For over 40 years, Britain has pushed extreme, free-market policies in the European Union (EU). While the EU has delivered, for Britain, better workers’ rights, cleaner air and water, and more enforceable human rights, Britain has consistently argued against the regulation of big business and big finance and against better social protection.
While enjoying special privileges and rebates, Britain consistently argued for opt-outs, believing it was an exceptional member of the EU, too good for the rules that apply to everyone else. David Cameron’s pre-referendum negotiations wanted more exemptions, which would have allowed it to crack down on migrants’ rights, protect the City of London’s financial excesses and drive deregulation.
So it might seem strange to suggest Britain could help save the EU from the existential crisis it finds itself in – a crisis caused by too many years of kowtowing to big business, deregulation and stripping back the welfare state. Even more so, given that Britain is set to leave the EU in 12 months’ time. Yet this is exactly what a group of Labour Party activists posit in a new report released on March 8, “The Corbyn moment and European Socialism“.
The argument is made by Another Europe is Possible, backed by supporters of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, like Julie Ward, MEP, and union leader Manuel Cortes. They urge Corbyn to commit to remaining in the EU if he wins the next election, and working with allies to push a series of dramatic reforms to transform the EU.
“The election of a left-wing government inside the EU could promote radical reform across Europe, including reform of the EU institutions, harmonisation of corporation tax, clamping down on tax avoidance, regulating banks, introducing a financial transaction tax, protecting migrant workers while strengthening trade unions, and opening up legal routes into Europe for migrants.”
They argue that Britain cannot tackle the power of big business on its own, and, indeed, a future Labour government locked into hard Brexit would be beset by economic and political chaos, caused by Britain pulling out of Europe, falling prey to financial destabilisation and to bullying by big business and Donald Trump.
On the other hand, the election of a left-wing government inside the EU could promote radical reform across Europe, including reform of the EU institutions, harmonisation of corporation tax, clamping down on tax avoidance, regulating banks, introducing a financial transaction tax, protecting migrant workers while strengthening trade unions, and opening up legal routes into Europe for migrants.
Is it really serious to think Britain could play an important role in making Europe fairer?
Britain’s political system is in chaos as a result of the referendum in 2016, but this shouldn’t blind us to the deep crisis across the EU. Fascists, spouting anti-migrant rhetoric, are on the march throughout Europe. Italy‘s elections showed the anti-establishment, populist Five Star Movement trouncing the social democrats. The German social democrats faced an awful decision: a coalition with the centre-right, a strategy which has caused their loss of popularity, or causing another election and letting the increasingly fascistic AFD get one step closer to power. They chose the former, and are daily haemorrhaging support.
Elsewhere, Greece, pushed into depression by the European institutions, continues to suffer a depression more severe and longer-lasting than that experienced by the US in the 1930s. From north to south, east to west, people are angry and desperate after 40 years of anti-social, free-market economics which hollowed out communities and disenfranchised citizens.
We are in a political crisis deeper than any in a generation. Brexit and Trump will be only the beginning of a dark descent, unless radical reform is enacted. Control must be handed back to people at a local level, but the nation-state is not a modern answer to our problems. Within our current economic system, nation-states will ferociously compete, undercutting and blaming each other for their common problems. That’s the history of the last century.
A radically transformed EU, however, is a political unit which could replace rule by multinational corporations with rule by citizens, tackle climate change by ending its exploitation of the world’s resources for profit, and create a fairer world of peace and collaboration.
Another point is this: there is a bigger chance of really big change in Britain than we’ve ever seen. That change is needed across Europe. If we remain in the EU, a radical government could light the spark of transformation across our continent.