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The end of my European dream

Planet of the Euros, by DonkeyHotey, Flikr, Creative Commons licensed Attribution 2.0 Generic, source image for the European Central Bank sign is a Creative Commons licensed photo from UggBoy?UggGirl's FlickrThe imposition of German demands on Greece, without consideration for its democracy, sovereignty or interests, is one of those moments that changes everything.

I grew up with a European dream. Born in 1958 I was politically aware from a very young age. Much informed my early views, but most influences were, inevitably, personal. I wanted comprehensive education because of the damage the 11 plus caused to my family. I was always interested in Ireland because of my obvious family connections. And Europe mattered because I never met the grandfather who gave me my name as he died as a result of service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

I recall the 1974 EU referendum. I was for Yes, unlike many I knew. I had reservations, but not many when I made up my mind, because I was young. My reasoning was simple: this was a means to prevent the risk of war and to replace it with cooperation. That was good enough for me, but forgive me because I had not by then studied all the flaws in economic thinking on which the Common Market (as it was back then) was based.

Through think and thin I have stuck with Europe. That’s been tested time after time by the neoliberal dogma it has espoused that has caused so much harm even when, on issues like tax, the EU has overall been a force for good.

But there come moments when eyes are opened, and yesterday was such a moment. If the Greeks did not believe that the Germans would try to destroy their democracy, remove their fiscal sovereignty and transfer their epicentre of power to Brussels, then nor did I. I thought that when you signed up to a deal like the euro it was akin to a marriage: for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer.

I was wrong. That is not what the Germans thought. This was, to them, just a deal. And the deal was about money, and nothing else. It was a banker’s deal: one where conscience, obligation and respect were all missing. Where the ability to repay, come what may, was all that mattered, with security to be taken (even when not specified in advance) with menaces attached in the event of failure to make the scheduled commitments.

And Germany’s view prevailed.

In which case this is no longer a Europe I can subscribe to.

This is not about dreams.

Or peace.

And fraternity.

This is about the raw, cold, power of money where that power is used to subjugate, oppress and demean.

That is not a Europe I want a part of.

I will have to think hard on this issue. Dreams should not die overnight. But it’s hard to see how this one has not. Or how I could now support continuing membership of the EU.

How, I have to ask, could any democrat do so?

Or any genuine (as opposed to neoliberal) libertarian?

Or a dreamer, come to that?

It feels very much as if my dream is over. And that I do not like what I see in the dawn.

This article first appeared at Tax Research UK

Image credit: Planet of the Euros, by DonkeyHotey, Flikr


  1. Verity says:

    I always found it odd that the EU (before that the EEC) was seen as synonymous with Europe. Why should it ever have been the case that undemocratic, unaccountable committees often loaded with the self-serving and the self-congratulatory, FIFA style horse-traders were ever seen much to do with civil society across Europe? A weakness of the Labour left has been its failure to make this separation.

    I always felt that the extensions of influence into the Baltic countries; previous exaggerated ambitions in Turkey; and now over-reaching messages in the Ukraine was about a project other than peace in Europe. But they could turn out to be the single most damaging long-term threats to European peace.

    However we never really managed to convince that solidarity with European peoples ever needed the EU it required just that – social solidarity without the mediated vested interests.

  2. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Along with most on the Left in 1975 I campaigned for a no vote for Europe, when Thatcher came along I saw Europe has having more benefit to preserving some social regulation than here in Britain.

    That over the last 5 years all that has changed, TTIP being at the forefront.

    Previously whilst Europe was indeed a capitalist club, we thought it would defend peoples rights more so than here. During the referendum campaign the trade unions and TUC did extensive research on how Europe would impact on our trading position, and declared that trade moves to the centre of activity, that we would ultimately lose out to Europe.

    Neo-Liberalism has become the dominant political theology throughout Europe, and that is the driving force behind Merkel and all the other extreme right wingers.

    This is a corporate takeover of democracy and people need to make a stand, Senator Bernie Sanders has made this case in the USA and is now seen as a possible presidential candidate that could beat Hilary Clinton.

  3. swatantra says:

    Apparently it was Mr Ordinary Hollande that brokered the deal, so his stock has gone up, whereas the Germans and Merkel are undergoing a period of Germanophobia by the the Greeks, harking back to the days of the Downfall of the Third Reich. Which is unfortunate because the Germans of today are nothing like the Huns immediately Post WW2.
    So much for we’re all in this together and spirit of brotherhood. The whole point of the EU is to bring Europe together; its a political message if you like. We don’t want the French and Germans falling out again, as they’ve done throughout history, because that drags us into their Wars and Disputes. So the Dream is still on, and Britain has to be a key player in keeping Europe United. Thats why we have to be in it.

  4. gerry says:

    Richard – that’s the trouble with dreams, you eventually have to wake up!

    And your infatuation with the EU was all along a nightmare. I am glad you have stopped denying the reality of the neoliberal, privatise-robbery, austerity fetishist EU…let’s see if the supposedly “progressive” SNP do the same.

  5. swatantra says:

    I do like the ‘Planet of the Apes’ illustration.

  6. David Pavett says:

    I have a great deal of sympathy for Richard Murphy’s argument and I agree with many of his points – especially about the Greek deal exposing the true nature of EU “solidarity”.

    At the same time I think we need to think very carefully about whether (1) a world without the EU would be preferable and (2) there is any possibility of changing the EU through international action for progressive policies.

    I think that simply rejecting the EU because it is a “capitalist club” is just too superficial to provide a reasoned case. With that logic we should also reject parliamentary democracy because it serves the interests of the ruling class. The question is whether an institution like parliament can be made to serve other purposes and whether campaigning against it, in the manner of the fundamentalist left, can ever lead anywhere. Similar questions need to be asked about the EU. The two cases are, of course different, but there enough similarities, I hope, for my point to be clear.

    There may or may not be a valid case against the EU as a whole but if there is it is going to have to be something based on a lot more analysis than dismissing it as a “capitalist club”.

    1. Verity says:

      If the EU was just a capitalist club then it could be arguable whether suitable reform is for discussion or not. But the project is constructed upon some foundation principles that go beyond discussion, debate and agreement/disagreement. One of these is the inevitable need for continuing and further integration without entitlements to opt out. Pragmatically the EU may need to take a slowly, slowly style but the end result is indisputable. The second is far more insidious: the conflation of political processes to legal ones, i.e. no entitlements for political intervention in response to needs/choices. The TTIP agreements is a general illustration of this outlook but the recent ‘deal’ with Greece provides a specific illustration. An Asset Fund based in Luxemberg has been proposed to hold Greek public assets, in case Greek politicians have the temptation to renege on public asset sales or the audacity to adopt a variation to problems/solutions or to change priorities. There are 15 European nations that have such funds created, including Finland and Austria. The thinking that national parliaments cannot or should not be entitled to intervene according to changed priorities negates the political process superseding it with a legal ones. It is this which is the essence of its anti democratic credential about which reform is precluded.

      If the EU wishes to continue and make some international contributions so be it. I would not wish to impose my view on a nation’s wish for an overseer. A tiny nation (with a population and economy as small as my home town) divided by several languages and a short history as a formed nation may not have the confidence for independence, but let this not be the UK.

      1. David Pavett says:

        It is not difficult to list many awful things done in and by the EU. The question still remains whether the same or other equally undesirable things would be done without it. Also it would be necessary to consider its role in setting environmental standards across Europe (one of the caveats of the Davies Commission on Heathrow is that it must be shown that a third runway would meet EU air pollution standards). Then there is the question of other arrangements of an intrinsically transnational nature like fisheries policy.

        I do not have a conclusion in advance of a full discussion. All I am saying is that the problem has to be considered as objectively as possible.

        One could also ask questions about the future potential of the EU. Would it not be a significant contribution to current international problems if an Islamic nation like Turkey were to join the EU?

        It’s a big problem. Let’s have a proper discussion about it. Listing the things one likes to support membership or listing the things one does not like to oppose membership does not make for a proper discussion.

  7. Rod says:

    The game was up when Labour’s Baroness Ashton (as the EU’s unelected foreign policy chief) visited Ukraine and successfully fomented regime change. And at such a terrible price.

    We now have the EU attempting regime change in Greece. And a terrible price will be paid by the Greek people.

    Enough is enough. We must vote No in the referendum. The EU will punish us it but better to challenge it now before the monster becomes even more powerful.

  8. Sandra Crawford says:

    I feel that many on the left are nowdeeeply wo4ied about the EU.
    Articles from OwenJones and George Monbiot are showing deep misgivings and a desire to vote for exit in the referendum.
    Economists have shown disgust at the brutal treatment of Greece, including Paul Krugman, Joseph Stieglitz, Jamie Galbraith, Bill Mitchell.
    Michael Hudson has stated that the EU have been captured entirely by banks, and the odious debt of Greece would otherwise be written off if this were not the case.
    In his latest interview he shows his anger by calling the EU gangsters, and decrying their actions as plain evil.
    I think Owen Jones was right when he said that the left need to become Eurosceptic again, the EU is working in the interests of the finance industry, and disbanding it may well be needed in order to reform it in a new social democratic model.

  9. David Pavett says:

    I am struggling to make sense of the idea that ” disbanding it may well be needed in order to reform it in a new social democratic model.” Disbanding and reform are two entirely different things.

    Also can we be careful with the idea of scepticism. “Eurosceptic” has been hijacked by the Tory right. Being sceptical about the EU, or any other institution of modern society, is the only sensible position. Being sceptical is not the same thing as being rejectionist.

    Owen Jones seems rather confused about the purpose of leaving the EU. He even suggest that it might be the best way of putting pressure on the German government to agree to EU reform.

    “Germany has little incentive to change tack: it benefits enormously from the current arrangements. If its behaviour is seen to be causing the break-up of the EU, it will strengthen the hand of those opposing the status quo. The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water.”

    He seems to be saying that we can help the EU to reform itself most effectively by leaving it. How coherent is that?

    1. Rod says:

      The threat of leaving can provoke reform.

      Just as a threat to withdraw one’s labour can favourably influence or at least compel negotiation.

      1. swatantra says:

        On the other hand they might just give you your P45…. which should have happened to Greece, and Britain if Dave decides to create a fuss. People want a quite life, and not trouble makers making trouble, like the Brits, and the Greeks. The message should be loud and clear follow the Rules and Codes, or clear off.
        My view is that they should never have let the East Europeans in, that’s when things started going downhill.

    2. Mervyn Hyde says:

      When I campaigned against the EU in 1975 we were pretty clear that whatever social benefits were available in the EU the economics worked against us.

      We can now see that even those social benefits are not relevant anymore, so what point would there be for staying in?

      Thatcher was the threat in the past that tied the bonds to Europe, but we now have another Thatcher in Europe namely Merkel and so leave us with little option but to get out.

      I would suggest that the overwhelming might of the right in Europe is going to be far harder to convince than our own population.

      We should retreat back into our own borders and prove our case by example, as Scotland might if it goes independent.

      I am an internationalist, have lived and worked in Germany and would favour rebuilding the European ideals outside Europe, by setting up a similar system as EFTA but with closer social objectives. I feel as we get out that will precipitate others to do the same hence the EFTA analogy.

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