Willie Thompson writes:
Despite the fact that British withdrawal constitutes the centrepiece of the UKIP election campaign, the other parties involved have been surprisingly reticent about discussing the question at any length or in great detail. No doubt this is due to a state of uncertainly and embarrassment, plus a suspicion that a referendum would be likely to result in a vote for exit, which none of the others would wish to commit themselves to, since they retain the conviction, with various degrees of enthusiasm, that membership is a ‘good thing’. Odd to think that in the referendum of 1975 the Labour Party was in the main on favour of withdrawal, now, next to the Lib Dems it is the one most committed to opposing not merely exit but even a referendum.
Indeed there are plenty of reasons for wanting to be quit of this institution. It is consummately corrupt and unmitigatedly undemocratic, a gravy train for its bureaucracy and high officials; the meadow to which dubious politicians who have overstepped the mark, such as Peter Mandelson, are put out to grass. It may be remembered that voting publics in particular states such as Ireland, when referenda returned votes against innovations thought by the elites to be very important, the citizens were made to vote again until they produced a majority for the favoured outcome. It has worked in every case except Norway, but even there the national economy is nevertheless closely tied to that of the EU.
Although the butter mountains and wine lakes are now in the past, the bureaucrats of the Commission continue to make rules which result in serious inconvenience to ordinary citizens or even wreck entire industries such as the British fishing industry. Marketisation is at the heart of its agenda and it was specifically designed in the 1950s to entrench capitalism and present a high obstacle to a socialist programme in any of its member states even if their electorate should have the impertinence to democratically decide upon such a thing, as more than half a century down the line the Greek example has demonstrated with unmistakable clarity. The ultimate aim, clearly stated from the beginning, is political unification; an absurdity in any modern state institution with the degree of language difference inside even inside its previous borders, while its parliament, except as a platform for political publicity, is a farce with no meaningful powers.
Although it is not a sovereign state, its elites have nevertheless has developed aspiration to conduct foreign policies. When these have had any effect, they have proved catastrophic. The EU in the main has acted as the economic arm of the US empire in Europe, an economic and would-be political coalition of vassal states, and if not all its members are not enrolled in NATO, the overwhelming majority are and the two institutions are closely aligned. The nature of this alignment has become especially clear in recent years in the military and political sphere so far as the Ukrainian crisis is concerned, while in the Mediterranean, thousands of refugees are being condemned to death by drowning on account of the decisions of the politicians who run the institution and constitute the final decision-makers.
To some extent tensions and stains within the EU derive from the fact that when it was created its originators assumed that the Soviet bloc would last at least far into the twenty-first century; it was intended for the western Europe of the previous one, and its unforeseen growth deep into Eastern Europe and the Balkans, with notions of admitting even Turkey and regions yet further afield, has turned its structure of governance into a rickety mess.
What attitude to take?
Naturally the EU has attracted hostility in different degrees of intensity, some of it unrelenting, and given it character and practice this should not surprise anybody. Would its breakup, if that were to occur, therefore deserve celebration and applause? If a referendum were to go ahead in 2017 should the British public vote to depart? The answer, surprisingly it might appear, in view of what has been said above, is ‘No’.
Although there are not many of them, even in its present form the institution does have some positive features. Its social regulations at least pose some restraint on the worst features of predatory capitalism, which is the principal reason that there is a lobby, albeit a minority one, among some sectors of British capital, in favour of withdrawal. The traumatic economic effects of uprooting from such a lengthy and deep integration into the structure as Britain has developed, is of course evident.
The principal objections to leaving however relate to none of these aspects, but to consideration of the political forces which would gain from such an outcome. These are the right-wing reactionary populist movements which infest nearly country in the Union and thrive on its deficiencies, often supported by toxic tabloids such as, in the UK, the Daily Express. Breakup would put rockets under their political prospects and energise them to no end. They are all racist in their presuppositions although their leaders may try to deny it and expel members who are too vociferous in these matters. Some, primarily in eastern Europe, nevertheless are even open in their fascist nostalgia.
There are some on the left as well who would, understandably, like to see the end of the European Union (I have a degree of reactive sympathy with them) but the situational reality has to be the decisive consideration and the institution’s collapse, or British withdrawal, has got to be countered and argued against strongly. Nevertheless, unless the EU is reformed root and branch and designed to be primarily for the benefit of its citizens and not its moneybags, hatred and resistance can only increase, with political reaction harvesting the gains.