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Five questions about the European Union

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Issue 2458
Signing the Treaty of Rome to found the union in 1957
Signing the Treaty of Rome to found the union in 1957

1. What is the European Union?

The European Union (EU) is often presented as a higher body that stands above individual governments.

In reality, it is controlled by many of the same people who run Europe’s individual economies. 

There are powerful groups at the top of the EU, such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERI), that push business interests. 

Britain’s representatives include Rolls Royce and Vodafone’s multimillionaire bosses Ian Davis and Vittorio Colao. 

But it’s not just about the policies. The bosses’ interests are built into the EU. 

To keep profits up Europe’s bosses needed access to a bigger market. And as capitalist firms expanded in the 1960s, their operations began to take place on a regional level. 

Yet it hasn’t simply replaced competition between states. Europe’s bosses need EU markets to keep their profits, but governments still push policies favourable to their own capitalists.


2. Why was the EU formed?

Following the Second World War, Europe’s ruling classes faced an “external” threat and an “internal” threat.

Each was too weak individually to face down the perceived external threat of Russian invasion and to compete with the US. 

And they needed to make sure that France and Germany’s economic competition didn’t once again turn into military competition. 

Forming the European Coal and Steel Community in 1953 was a way of pooling markets. 

In 1957 this was expanded into the European Economic Community, initially containing six countries—Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.

The US pushed strongly for this too. It needed European cooperation—under its leadership—to face down its imperialist rival the Soviet Union. 

But the bosses also faced an “internal” threat—their own working classes that had been radicalised in resisting Nazism. This forced them to make concessions to the workers’ movement. 

The EU has periodically expanded both in scope and the number of countries involved since then.


3. Does it guarantee our social rights? 

From the working times directive to trade union rights, the EU is supposedly a check on Britain’s bosses. 

In fact, it pushes free market reforms such privatisation. 

The 1997 postal services directive forced EU members to let privateers take over public operations.

British bosses faced a more acute crisis in the 1980s than in most of Western Europe. 

Margaret Thatcher rolled back workers’ rights much further in the 1980s than in most of Europe.

But Europe’s rulers are now doing the same in response to the new eurozone crisis.

Workers’ struggle guarantees our rights—not the EU.


4. What do bosses gain from it? 

The majority of British bosses want to remain in the EU. 

Their profits are dependent on EU markets, which is their dominant trading block. 

Having a “common market” allows them to buy and sell goods without costly customs controls. 

Being part of a larger trading bloc allows them to punch higher in the world. 

They used to look to the British Commonwealth and there’s still a minority that wants to orientate on the US. 

But even the City of London wants its financial services to play a premier role in EU financial markets.


5. Does it protect migrants?

The EU is not a guarantor of migrants’ rights. 

“Fortress Europe” is part of international border controls and aims to keep migrants from other parts of the world out of the EU. 

Capitalism has always needed migrant workers, but when it goes into crisis bosses can use racism to divide workers.

David Cameron wants Britain to remain in the EU and have tougher immigration controls.

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