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It’s time to shift the boundaries on Europe

So parliament gets to debate Europe. The Euro’s in meltdown. Eurozone politicians are in disarray. Tory Eurosceptics are now arguing for greater Euroland integration (albeit to facilitate a UK get-out) at the same time as euroscepticism is increasing across Europe, even in the most pro-european states. We could certainly use a debate on the future of Europe. However, a referendum, even if it does give three options, would focus debate not on how Europe needs to change, but on how Britain has been failed by the EU as it is now. That’s not the debate we need. It’s time we had a debate between left and right.

For half a century, the British divide on Europe has been between pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics. Each side in that debate has lacked intellectual cohesion. The Eurosceptics have been a motley crew — the clingers-on to British imperialism, the neo-con Atlanticists, the petty nationalists, and Left-wingers against a capitalist Europe. The pro-Europeans have been a superficial bunch, forever subordinating economic realities to their political (or emotional) commitment to Europe; lacking any coherent vision of how to develop Europe-wide political institutions and culture; and lacking the cojones to justify a reduction in the power and authority of national governments in favour of the European parliament on the one hand and regional and local tiers of government on the other.

However, the failure of neoliberalism and of deficit reduction to solve the current economic crisis does provide the opportunity to redraw the boundaries of the debate and develop a new coherent vision for Europe.  The old boundaries that cut across party lines utterly fail to deal with the realities of the current crisis:

  • The world debt crisis demands international regulation of banks and financial institutions, including at a European level, and a programme for jobs and sustainable growth.
  • The failure of the Eurozone — an inevitable consequence of fiddling convergence tests whilst failing to give Euroland central fiscal powers to manage crises in the weaker countries — does not alter the urgent need for a new Bretton Woods, the global response to the global crisis demanded by Joseph Stiglitz, including a new exchange rate regime and controls/taxes on capital movements, with guaranteed backing across Europe from national governments and the ECB.
  • Ensuring that global corporations pay fair taxes requires, amongst other international action,. EU coordinated action to align corporate tax rates, eliminate the use of tax havens and require country-by-country accounting.
  • The presumption of EU policy and directives in favour of competition, deregulation and privatisation in the provision of public services and utilities must be changed — but we must remember New Labour’s leading role in imposing this on member countries.
  • The way in which rights and benefits at work have been undermined through the free movement of labour and the actions of global corporation in shifting production between countries requires a significant extension of the European Social Charter and other action by the EU to protect social protection and rights at work. On this issue, New Labour stood with the eastern european neo-cons and Berlusconi to the right even of Christian Democrats and Gaullists.
  • The EU must be democratised (and adequate processes introduced to eliminate corruption and monitor the expenses of officials and elected politicians alike). The economic choices that the EU must make demands that decisions are taken on a political basis, rather than horse-trading between national governments. This requires that elections are conducted between European political groupings, overseen by an EU electoral commission, rather than national parties.
  • Within the framework of EU-wide democratic structures, decisions should nevertheless be delegated as far as possible to national, regional and local government.

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