The Common Market 50 years on: how we got into this mess in the first place

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Today’s European Union (EU) was the brainchild of a former brandy salesman, Jean Monnet, who launched the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952. This became the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market in 1958. The Common Market was based on two key policies: state support for farm production and an  increasingly liberalised market in industry and services. Over the half a century since then, however, supporters of agricultural subsidies have lost ground to the free traders. None the less, in 2007 spending on agriculture – a sector employing less than 5% of the working population – still represented over 40 per cent of the EU budget. That said, the bedrock of today’s EU is economic liberalisation: Europe’s economies must be run by businesses without state intervention. The result is that elected governments in EU Member States have no right to decide what type of economic development is best for their electorates: the right to manage an economy, the most important function of government, is taken out of the hands of democratically elected governments and handed to businessmen (and particularly to the directors of huge global-sized businesses: we are not talking here about small local firms). If individual governments try to subsidise specific sectors of their economies, they are fined by the EU’s all-powerful commercial court, the European Court of Justice, and forced to backtrack. What then, one might ask, ios democracy for? What is the point of voting at all if the hands of our governments are tied from the start when it comes to their most important function, the management of their economies? The economies of “old” or western Europe, which were the first to join the Union, have now been fully integrated into the strait-jacket of the market and the emphasis now is on marketising the less-developed economies of “new” or eastern ex-Communist Europe.


The economic integration of Europe into a single liberalised market is now well on its way. What to do next? The next task is to create a political Europe. Big Business, which has naturally backed the Common Market from the beginning, knows that without political clout Europe cannot punch its weight adequately in the world economy. At world level, in forums such as the World Trade Organisation, what is important is the political leverage that comes from raw political power: the world economy is carved up on the basis of political decisions in a way which principally benefits the economies of the biggest political players. The European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, is an economic giant but a political pygmy. Its division into 27 different Member States leads to a cacophony of European voices on the world stage – voices which can be contemptuously ignored by the geo-political superpowers. The aim, therefore, is to create, over time, a United States of Europe.


After dithering since 1952, the UK reluctantly agreed to join the Common Market in 1973 for two reasons: (1) it felt it might lose out economically in the event of an upswing in the European economy, to which Britain’s economy was closely linked, and (2) it could act as a Trojan horse within Europe for the benefit of its closest ally, the United States. Playing a similar role in Europe to that played by Israel in the Middle East, Britain will always do what it can to prevent developments that might damage the economic or political interests of the United States. Not for nothing is the UK distrusted as “perfidious Albion” on the Continent. Naturally, therefore, Britain, in contrast to most EU Member States,  does not favour the development of a political Europe that might eventually become a United States of Europe and thus represent a serious political rival to the USA. With the enthusiastic espousal of Thatcherite policies by the rightwing New Labour Party and its Tory successor, Britain has become the most free-market oriented of the EU Member States. Like the USA, therefore, Britain is perfectly happy to see the Common Market expanded to include the whole of Europe plus Turkey and beyond. It is less than happy with the development of a corresponding European political community. And it cares little for the add-on policies in areas such as social security, employment or human rights since these are spheres which can act as a constraint on the market. And that is logical. Once the market is fully in place in Europe, there is no reason to stop there. The market is not sentimental about a geographical area called Europe. Today’s market place is global and getting more so. Once the EU has completed the task of providing a level playing field for Big Business in the European segment of the world market, it should wither away. The ultimate aim of capital is a fully levelled world market without local regulation. The European Union is a half-way stage towards this goal. In the meantime, then, nothing is more natural than that Britain should jib at steps that are being taken (via measures such as the 2007 Lisbon Treaty) to create a political Europe.

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