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WE are all aware that the debate around Brexit split the left as it did the right. And those of us who voted to leave the EU found ourselves uncomfortably in bed with some unsavoury and duplicitous characters.
We have been unsurprisingly tarred with the same brush and called myopic, xenophobic and “little Englanders.”
Many conflate a wish to leave the EU with a wish to leave Europe — two very different things. Irrespective of desired aims, no-one on the left would have chosen this incompetent and extreme right-wing government to be in the driving seat during negotiations to leave.
The result could spell disaster for Britain’s working people.
Nevertheless, the arguments for leaving the EU are still powerful.
Over recent decades, the increasing chasm between a national government’s power to enact policies in the interests of its own citizens has been severely diminished, while the power of multinational businesses and financial interests to dictate government policy has increased considerably.
It is that gross disjuncture of power that has led many to believe that you can best win democracy back if the political decision-making level follows the economic one and becomes globalised or at least Europeanised in a similar way. That has been the main argument of the proponents of the EU.
But it is naive. Democracy can only flourish in spaces where there is clarity and oversight by the people is possible. Only in such spaces can the demos take advantage of establishing direct contact with those who have political responsibility, of monitoring them and holding them to account.
The larger and more heterogeneous a political structure is, the less efficient it will be, as we can see clearly with the cumbersome EU.
On top of that, the existing language and cultural differences even within Europe make real integration a virtually impossible task.
It is not an accident that democracy and the welfare state came about on the foundation of nation states and they are being eroded as the powers of national parliaments decrease, as we can see.
It’s no wonder that Brussels institutions have become so scorned by many. Their opaque ways of working and the manner in which they have been subject to such intense lobbying, as well as being steered by unaccountable technocrats have led the great majority of European citizens to lose whatever trust in them they may have had.
Most of these institutions were, though, right from the start, set up without any democratic legitimisation, because their prime purpose was not to extend democracy but to facilitate the operative space for capital.
Even during elections to the European parliament, every five years, hardly a third of the electorates actually take part, many fewer than in national elections, and it’s not because the European parliament has only limited powers.
In fact, the opposite has taken place. Its co-decision-making powers have become wider over recent years, but despite this, we have still witnessed a decreasing electoral participation.
The main reason for this lack of interest in the EU is very much to do with the widespread perception of the EU parliament as being too far away, too distant in terms of ordinary people’s daily lives.
Large numbers of people within the different nations that make up the EU are alienated, they don’t see the EU as being of much relevance to them. They don’t recognise those heterogeneous parties and factions in the EU parliament as their voice or as representing their personal interests.
British MPs do at least have a constituency and can be contacted personally and readily, but few know who “their” MEP is, because they represent such a large and amorphous region.
That’s why it’s not accidental that in London, Berlin or Paris there are around eight lobbyists for every single parliamentarian but in Brussels there are 20 for each MEP. Big business knows where the true power lies.
There is little democratic control over EU institutions and this is what allows the swamp of corruption and “bought” politicians to flourish.
We certainly need a redemocratisation of our institutions and that is what the left Brexiteers have argued for.
The state that has evolved historically, with its various levels, of local, city and regional administrations, up to national parliaments needs to be revivified and centralised powers devolved, not increasingly centralised as has happened.
We, on the left are not anti-European, we are merely demanding reform of the EU. Of course it would make sense if all the European powers adopted common regulations on big, transnational issues such as on the environment, consumer protection, workers’ rights and business and financial regulation, but to achieve consensus on such questions we don’t require an arrogant EU Commission that interferes directly in each state’s sovereign rights and we certainly do not need an EU Central Bank boss who dictates to individual states how they should conduct their economic policies, as we’ve seen in Greece and Ireland for example.
What’s necessary is sufficient Europe-wide agreement between elected governments.
In addition, we can’t overlook the insufficient regulation, despite EU powers to overrule each single state’s sovereignty, as far as they impact on really important European concerns.
While individual states compete with each other in the dumping race to reduce corporate and wealth taxes while squeezing the poor, where is the EU?
These same states are still told by Brussels how to set their national budgets and how they must open up their public services to privatisation by international businesses.
The notorious Friedrich von Hayek, Margaret Thatcher’s guru, was an avid proponent of the EU and he was certainly no democrat.
He infamously said: “I have not been able to find a single person even in much-maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”
He favoured a European federal state not because it would give citizens more democratic control but precisely the opposite — to hinder real political involvement and democracy and offer free rein to the market free-for-all of capitalism.
He wrote that the abolition of sovereign nation states and the creation of an effective international legal order are necessary complements and a logical completion of the “liberal” programme, adding that all in all, it is probable that in a European federation the power of single states over their economies would be slowly and extensively weakened and “should be” [!]
In the end, he continued, national governments will be in such a straitjacket that they will not be able to introduce laws like the restriction of child labour or the regulation of working time of their own accord.
We need to be reminded of the real history behind the establishment of the EU to disabuse ourselves of all the flowery paeans about it “saving us from another war,” promoting integration and co-operation between citizens.
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