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Opposition to the EU

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Issue 1753


Opposition to the EU

By Alex Callinicos

ONE OF the many things wrong with the Tories is that they give opposition to the European Union (EU) a bad name. Judging by the dwindling ranks William Hague presided over till last week, you have to be a geriatric, nationalist bigot to object to the EU. If we look elsewhere in Europe, however, the picture is different. In last Thursday’s Irish referendum, what the Financial Times called “a coalition of pacifist, Nationalist and left wing parties” succeeded in winning a 54 percent majority against the treaty of Nice.

The establishment was united in favour of the treaty. Yet one of the highest no votes was recorded in the constituency of the prime minister, Bertie Ahern. The no campaigners included Sinn Fein, the Greens, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. One of their main objections to the treaty was its provision for the EU to develop as a military power through the establishment of a European rapid reaction force.

The Irish referendum will cast a shadow over the EU summit due to take place in Gothenburg this week. The treaty of Nice provides the framework for the EU’s planned enlargement, and can’t come into force till every member state ratifies it.

This isn’t the first time popular opposition has derailed EU leaders’ plans. In 1992 a referendum in Denmark threw out the treaty of Maastricht, which laid out plans for European economic and monetary union, and the launch of the euro. A package of concessions secured a victory for supporters of the treaty in a second referendum.

But only last autumn another popular vote rejected Danish participation in the euro. This followed a largely left wing no campaign which mobilised the working class base of the ruling Social Democratic Party against their own leaders. These examples are important because they illustrate that there is a strong socialist and internationalist case against the EU.

From the start European integration has been about creating a strong bloc of capitalist powers. The Maastricht treaty served to hardwire neo-liberal economic policies into the EU. Control over interest rates was handed over to the unelected European Central Bank, while states were required to push through massive cuts in public spending in order to qualify for euro membership.

Worse still, under the 1996 growth and stability pact their finances are permanently monitored by the European Commission to ensure that they don’t stray from neo-liberal orthodoxy. Even Britain’s Scrooge-like Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, has had his wrist slapped for spending too much.

Now Pascal Lamy, the European trade commissioner, is following in the footsteps of his Tory predecessor Leon Brittan in pressing for the World Trade Organisation to push more free trade agreements that hand the globe over to the multinational corporations.

It’s important to bear in mind the socialist case against the EU. It’s probable-though by no means certain-that during his second term Tony Blair will finally summon up the nerve to do what his big business backers have been demanding, and propose that Britain joins the euro. This will be a delicate and dangerous operation for Blair.

Leaving aside the much publicised divisions within his own government, the Irish referendum shows how easily things can go wrong even when the establishment is united. Notoriously, the British ruling class, and certainly the media, are deeply divided over Europe.

Losing a referendum on the euro would finish Blair as prime minister and probably wreck the Labour government as well. So he will try to play the cards in his hand as effectively as possible.

This will involve, among other things, portraying everyone who is against the euro as a backward looking Little England bigot. The Tories, of course, will be delighted to play along, since most of them are backward looking Little England bigots.

But there will be others campaigning against the euro because of its negative economic consequences, and because they don’t want Europe to rival the United States as a big imperialist bully throwing its weight around the world. Thousands of people like this from all over northern Europe are demonstrating at the Gothenburg summit this week.

For them opposition to the EU is just one front in the war against global capitalism. Socialists in Britain may find ourselves fighting on this front before too long.

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