Doug Nicholls, Chair of Trade Unionists Against the European Union warns that the fear of the Brexit by both left and right, represents a new retreat from democratic vitality and confidence in progressive change.
Kratos was the ancient Greek god of war and of all domineering state authority beyond human recall. The demos were the common people, us, the majority, the good bit of the word democracy, which means, in essence, the power of the people.
The EU is all Kratos and no demos. Members of the European Parliament represent on average around 500,000 ‘constituents’ which is probably why so few of us vote for them, or know their names. They can’t deliver for us. They and their overpowering secretariat have to serve the demands of political and economic union and the hidden hand of the market.
MEPS themselves have no law initiating powers in the toothless EU Parliament which is subject to the unelected domination of the six other instruments of EU power, mainly the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Central Bank. And now there’s a revitalised additional player, the shadow sovereign, the US, long the EU’s greatest fan.
We know little about the EU decision makers, they hold most of their discussions in secret, so we cannot influence them. Even our own government has lost 72 of their 72 attempts to change serious EU proposals. What we do know is that the vast majority of MEPs and bureaucrats are drawn from Parties equivalent to our Tories and often much worse.
More significantly, although 10,000 of the bureaucrats in Brussels earn more than the British Prime Minister and therefore must be seen to be doing something in the office, the EU resembles the US Congress in that its ears remain most sensitive to the legions of lobbyists from the large corporations who dictate the direction, Directives and Treaties of the EU.
The Roundtable of Industrialists is historically the most organised central lobby group for the corporations. The loudest, most numerous corporate lobbyists are from the health sector and are increasingly US backed. TTIP and an EU equivalent are very much alive thanks to them. The reports of TTIP’s death are much exaggerated. The EU has its own Plan B ISDS anyway.
The corporate take-over of nations, the hollowing out of accountable, democratic public structures and forms of public ownership are the hallmark of the recent neoliberal episode of our history. Everything is ‘economised’, everything is depoliticised. All human interactions are reduced and determined by the money exchange. Social relations are costed, not valued. Life is actually a free thing but we spend our time chasing for purchases up the mountain of superfluous needs and down the race to the bottom in wages. Politicians have become adjuncts of the market and do not recognise what a mandate from the people is. A referendum scares them.
The democratic decline has reached such extremes that deliberately generated financial debt dominates elected governments. Individuals and nations become debtors, controlling them are the creditors in the banks in gated enclaves and tax havens far away from the reach of Parliaments. The EU is increasingly resembling a giant tax haven.
On the one hand we have a dangerous decline of democratic government, on the other an intimate penetration of the money markets into every aspect of our lives. The big board rooms and financial speculators respect no nation, no elected government and answer only to the bottom line which demands more and more irresponsible gambling in the casino.
This casino alters our pension values, our rent and house prices, our food, our energy costs, our wages, and thereby our ability to have a meaningful say. Collective bargaining on the price of labour part of the market is almost a thing of the past and certainly its break up was a demand of the EU for accession countries to the deregulated club.
The consequence for Britain of this change over the last 40 years is that our independent united nation has been fractured into a vassal state, designated as an economic zone by Brussels; a private island whose main assets in fishing, steel and coal have largely disappeared, whose agriculture has been made more subservient, whose key national utilities have been placed in overseas hands and whose borders have been torn up and whose voice in the world has been muted by the US and EU double act.
Britain’s de-industrialisation resulted in the twin necessity of privatising our public services and breaking up workers’ rights. What remains of our public sphere, the NHS, local authority based schools, the BBC, universities that educate rather than make profit are under intense pressure as the EU’s liberalising pressures require the complete marketization.
No one voted for any of this. As a consequence we face throughout the European continent increasing disaffection not just with the EU, but with politics. Neoliberalism feels like a hurricane that we cannot stop. Its politicians irrelevant and public institutions empty.
Sections of the ‘establishment left’ say forget the daily economic collapse of the euro, forget the EU backed attacks on workers’ rights in Britain, France, Belgium Italy and elsewhere and the control of Greece, Spain, and Portugal by Goldmann Sachs and the ratings agencies, let’s weather the storm and in 2020 get all 28 countries in the EU to simultaneously tear up the EU Constitution.The Lisbon Treaty is, uniquely in world history, a pseudo constitution committed to a capitalist economy.
This is the argument of those who fear the democracy of the people as much as the founding business fathers of the EU feared the social democratic, socialist and communist developments in post war Europe which the people had freed from Nazi terror.
The struggle for the full universal franchise and votes at 18 took almost exactly 130 years in Britain from 1838-1968. Its political purpose was to tip the balance of power in favour of the majority. The sensitivity of British Parliaments and all parties post 1945 to the organised voice of the people led to the most progressive reforms and public consciousness in our history.
In those days even austerity was accepted because doing without luxuries for a while enabled the whole country to rebuild the basics and sweep away the horrors of the past and reach out with new hope. Austerity now means the opposite, it means doing without the essentials of life.
The most essential of these is the right not just to have your voice heard, but to have your voice part of a democratic movement for change. No wonder the referendum moment has scared the pro EU left and right. People might make a decision they don’t like. This has to be avoided at all costs if the power of the unelected banks and their status quo is to be retained.
This right to be an active citizen and determine events, rather than watch the EU crumble like another weather system you can do little about, is a precious right, it is the right to be employed in useful and enjoyable work and consciously engaged as a respected citizen in shaping our future. This is a fundamental right that the EU has spectacularly managed to deny 500 million people, along with the 23 million unemployed workers who it has denied the right to work.
These are rights to be reclaimed before the alienation from the possibility of a shared destiny, causes new, previously unimagined resentments.