BREXIT HAS DIVIDED THE UK POPULATION DOWN THE MIDDLE. This is not along any discernible lines of class or wealth, and the left itself has been utterly disorientated by the question of the European Union (EU) and our attitude to it.
Critics of the EU rightly point to the way in which it has developed as a neoliberal project that enforces fortress Europe to keep out migrants from the rest of the world. However, neoliberalism doesn’t stop at the borders of Europe. A retreat behind national boundaries as a response to this is neither possible nor desirable. Britain will need to re-establish trade relationships with the EU, almost certainly on worse terms than we currently have, and the rest of the world, none of which will pull us away from neoliberalism.
Instead of isolating ourselves from the rest of Europe we should be seeking to transform Europe. The EU developed towards its current form following the Second World War. The initial aims of the various European treaties were primarily to work towards a shared prosperity and integration and to ensure that the kinds of conflicts that had created two world wars would not be repeated. What was intended to bind Europe together were the four pillars of economic and monetary union: freedom of movement of goods, of services, of capital and of people.
European powers have resisted giving up sovereignty to the European project, but gradually rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have given more power for Europe to take precedence over national states as it asserts the primacy of the four freedoms over national law. In 1963 the CJEU asserted that a new legal and political order had been established in which member states had agreed to give up sovereignty over (albeit limited) areas of national law. Unlike with previous international organisations, the CJEU had the power to override member states. This new power was not in any treaty agreed by the member states but was a power that the court had given itself based upon an interpretation of what they derived from existing treaties.
While there have been ongoing disputes between member states and what has become the EU, the direction of travel has been one way towards giving more power to the EU at the expense of national sovereignty. Since this has largely happened through court rulings rather than through treaties and negotiations, this has created a democratic deficit.
With most issues brought to the CJEU their concern is always the operation of the market at the expense of almost all other considerations. National legislation aimed at protecting the quality of goods or protecting the environment has been ruled to be an unfair obstacle to trade. While the court has upheld the theoretical right to strike, it has ruled that this must be balanced against the right of companies to trade. The right to strike will only be upheld if it can be shown that the strike is ineffective.
Seventy years since its inception the EU now contains 28 states made up of vastly different economies, yet the EU has imposed rigid European-wide monetary regulation. No-bail-out rules mean that countries will be left to go bankrupt to serve fiscal doctrine, yet the defence of national sovereignty leaves economic policy up to member states. The inclusion of the eastern European states, and the weakness of the PIGS economies (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain), need an economic plan to stabilise the continent, something which the limited powers of the EU are incapable of doing.
Some on the left have argued that leaving the EU will restore the UK’s ability to develop socialist policies, and even to create ‘non-racist’ immigration controls. This is a fundamentally flawed argument. Very obviously, Brexit hasn’t happened in a vacuum, but at a time when one of the central motivations for Brexit has been blaming migrants for a lack of resources, and one in which the Conservatives had just won a General Election and UKIP got four million votes. That aside, socialism will never be built by turning back the tide of capitalism - it will be built by transcending it.
100 years ago the Russian Revolution was seen as a stepping stone to a world revolution. The revolution failed with the failure of the German revolutionary movement. A century later our lives are far more intertwined on a global scale. Building a socialist Europe needs progressives across the continent to forge continent-wide democratic institutions that have the power to deal with issues such as poverty and inequality on a European scale.
It is hard to see circumstances in which reasserting our national borders will benefit the socialist cause. We need to build strong organic links across borders within the EU and build Europe-wide powers to improve lives. Europe must address the issue of migration into Europe by opening its borders and at the same time developing policies that tackle the root causes of mass migration into Europe - global inequality and conflict.
Chingford and Woodford Green CLP,