In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Britain can find no traction in Europe for its anti-EU clamouring

Posted by seumasach on June 4, 2012

Michael Burke


3rd June, 2012

In the days when Britannia ruled the waves, the British political tradition was to keep Europe down by keeping it disunited. Enthralling notions can linger long past their usefulness. Just as former British naval supremacy is being unconsciously parodied on the Thames, so a growing array of political forces in Britain are clamouring for a break-up of the euro and even of the European Union.

The anti-European consensus stretches across the major parties and now includes both the far right and even sections of the far left. The leader of the formerly euro-fanatic Lib Dems has joined the chorus. The Labour party dangles a European referendum to “rebuild trust” with the electorate. Reversing the coalition’s cuts might achieve that more directly. Bending to Euro hostility will benefit only the Tories and UKIP.

The main trouble with British attempts to recreate Victorian politics is that Europe’s voters keep letting them down. The latest were Irish voters in the referendum. In spite of the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, they did not, as the Irish Labour Party’s Eamon Gilmore asserted in the Guardian, endorse the policies of the current Dublin government. Instead, they remain firmly pro-EU. Irish politicians know this, and all manner of disasters were invented if they voted no. A editorial cartoon depicted Gilmore’s fellow party and cabinet member Joan Burton erecting a placard stating, “Vote yes, or Europe will literally explode”.

Similarly, in Greece the leftist Syriza party is carrying the hopes of those struggling against the economic depression and is both pro-EU and anti-austerity, as is the majority of the Greek population. Austerity in Greece, as elsewhere is simply the transfer of incomes from workers and the poor to capital and the rich.

It is also true in France, where the pro-EU, anti-cuts Front de Gauche performed so well in the first round of the presidential election. The same applies to the emerging anti-cuts movement in Spain.

In Britain, hostility to the EU is growing. But in most of the rest of Europe it is the movement against austerity that is growing. It is increasingly led by forces that want to transform the EU, not smash it. Syriza in Greece isvying with New Democracy for victory in the elections on 17 June. The French FdG is adding anti-fascism to its central theme of anti-austerity. In Ireland, the committed Republicans of Sinn Féin has become the dominant force in opposition to the policies of the current and previous governments.

The British economy after the bank bailouts is even more dominated by the City of London. In contrast, the national economies of the EU are mainly dominated by producers of goods or non-financial services. The single market continues to provide competitive threats but also great opportunities for member states, especially in Germany, whose firms are the main beneficiaries of European integration.

Conversely, the City regards the single market and especially the existence of the euro as an impediment – an attitude that forms the modern basis for all British euroscepticism. Globally, the main beneficiary of the break-up of the EU would be US capital, with the City acting as the middleman, for a cut.

Europe’s anti-austerity parties and most European voters can remember when European integration brought significant economic benefits while maintaining and even strengthening the European social model. But the collapse of the Soviet Union triggered a sharp turn rightwards. In Newt Gingrich’s memorable phrase, the European social model was a “cold war construct”, and had to go. For many on the right, the current crisis is an opportunity too good to waste, and welfarism in Europe is being viciously dismantled.

Anti-austerity parties cannot recreate those conditions, but they can try to work towards a new compact: the opposite of cuts in wages and public services and privatisations. What is required is a state-led investment programme, including national governments but also the European commission, the ECB and the European Investment Bank.

Where will the money come from? Europe is awash with corporate cash, held in the very banks which have had to be propped up by the state. Their holdings could be directed towards investment, reviving growth, creating jobs and eliminating government deficits.

Europe cannot carry on attempting to build a 21st century economy with 19th century political building blocks. They only have to look across the English Channel to see that that won’t work.

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