Fighting for a progressive Europe – two perspectives on Another Europe is Possible
Bright Green correspondents Josiah Mortimer and Tom Bailey on Wednesday’s launch of Another Europe is Possible, a campaign for the UK to remain in the EU and fight for a progressive Europe from within.
Josiah Mortimer: Amid fear, there’s fighting spirit: the left enters the EU debate
(also published on Novara Wire)
If there’s one thing true of the EU debate, it’s that it’s been pretty uninspiring so far, to say the least. Even the most hard-core of politicos can’t get themselves particularly worked up about it.
That doesn’t mean it’s been without its controversies and battles. But in-fighting doesn’t generally equal exciting and stimulating debate. The leave side seems to be in turmoil, with people dropping like flies from the two main campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU. Labour Leave has just broken away from the former, and a new ‘Grassroots Out’ campaign aims to hit the doorsteps where it sees the other two campaigns have failed. Headed by Farage, it already risks being seen as a UKIP front.
In contrast, the ‘remain’ camp has been relatively stoic – less EastEnders, more BBC Parliament. The arguments hurled around seemed to have been, predictably, more of a wrestle between statisticians than positive visions of the EU: “We’ll lose x jobs if we leave the EU,” “our GDP will fall by y” or “big businesses will be less likely to come to the UK”. All potentially true, but hardly rabble-rousing stuff.
The gist among some already-weary progressives seems to be that Britain Stronger in Europe – the apparently monolithic representative of Europhiles – follows Cameron’s renegotiations with either approval or complacence, while free movement, welfare and workers’ rights are traded away.
With Corbyn staying out of the EU debate (he’s leaving it to the Big Beasts of Brown and co.), and with Labour Leave headed by Kate Hoey, seen as on the right of the party, it all begs one question:
Where is the left?
It’s with that question in mind that I headed to the launch of the first major attempt to give the left a voice in the EU debate: ‘Another Europe is Possible’. While the name is a bit of a mouthful, it’s fairly obvious what they want – a progressive EU (with the UK in it).
This ‘critical in’ vote is something that resonates with basically everyone I know who’s vexed by Eurozone austerity, TTIP, deregulation and the ‘neoliberal’ politics of Juncker et al…but who also have an instinctive attachment to the European project, expressed through things like environmental protection, a maximum working week, holiday pay and all that other nice stuff.
Needless to say, the critique of the EU as it stands was unrelenting. ‘EU institutions have been implicated in broken economics’, founder Luke Cooper told the two hundred-odd who packed out a former brewery in Brick Lane, Shoreditch – a venue just opposite where BSE held their launch a few weeks ago. ‘But we have to ask – what would Britain look like after Brexit?’ The answer was fairly clear to most of the young crowd: not a socialist Britain, that’s for sure.
It turns out it’s a theme. ‘There are huge problems with the EU. But is leaving the EU a better bet?’ asked Asad Rehman, a Senior Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. ‘The arguments on the pro-side are too much about fear rather than a positive vision’. Vision was talked about a lot. We certainly need one.
The left leave camp have of course slammed the EU’s rightward turn. In the same way though, they’ve slammed every European government’s rightward turn – free market dogmatism isn’t exclusive to the European Union. ‘Can you name an institution not dominated by neoliberalism?’ asked Marina Prentoulis. ‘National governments are pushing a neoliberal agenda too.’
The elephant in the room was that Prentoulis represents Syriza, a party that has done the same – with a Commission-shaped gun to its head. But what of the new Portuguese socialist government, and movements in Spain, Italy and elsewhere that are threatened by EU institutions? Will forced capitulation become a trend?
The question made for a less enthusiastic atmosphere than would have been the case say 10 years ago, when progressive legislation was being passed all the time. But there weren’t many champagne corks popped for the ‘bosses club’, as the NUS’ Sahaya James put it, in the room on Wednesday. There was more of an overwhelming and understandable fear that out of Europe, the right of the Tories would be given free rein to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.
Above the fear however there was something else. A willingness to try and shift the debate – and to build not a network of politicians but of grassroots activists across the UK: activists with few illusions about the EU, other than a genuine belief that there is some hope in the left-wing movements emerging across Europe. That there could be a truly ‘social’ Europe if we fight for it – across borders.
The challenge now however is to not just talk about a vision, but to actually come up with one. In the midst of a campaign seen by many socialists as dominated by stat-throwing and cosying up to business, such a positive and values-based vision for a reformed EU – albeit one ‘two million miles from Cameron’s’, as Caroline Lucas MP put it – could be a game-changer. Wednesday’s launch may have been the start of something very interesting indeed.
Tom Bailey: ‘Stay in Europe to Change Europe’
Another Europe is Possible launched on Wednesday night in a bar on Brick Lane (following in the Europhile tradition, Britain Stronger in Europe launched nearby), and presented a much needed vision for a social, environmental Europe founded on solidarity.
Progressive UK based Europeans are right to feel trapped between short–sighted, quick-fix solutions to the EU’s ills advocated by a left-wing Brexit or ‘Lexit’ and the even bleaker “business case” for remain advocated by David Cameron, Stronger In and others with little interest in the progressive potential of a continental union.
Another Europe is Possible marks out the crucial ‘third-way’, not retreat and withdrawal, not remain and dilute, but stay and fight for democracy and social progress inside the EU. The launch featured politicians and activists from 4 UK political parties: Labour, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru (with a contribution from Left Unity from the audience), but the aim is to reach beyond political parties and form a social movement. Academics and social activists joined the politicians on stage, whilst space and time was deliberately devoted for contributions from the audience. It is the kind of grass roots organising that just might be able show that the EU something worth voting for.
‘Stay in Europe to Change Europe’ is the message from Another Europe is Possible. The message has never been so needed, with the Eurogroup’s callous imposition of austerity, trampling over Greek democracy still fresh in the minds of many in Europe’s left. The temptation of Lexit, to deal a blow to the Brussels technocracy and the imposition of neo-liberalism, is strong, but as Marina Prentoulis, from SYRIZA in the UK, SP asked on Wednesday night – “can you name one institution, national or transnational, that hasn’t been captured by neoliberalism?”i
No one should shy away from Europe’s problems, nor from the EU’s role in them. As Luke Cooper emphasised at the launch “Europe’s institutions are deeply implicated in a broken economic system”. The difference is what we are going to do about it.
Another Europe is Possible argues that Europeans need to activily engage with the EU in order to change it. This aligns them with other movements for democratic and social reform of the EU. On Tuesday in Berlin Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek Minster of Finance, was among those launching the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – DiEM25 and Another Europe is Possible is a founding signatory of Plan B for Europe.
The Lexit case is beset by a basic practical problem, you want Lexit, but you’re gonna get Brexit. You cannot escape neo-liberalism by leaving a transnational neo-liberal order and entering a national neo-liberal order. Of all the things we detest most about the EU, the UK government is nearly always a major force behind it within the EU institutions. As Samuel Lowe from Friends of the Earth recently argued, leaving the EU won’t save us from TTIP. Nor will it end austerity, or the ‘de-regulation’ of social and environmental protections. The latter is exactly why we need to get behind Enviromentalists for Europe, who also launched earlier this month. We can all agree that the EU institutions are in dire need of reform, but Brexit is not the way to do it, as Luke Cooper puts it, “there really are no short cuts for the radical left.”
The problem is not only one of practical politics but one of principle. The left should not want to return to the nation state and nationalism. The national state is one repressive political formation among many. In a globalised and interconnected world the artificial divisions between people are ripe to be overthrown. National borders cause real harm—not only does the inability of national governments to compete with transnational corporations hurt us in the treasury, but borders restrict different people for mixing, experiencing each other’s cultures and learning from it. This produces a context in which violent conflict can develop, and the EU has some claim to maintaining a (relatively) peaceful Europe since the Second World War, though NATO, fear of the Russian Bear and US hegemony also have something to with it.
Moreover, migrants experience the sharp edge of borders. EU migrants living in the UK are having their legal status in imperilled by this referendum and our latent lust for the national state. Their voices should not should not be ignored by the left. It would be unfortunate if the left developed the habit of not listening to those people our politics directly affects, particularly when we are supposed to stand in solidarity with them. Think of the Syrian’s who were not allowed to speak by some on the left whilst we openly mused bombing or not their country. The left should emphasise not only the economic benefits of migrants to the UK, but the livelihoods and lives in the UK of migrants themselves. One of the most pointed audience contributions at the launch was from a Polish migrant who described how it was only after she arrived in the UK that she was able to join a trade union because they had been denigrated in her home county following the fall of communism.
As well as the migrants within the EU, we cannot forget the refugees fleeing war and poverty into Europe. No single nation in Europe is capable of providing the refugees the secure, comfortable and meaningful lives they deserve. The solution has to be EU wide. The problem in this case is too much national sovereignty, not too little. And whilst we are at it we can pressure the EU to take more migrants from the region and provide more aid, rather than hypocritically pressuring Turkey to open its borders whilst fortifying our own.
Another Europe is Possible offers a coherent intellectual case and organizational framework for progressive Europhiles to participate is a fast growing, Europe wide movement for democracy and social reform of the EU. It is a means by which we can put the internationalist commitments of the left into action. Any environmentally destructive trade loving Tory can call themselves an internationalist, to make it mean something we need to work to move our politics beyond national state institutions. Keeping the UK in the EU is a step on the long road to achieving this.