The four stages to achieving urgent reform of Europe … and why they won

The four stages to achieving urgent reform of Europe … and why they won’t be on David Cameron’s wish list
Iain Macwhirter, The Herald

The decision on the EU referendum in 2017 looks easy for supporters of independence. Just follow Nicola – she seems to be right about most things. Aren’t the anti-Europeans like Nigel Farage of Ukip just narrow-minded little-Englander xenophobes? If he wants to leave, the European Union must be getting something right.

But it’s not quite as easy as that. I will probably end up voting Yes to Europe, if only because of a lingering commitment to internationalism. But there is a contradiction at the heart of SNP policy on Europe which hasn’t really been addressed.

If Scotland wants to be independent of the rest of the UK, why does it not want also to be independent of Europe? At least the UK is a democracy; the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats.

It’s not as if Europe has been all that keen on keeping Scotland aboard. During the independence referendum, the then President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, insisted that Scotland would have to go to the end of the queue, as a “new applicant state” without any rights, and would have to renegotiate all its relations with the EU.

Other European countries didn’t exactly leap to Scotland’s defence – despite the fact that Scotland had been subject to EU law for the last 20 years at least. Should we really be so keen to join a club that doesn’t seem to want us as a member?

And why give up a stable currency union in the UK in favour of an unstable one in Europe? Mr Barroso and others made clear membership of the single European currency a condition of membership for accession states under Maastricht, even though the UK has an opt out.

Many non-aligned supporters of independence have been arguing that Scotland should be setting up its own currency, to ensure its economic sovereignty, and not linking its destiny to the currency of another nation. So why even risk handing Scotland to the eurozone, which is run in the interests of central bankers in Germany?

Other small peripheral nations have looked at the EU and decided: nein, danke. Norway has remained aloof because it sees the EU as a threat, not just to national sovereignty, but to its communitarian way of life. The Norwegian government intervenes extensively in industry in a way that is contrary to the ideological market principles of the EU.

This is why Tory Eurosceptics don’t cite Norway as a model for Brexit. Nor do they talk much of Iceland, which has also remained out of the European Union. This may not be unconnected with the fact that Iceland is the only country that has actually prosecuted its bankers for their role in the financial crash. This would be inconceivable in Europe, where financial institutions are so large and dominant, they cannot be held to account.

The EU never tried to bring to book the French and German banks that connived with the Greek oligarchs to ransack the Greek economy.

The Greek crisis confirmed that the EU is dominated by a neoliberal banking orthodoxy that puts debt repayment above basic human need. Greece has now been placed in a form of debt servitude in which it is obliged to continue paying reparations even at the expense of national economic recovery. This means its total debt increases as the Greek economy shrinks and hospitals can’t afford drugs.

Nor is the European Union developing credible democratic institutions to control the financial elite. The European Parliament is not a legislature in a meaningful sense and has little control over the unelected Brussels Commission, the body that sends out all the regulations and directives. It can sack the Commission leadership if it regards them as corrupt and has “co-decision making” on certain areas. But it does not have control over the key decisions made in Europe.

The eurozone is in danger of becoming a financial dictatorship. I don’t use that word lightly. Representatives from the European Central Bank are right now sitting in Athens telling the elected government how much it can spend on pensions and prescriptions. In Italy, they effectively deposed the elected government in 2012.

This isn’t a dictatorship with guns and gas chambers of course – it’s all very technocratic. But the EU is run by unelected institutions: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission in Brussels. Collectively known as the Troika, they have powers to override the democratic will of member states.

There is a social dimension to the European Union – the Social Chapter of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, which covers things like sick pay, and equal opportunities. There is also the Working Time Directive limiting the number of hours you can be forced to work. But social democracy it isn’t. Trades union rights are largely ignored and there seems little interest in challenging the power of capital which roams free across the 500 million people of the single market.

So, the watchword for Scotland in Europe should be: ca’ canny. We may have benefited in the past from European structural fund money – help to build roads and infrastructure. But Scotland no longer qualifies for aid, though farmers still get cash from the Common Agricultural Policy.

Nor do we have the option of emulating Ireland, which was able to slash corporation tax in order to attract big American countries. Which may be a blessing: Ireland experienced one of the worst property bubbles in Europe following membership of the euro and will be paying the cost for generations.

We’ve heard less in recent months of the sovereign debt crisis in Italy, Greece and Ireland. But this is only because the people of those countries have rolled over and accepted the austerity imposed by Brussels. Europe is now an austerity state.

The final capitulation to the market may come from the secret deals known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. This is ostensibly about free trade with the USA, but TTIP also carries a presumption that public services should be open to competition. It certainly makes it very difficult to take services back into public ownership once privatised. It puts the fate of public institutions like the NHS into the hands of corporate lawyers.

So why do we want to be part of this austerity union? And why, after writing this article, am I still talking about voting Yes?

Well, I suppose because it is the last ditch for internationalism. It has kept the peace in Europe, and while another war may seem a distant prospect, the crisis in the Ukraine should make everyone realise that peace is highly perishable.

The refugee crisis has demonstrated just how fragile this internationalism really is. The Shengen zone of free movement, one of the great achievements of Europe, is under threat. Border posts are going up in the Balkans. The right is on the march again in Eastern Europe. This is a very dangerous time and a chaotic unravelling of the European Union could have very serious consequences.

So, I suppose I will vote in favour of remaining in, along with 59 per cent of Scots according to the latest polls. But I’m not happy about it. And David Cameron’s call for “more competition” and locking out EU benefits claimants don’t begin to address my problems with the democratic deficit.

Europe needs four stages of urgent reform: the parliament must be democratised; the austerity dogma challenged; the “social” put back into Europe; and the secretive TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) thrown open to for public debate. Europe has handed too much power to institutions which have no concept of the common good.

Source: The Herald