The following is an extract from the ISN pamphlet A Force for Progress? Five Myths About the European Union. which was launched earlier on this week by Harry Browne at Connolly Books.
The European Union has divided opinion on the Left. Some people see it as a bulwark against the power of multi-national corporations that can defend the rights of workers and protect the “European social model”. What they have in mind is a way of organising society that differs from the US version of capitalism, with stronger protection for workers, more generous welfare programmes, and a bigger role for the state in providing vital services like health care, education and public transport.
In general, it’s true that European societies differ from the US model. However, it’s a mistake to believe that the European Union is defending this model of society against the pressures of neo-liberal globalisation. In fact, the EU has become one of the major forces promoting a Thatcherite agenda in today’s Europe. European treaties have steadily enshrined neo-liberal principles in the basic law of the Union. The Lisbon Treaty continues down this road, identifying “liberalisation” and “competition” as priorities for the Union. In practice, this means that governments will be obliged to open up public services like health and transport to private firms, undermining the principle of free, universal access to social goods for all citizens.
Rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) show the dangers of the EU’s current trend. In the Laval and Viking cases, Scandinavian trade unions were told they could not strike in defence of social rights won by workers over many years. European companies plan to use the big pool of cheap labour in the new member-states of Eastern Europe to drive down wages across the Continent. It’s no wonder that the EU is favouring big business over workers: Brussels is packed with lobbying groups representing corporate interests. The European Round Table of Industrialists has a major influence over European policy-making, and individual companies have their own lobbying teams working round the clock. Trade unions and other social movements can’t compete with this corporate muscle.
It’s natural that people want to defend the gains made by European workers over the last century. But the EU is not an ally in this struggle: in fact, it is one of the main factors pushing Europe towards US-style capitalism. Supporters of the EU are certainly right about one thing: there is a pressing need for co-operation at an international level to address the key problems facing Europeans – and the rest of the world – today. Nobody can expect to isolate themselves in a single nation-state and ignore what happens in the outside world. But it is a big mistake to imagine that any form of trans-national integration is better than nothing. If that integration narrows the space for democratic politics and further entrenches neo-liberalism, it is a step backwards.
Instead of adapting itself to the current EU project, the Left needs to develop its own proposals for international co-operation that will expand democracy instead of limiting it and help bring economic resources under social control. It would be premature to draw up a broad-ranging programme when we lack political movements that could put it into effect. The main priority for the Left is to rebuild working-class political organisation across the continent. As long as big business and its agents dominate politics at a national level, they will inevitably determine what happens in Europe. New left parties and social movements challenging the power of capital will have to start working together closely with allies in other states long before any of them is close to taking power in a single country. It is through those struggles that we will see an alternative Europe taking shape.
You are get a copy of the full pamphlet at Connolly Books and directly from the Irish Socialist Network.
You can get a copy of this Irish Socialist Network Pamphlet at Connolly Books, 43 East Essex Street, Dublin.
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