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A democratic Europe is worth fighting for

The fracturing of the European Union’s existing structures under the weight of the economic and financial crisis should be an opportunity to promote an alternative to a body that is more bureaucracy than democracy, more pro-business than pro-people.

Instead, the so-called “euro-sceptics” of the Tory Party are in full cry. They generally despise anything foreign in general and Europe in particular. Their numbers were boosted this week when Ed Miliband compelled Labour MPs to vote with Tory rebels to defeat the government over the EU budget.

Labour clearly hopes that playing the nationalist card will help them win votes. The party’s recent conference slogan was “Rebuilding Britain”, which says it all. This is Miliband outplaying Cameron – from the right. It’s in line with Labour’s policies on immigration, crime and benefits cuts.

By voting to cut the EU’s budget, Labour also signalled that that is what we should expect if Miliband becomes prime minister. His brother, David, acknowledged as much on BBC Question Time last night, saying: "The world has changed since 2005 [when Labour backed a big increase in the EU budget], we have had a global financial crisis. We need to cut our deficit at home and we also need to make sure we cut spending in Europe as well.”

The EU as presently constituted is clearly a problem rather than a solution, as far as Europe’s working people are concerned. Since the financial crisis broke, the EU has combined with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – the infamous Troika – to impose punitive budget cuts on Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.

What was purported to be a union of sovereign states has turned out to be a dictatorship from the centre. Greece has effectively become a subsidiary state, its elections rendered meaningless because the orders from Brussels override the voters’ wishes. The EU, as you know, was recently awarded the Nobel Peace prize, leading one commentator to declare:

Many are clearly perplexed, even downright angry, at the timing of the award, which comes as the EU’s commitment to democracy and human rights has never looked so shaky: the straight-jackets of austerity and technocratic government, and the routine repression of protests on Europe’s streets.

The growing consensus among Britain’s political elites, however, is that the EU is breaking up under the strain of the crisis and/or the UK will quit the organisation by 2020. Both major parties are edging towards a referendum on membership.

But if this is the case, then it is the seemingly insoluble global economic crisis that is behind the crisis within the EU. It will soon be each country for itself which, in the context of a globalised economy, will be pretty meaningless. The intensity of the attacks on living standards will grow, not lessen, as a result.

The EU is a corporate-driven entity, which has competition, privatisation and profits at its heart. As an organisation, it is undemocratic to a high degree. Key decisions are made by unelected commissioners and the European Parliament is toothless.
 
The choice between living in a European so-called “super state”, as advocated by German chancellor Angela Merkel, or an independent, “sovereign” state, as viewed by prime minister David Cameron is, in reality, no choice at all.
            
A European capitalist “super state” is an ugly and dangerous concept, as World War II demonstrated in practice. British nationalism is an equally nasty prospect, whether it is in the hands of Cameron, UKIP or Miliband, whose reactionary speech on Scottish independence earlier this year left him wrapped in the flag of St George.

There is an alternative, however. An equal partnership, even a federation, of European states committed to a joint, sustainable future is possible as well as necessary. That has to be driven by the aspirations of ordinary people themselves and not the ruling elites.

We should campaign for a democratic alternative to the EU, based on shared common ownership of the region’s resources. Combined with new democratic political structures that reflect the aspirations of the disenfranchised majority, it would be a European project worth fighting for.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor 
2 November 2012

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