4 July 2016
“[Je refuse] la création d’une zone de libre-échange de l’Europe occidentale, en attendant la zone atlantique, laquelle ôterait à notre continent sa propre personnalité.” Le général de Gaulle, 1967.
“I refuse to accept the creation of a free trade area in western Europe, pending [the establishment of] an Atlantic zone, which would strip our continent of its own personality.” General de Gaulle, 1967.
General de Gaulle (1890-1970), leader of French resistance to the Nazis in World War II, was President of France from 1959 to 1969. He was speaking in the context of his decision to veto Britain’s second application to join the European Economic Community (the precursor of the European Union) in 1967.
For those with no time to lose themselves in the detail, below are the 10 key points set out in our case for Brexit (Britain’s Exit from the European Union) as published on 23 April 2016 in our post Contra Unionem Europaeam . Given the discombobulation of Britain’s metropolitan elite at the effrontery and supposed unsophistication of the UK electorate in opting, by a majority vote in the referendum held on 23 June 2016, to sever Britain’s links with the EU, we thought it a good idea to remind the condescending smart alecs in Westminster and Whitehall of the reasons why the people of Britain had good reason to vote as they did.
- The EU is demonstrably more inefficient at taking decisions than the national alternative. The 28 EU Member States have to participate in any agreement. Too many cooks spoil the broth. The upshot: chaos (eg the recent refugee fiasco) or interminable delay.
2. The EU is too remote to be able to assess national or local requirements with any degree of accuracy.
3. The surrender of national sovereignty is too high a price to pay for the mirage of a higher GDP that as often as not fails to materialize. Individual Member States are now satrapies in an incipient EU empire. Their sovereignty has been watered down to the extent that in many cases – eg Greece, Ireland and Portugal – national governments are merely executors of policy dictated by Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington.
4. One can be pro-Europe but opposed to the European Union. There are perfectly valid alternatives to the status quo. As history shows, the countries of Europe can relate to each other perfectly satisfactorily outside the EU strait-jacket.
5. The EU is a pro-market capitalist organisation becoming more so as it develops and expands. No socialist – as opposed to careerist conservative politicians masquerading as socialists – supports it. Privatisation of public services is hard-wired into EU ideology.
6. The putative democratic guarantees of EU membership are a figment of EU public relations. At the time of writing, the political conjuncture in France (state of emergency, the arbitrary arrest of dissidents, legislation by guillotine by-passing parliament) fails to satisfy the classic definition of democracy. Ditto for Poland and Hungary.
7. The much-flaunted environmental policies of the EU are modestly funded bolt-ons to its core free market. They are, in any case, being rapidly watered down as the EU’s cave-in to corporate lobbyists removes the need to pay lip-service to non-market interests. Rather than protecting it, the EU, in response to corporate lobbying, has recently taken a number of decisions that will damage the environment, such as weakening the regulatory limits for motor vehicle emissions (despite the Volkswagen scandal and at variance with last December’s climate change deal in Paris). Again caving in to industry lobbies, it has postponed the introduction of bans on (1) the carcinogenic herbicide “roundup”, (2) endocrine-disrupting bisphenols used in plastics, and (3) neonicotinoids that are destroying the bees which pollinate Europe’s crops. The European Union an environmental paladin? Pull the other one!
8. EU social policy is, by definition, restricted to employment conditions and does not cover other areas of the welfare state, such as health, housing and social services, which remain the province of the EU’s member states. It has resulted in some improvement in working conditions in the fields of equal pay for men and women and health and safety at work. However, the object is not specifically to improve working conditions per se, a task which is essentially left to the member states, but to ensure that national differences in working conditions do not impede the smooth functioning of the EU-wide free market (eg by harmonizing working conditions so that member states with higher levels of social protection at work are not at a disadvantage as a result of competition from states with lower degrees of protection).
Nonetheless, to a great extent, social policy remains the preserve of the member states. Improvements in working conditions still depend essentially on national polices, which reflect the political ideologies – right or left – dominant in the governments of individual member states and the balance of power in individual countries between trade unions and employers. The driving force behind the betterment of working conditions remains, as has always been the case, the socialist commitment of political parties opposed to the status quo and the strength of the trade union movement vis-à-vis employers’ organisations in individual states.
Thus, it is highly misleading to big up EU social policy as the key determinant of workers’ rights, as the British Labour Party did in support of its (unsuccessful) 2016 referendum campaign in favour of continued UK membership of the EU. In the UK social progress has derived from the awakening of working class consciousness and the rise of socialist movements in Britain: the Luddite riots of 1811, the Blanketeer march of 1817, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the repeal in 1824 of the anti-union Combination Acts, the Factory Acts (from 1833 onwards), the Chartist Movement of the 1840s, the foundation of the Trades Union Congress in 1868 and the Labour Party in 1900, the repeal of the Trade Dispute Act in 1906, and, not least, the gradual concession of universal suffrage in the 19th and 20th centuries. This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, EU or no EU.
It is up to the UK Labour Party, therefore, and the UK trade unions – liaising, where appropriate, with their European counterparts but fighting their own battles – to secure an advance in worker rights. It is a cop-out to suggest, as the Labour Party did in the 2016 referendum campaign, that only if the UK stays within the EU will working conditions improve. In fact, with EU ideology moving at warp speed in a free market direction (eg the EU-imposed sell-off of Greek state assets to international capital), the contrary is the case.
Get off your backsides, Brothers! This is your job and yours alone. Go to it!
9. In the EU national, local and regional differences are being ironed out to produce a flattened impediment-free economic terrain where Big Business can enjoy economies of scale without the need to tailor its products and services to accommodate particular national preferences. Welcome to clone-chained Europe!
10. The embryo of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, came into being in 1952. The so-called socialist parties and trade unions in the EU have had 64 years since then to move Europe in a socialist direction. During that time the political and industrial left has been severely weakened across the Continent. By contrast, giant private corporations have gone from strength to strength. All the evidence suggests that we should get out of the EU straight away before it is too late – before the EU gets the chance to foist upon us its latest scheme for a further massive extension of the power of Big Business – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In which connection see the prescient comment by General de Gaulle at the start of this post.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.