Finding Power In a European Union

I’ve been posting slightly more sporadically these last couple of weeks as I’ve focused quite a bit of my effort on working on a Diem25 campaign called Take a Break From Brexit which is geared towards seeking an extension to Article 50. As the country draws closer towards, what appears to be some kind of conclusion to the political deadlock although not necessarily one that is going satisfy anyone, it occurred to me that it might be of interest to some to write a little about why I support the campaign as in conversation, there’s been some interest in some of the ideas that I’ve put forward. For those reading this who might not be that familiar with the EU and how it functions I would recommend this fairly non-partisan article by full fact

For many people, who’d position themselves ostensibly on ‘The Left’, Brexit appeared to herald a particular kind of opportunity as much has been said about the EU as a neoliberal project. In May 2016, Paul Emery wrote a scathing article on this castigating the EU supposed devotion to market forces, the rolling back of the power of national governments and commitment to crippling austerity. The controversial passage of Directive 91, a bill intended to provide the potential for total liberalisation of public transport infrastructure, would in many ways appear to back this notion.

The European Council’s statement that competitive tendering would “become the norm for public service contracts, with some exceptions. Direct award will still be possible where it leads to better quality of service or cost efficiency”, appeared to be firmly in line with this. What perhaps wasn’t so clear, when this has been talked discussed in the UK is the UK’s own commitment to these policies as in the UK open access operators are already capable of bidding on services offered by franchise operators. Similarly, TTIP, which would potentially open the NHS and other public service providers up to privatization would appear to be another indication of the EUs neoliberal character.

The temporary shelving of TTIP, however, paints a different picture and possibly an indication of a different, brighter future. TTIP was halted largely due to a spirited campaign headed by NGOs, Unions and charities and the EU Citizens Initiative which, whilst not perfect, allows for the direct influence of EU Citizens by way of petition. It requires one million signatures for EU Citizens to suggest legislation directly to the European Commission, bypassing the EU parliament, in 2016 approximately 3.2 million EU Citizens wrote to the EU commission to express their dissatisfaction with the TTIP and CETA trade deals.

The fostering of transnational protest, even through a mechanism as limited as the EU Citizens Initiative was a great part of why I supported the continuance of the UKs membership. This alongside the fostering of a true internationalism spurred by bringing people from many different nations together in order to foment wider networks of resistance and a greater exchange of ideas was also a key part of my reasoning. This, has already rendered some interesting, if slightly less well known, results, particularly in France where, in 2012 a huge network of anarchists, primitivists and activists arrived in Notre-Dame-des-Landes to join a local resistance to the airport plans. The culminated in the formation of ZAD, or Zone to Defend with many staying behind to work on and live off the land in a communal fashion.

Transnational solidarity is also key in the establishment of union power, a crucial way of preventing the lowering of wages and the devaluation of workers rights. I’ve previously answered this point elsewhere but the figure of the low skilled migrant worker, largely a construction of the xenophobic press set on scapegoating wider issues within the economy, isn’t born out by the the migration observatory’s own statistics, which not only suggests a limited impact on wages more broadly and actually an improvement on intermediate and higher level wages but also that all foreign-born workers typically have a higher level of education. That said the swelling of ranks across the all areas of work in response to growing consumption, also provides an ample source for worker power, and groups like the IWW Courier Network have garnered increased support in their fight for better worker conditions. The freedom to leave ones country and go somewhere else without many of the boundaries this usually involves is, for me, a key part of the unlocking human potential and should be a possibility for anyone.

This should, of course, be weighed up against other concerns, it should be a choice and not a necessity, however, the option being on the table has immediate benefits for many as far as being able to seek greater opportunities and crucially distribute some of the wealth that’s accumulated in some of the world’s richest countries whilst improving global standards in life outcomes. 

The nationalization of industry also commonly brought up as an objection to EU membership is a valid concern, however on examining Article 345 “The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States (MS) governing the system of property ownership.” nationalization can  still be performed by a member state, as exemplified by Macron’s nationalization of the St-Nazire shipyard during their recent financial difficulties.

I am not uncritical of the EU and I certainly believe that reform must be a part of its continued existence not least in the necessity of repealing or altering legislation like the stability and growth pact, which prevents EU member states running a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, preventing countries like Greece from seeking a path out of austerity which did not include the wholesale sell-off of many of their public services alongside enforced austerity. Additionally many have spoken of the democratic deficit particularly in regards to the EU commission, although to that I would say the EU commission, is comprised of candidates proposed by the member state itself and although they propose legislation it still has to go through elected representatives in the EU parliament.

That said, the consultation undertaken when proposing legislation should be more widely observed and I would support the direct election of EU commissioners in the future. These future goals are in many ways why I still support the UKs membership because the creation of transnational links will be key to this reform. It’s key to consider the EU is comprised of the people within in it, any drive towards marketization or democratization is ultimately going to be spurred on by the member states and their democratically elected representatives, it’s here where the true struggle is and it’s a struggle where the effects can potentially be felt beyond the boundaries of the EU with the potential to break down the barriers of fortress Europe opening up space for realizing a truly internationalist vision one better place to tackle some of the immediate issues on the horizon, making it one well worth having a stake in. 

If you’re interested in any of the points I’ve raised or just further exploration of some of the issues around the European union I’d strongly recommend you take a look at our campaign which aims to facilitate conversations and viewpoints like these in order to democratize the current political deadlock and derive an outcome that truly does represent the interests of the many rather than the few. 

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