The origins of the European Union are, in many ways, inspiring and almost miraculous.

At the start, co-operation between France and West Germany was built on an economic strategy that gave not only dignity, but some power to workers.

This approach recognised that in order to resist the domination of the market it was necessary to have a mutual policy between states that could uphold some degree of stability and security for workers (and peasants) in order to avoid the perils of the great depression, unemployment and the political polarisation that had led, ultimately, to the victory of Fascism.

It was a modest and a mundane politics, but it had the remarkable distinction of actually working and for several decades it delivered rising prosperity, social peace and a genuine redistribution of power and wealth.

The arrival of Britain, however, changed everything. Britain is an island and was always at an angle to Europe.

It avoided the continental territorial struggle and developed a maritime economy and distinctive political institutions.

The EU at its inception was built on a conception of an economy based upon agriculture and industry, land and labour.

Britain brought a model of a financial and services-based economy in which free movement, rather than social partnership, was the primary goal.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and within the framework of a resurgent market ideology led by the United States, Thatcher’s Britain rather than Kohl’s Germany came to define the meaning of Europe.

The EU’s new treaties would protect “four freedoms”: the freedom of movement for people, capital, services and goods.

This new model of integration, through its hostility to institutions, tradition and place and its upholding of unmediated movement through space, was hostile to all that was best about European civilisation based upon self-governing cities, universities, churches and an embedded economic system.

The EU became a threat to Europe.

There was no place for a vocational economy, workers on boards or regional banks.

The lunacy, subsequently, of including countries with a level of wealth far below that of the founder members in an economic space predicated on the free movement of people did not occur to economists who, like the European Commission, thought in terms of undifferentiated space with no history.

So it was that the mass migration from East to West began and the ability to create specific strategies for national economies became illegal under EU law.

Capital has a tendency to centralise and exerts a pressure to turn human beings and nature into commodities.

Democracy and politics, and most particularly Labour politics, is a crucial way that society resists this through establishing a political community, a non-commodity status for people, and some constraints on the domination of the rich.

As it stands the European political economy is rigged towards the interests of capital and its irresistible centralising tendencies.

It upholds the commodification of labour through free movement and is hostile to national industrial policies as an impediment to competition.

It tries to constrain democratic politics within a framework of fiscal, monetary and political union and it will generate a nasty reaction.

This tension between democracy and markets can no longer be resolved by reform at the level of the EU.

The greatest failure of New Labour is that it led rather than resisted the definition of the EU as a neo-liberal project.

Leaving the EU opens the space for Labour to lead the renewal  of democracy and to champion a political economy that puts Labour values at its heart.

This article by Maurice Glasman was first published by The Telegraph on 20th June

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