing across the Mediterranean to Greece. Refugees arriving in Greece are to be sent back to Turkey. In return, a regime that is waging a war on the Kurdish people and is repressing any dissenting voices within its borders will receive funding from the EU and have its EU accession-bid considered.
- The EU promotes militarism
The refugee crisis flows from the chaos caused by Western military intervention in the Middle East. While David Cameron recently claimed that the EU is about securing peace, the reality is very different. Millions of people have died in imperialist wars created by EU powers. The EU has also acted to fund the armaments industry and demanded that member states spend large amounts of public money on the military, while demanding more and more austerity.
At the same time it pushes for more military cooperation. The EU ‘battlegroups’ are an initiative aimed at promoting the integration of national armed forces and providing the EU with an independent military capability. They are supposed to be the ‘rapid response’ force of the EU and have been used in military adventures across the world.
- TTIP: A bosses’ charter
If all this isn’t bad enough, the EU is in secret negotiations with the US to launch the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This ‘free trade’ agreement is about promoting privatisation and reducing regulation of corporate activity. War on Want estimates the deal could cost almost a million jobs.
Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public
c health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS.
The deal also will see the creation of unaccountable corporate courts which will allow multinationals to sue governments when there bottom line is threatened by regulations. This ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ mechanism (ISDS) has already been introduced in other free trade agreements and used by US company Lone Pine to sue Canada for the ban on fracking in Quebec. French company Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for loss of profits as a result of the country’s decision to raise the minimum wage.
- Bring down the Tory government
A vote to leave will undermine the Tory government. As one Tory MP put it, “As the debate on the EU referendum intensifies, so do the possibilities for a split in the Conservative Party.” Despite the bravado, this was always a weak government – supported by only 24% of the electorate and with a parliamentary majority of just 12. The Financial Times estimated that Cameron has been forced into 20 u-turns since last year’s general election, including on the junior doctors’ contract, on tax credits and on privatisation of schools. Losing a vote on such a key issue for capitalism can be the final nail in the coffin, forcing Cameron from office and creating a crisis for the Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are missing a golden opportunity to bring down Cameron’s government by failing to advocate a ‘leave’ vote and campaigning independently for a working-class, socialist alternative, as Corbyn did in the 1975 referendum. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for working class people to give their verdict on this hated government and fight for left-wing government that can break with the austerity agenda.
FAQ: Socialists and the EU
No doubt, some readers of The Socialist will have questions regarding the EU referendum. Here, we try and answer some of the most common concerns.
Won’t UKIP and the far-right gain from a Brexit?
Many working class and young people will vote ‘Remain’ because of an understandable fear that a ‘Leave’ vote would mainly benefit UKIP and lead to a strengthening of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and policies.
But UKIP has gained ground and has been expressing its racist politics while the UK is in the EU. The status quo is clearly not working to combat this. In fact, the racist policies of the EU – which continues to deport thousands of refugees from Greece to Turkey – are contributing to gains for the far-right across Europe.
The ground for UKIP to grow is provided not by Brexit but by vicious austerity, repulsion towards the political establishment and a deep desire for working class people to take control of their own lives and have the chance of a different type of society.
UKIP doesn’t represent this alternative – it is yet another party of big business whose politicians vote for cuts to jobs and services, just like the other capitalist parties. Polls have consistently shown UKIP voters are more likely than average to support nationalisation of the railways and utility companies and other pro-worker policies.
The way to undermine UKIP’s support is, therefore, to build an alternative capable of actually achieving this kind of policy, dispel anti-immigrant myths and answer the fears of working class people about how best to defend their jobs and services. This requires building a strong, united movement against austerity which could cut across racial division and bring about real change to ordinary people’s lives. Why would such a movement opt to give a vote of confidence to an institution that is fundamentally opposed to these aims?
Could we not stay in and reform the EU?
The EU has almost no mechanisms of democratic accountability, with central decision making in the hands of the European Council – the heads of government of the 28 member states – and an increasingly powerful, unelected European Commission. Those running them are contemptuous of democracy. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s attitude to anti-TTIP campaigners sums this up: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”
The elected European Parliament is little more than a rubber stamp without the ability to initiate legislation. The majority of MEPs are at the beck and call of an army of 20,000 corporate lobbyists.
The only reforms we are seeing from the EU are right-wing counter-reforms. Cameron has been granted more reactionary opt-outs for Britain, in particular in relation to restrictions on immigrants and social welfare rights. The model of Europe that the EU favours favour is a more “competitive” Europe with less regulation – i.e. more exploitation and fewer rights for workers. It is this EU that we are being asked to vote ‘Yes’ to.
Will leaving the EU undermine the peace process?
Like in the recent Scottish Independence referendum, the approach of the establishment has been to unleash “Project Fear.” This is reflected in claims that leaving the EU would undermine the ‘peace process’ in Northern Ireland’. This has been the argued by Peter Mandelson, Enda Kenny and Martin McGuiness, but it is simply not credible. A ‘Brexit’ will not mean a “hard border” between the North and the South, nor does leaving the EU mean the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, which is not connected to EU membership.
The truth is that the “peace process” is based on institutionalising and maintaining sectarian division, rather than breaking down the barriers between our communities. While Orange and Green politicians routinely intervene to sectarianise issues, including this referendum, working class people have historically mobilised to prevent a return to conflict. That is the only power we can rely upon, not the EU or any other outside force.
Aren’t socialists internationalists?
Yes, but there is nothing genuinely internationalist about the EU. What was internationalist about the EU’s role in Greece? Where is its internationalism when refugees are left to drown in the Mediterranean? The solidarity and internationalism we need is constrained by the EU.
Socialists stand for building a different type of Europe – a socialist Europe run by and for the millions, not the millionaires. A Europe of this kind will not be achieved from within the bosses’ EU but by building united movements of workers and young people across the continent in opposition to austerity policies – whether from Brussels or national governments – and attacks from the bosses.