#Brexit is not #Grexit
At the height of the financial crisis, it quickly became a cliché to declare that one’s country was not another. “Spain is not Greece” we’d hear. “Greece is not Ireland.” “Israel is not Spain.” “UK is not Portugal.” “Ireland is not Portugal, nor is it Greece.” Some on the British left may need a reminder of the obvious: Brexit is not Grexit.
The Troika banking coup over the Greek Syriza government this week has prompted leftists of various stripes to call for a left wing campaign for the UK to leave the EU when the government proposes a referendum. The EU, in case you didn’t realise it, is a neoliberal and undemocratic institution wedded to austerity, they dutifully inform us. All it does is impose Friedmanite economic doctrine on the working class and smash any semblance of democracy.
All true, if you’re Greek. And yet I can’t identify a single occasion where it has been the EU which has imposed austerity upon the people of the UK, and not the Westminster government.
Given a choice between leaving the EU and the Euro on the one hand, and submitting to the Troika’s demands on the other, I think I would probably choose to leave or be forced out. I note that the Left Platform and the Syriza Youth have been more willing to risk Grexit by continuing to fight than have the Syriza leadership, but even they aren’t asking to leave the EU. I met many such activists in Athens in January. Their judgement and instincts are sound and I trust them more than I trust those of the left commentariat in the UK.
In the UK our choice, if it comes, won’t occur on the same basis. We aren’t choosing between capitulation and dignity.
For a start, most of the worst parts of the EU would come away with us. Owen Jones says we should leave because of the oncoming disaster that is TTIP, but since the UK relies so heavily on the EU as a trade partner, it’s inconceivable that any government we’re likely to elect would allow any major difference in trade conditions.
We’d be left in the rather more precarious situation of being signed up to TTIP but perhaps not to the European Convention on Human Rights. We’d have freedom of movement for capital but no freedom of movement for workers. We’d rob community peace projects in Belfast of their only source of funding. We’d be left with no way of addressing trans-national issues like climate change other than hard-headed negotiation by our winner-takes-all government. We’d be living under a settlement agreed somewhere between the Tories and UKIP.
I welcome the debate on Europe, because I hope it leads to an invigoration of political debate and a hardening of battle lines. I hope, as I hoped with the Scottish independence referendum, that it will be a debate between two left wing positions. But if that is going to happen, then the left voices on both sides are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than they have so far.
I think this is too much in the same vein as Project Fear during Scotland’s independence referendum. If Greens rely on the negative case for remaining in the EU, then we are at risk of seeing our support collapse. Which isn’t to say that we have to support Brexit for the sake of retaining “electability”. Just that if we make a case of staying in the EU, it has to be a positive one.
That’s why many on the left are now contemplating Brexit, and why I think we need a summit to debate whether the best strategy for the left is In or Out.
I was supportive of the EU till the Geek stuff, precisely one of those whom the author pinpoints in his opening words. He makes a few very odd comments, summarised here:
– “Even if we’re not in the EU, we’d have TTIP anyway.” Really? What about a democratic alternative? It’s like arguing that we shouldn’t bother with climate change because the Chinese don’t.
– “We’d have free movement for capital but not for workers”…oh, that’s right, no-one in Norway is allowed out of Oslo…and the Norwegians don’t have one of the largest sovereign wealth funds per capita in the world…
– “We wouldn’t have the European Convention on Human Rights”…Jesus, is there no end to the author’s idiocy…The Human Rights stuff was developed pre-EU from 1950-55. One of it’s key signatories is Russia for god’s sake. You’re worse that UKIP for conflating the European Human Rights Act with the EU…
The article was extremely irritating for it’s lack of serious analysis. I’d suggest that there are a significant number of things that the EU should be applauded for but also a serious number of things that really question whether we should be involved from a left perspective.
The EU attack on Greece has really got me annoyed.
An example of how this is a rampant capitalist project, is in the EU demand for a deregulation of the bakery products market as part of the Greek bailout deal. Currently, 1-3% of Greek bakery products are supplied by industrial bakeries; the remainder by small, intensively staffed artisan bakers. In the EU it’s an average of 45% supply by industrial bakers and in the UK 80%+.
The EU want Greece to open up the bakery market to “competition”. Specifically, the very definition of a bakery as a place where “bakers” mix ingredients, knead dough and bake loaves from scratch, as opposed to a “bread point of sale” that might merely heat up frozen dough or just sell prebaked loaves, is to be changed. i.e. small local bakeries are to be wiped out by industrial giants and superstore provision. More cynically, Greece’s local artisan bakers are to sacrificed at the alter of Aldi and Lidl.
“The benefit from abolishing the definition would be the enhancement of competition by creating quality differentiations and by offering a broader choice to consumers,” according to the OECD.
What that means is that the EU not only want to cut Greek pensions, privatise their assets and take control of the economy, they also want to feed the Greeks pap instead of real bread. Oh, and they want to specify how many pharmacies there should be in the country as well.
Is that really an institution that Greens want to be part of?