Socialists, social democrats and social liberals should campaign to remain in the European Union. But before anyone makes the presumption that I am some sort of liberal europhile – well, I’m not. Just like the late and great Tony Benn I am sceptical of the EU’s respect for democracy, its obsession with neo-liberal economics and its unwillingness to accept an alternative political consensus. But unlike Mr Benn, I think we should remain in the EU and fight for change. I also happen to think that the EU has its benefits for Britons – from paid holiday and parental leave to food safety and health regulations, there are many European initiatives that those of us on the left really should champion.
The reality of leaving the European Union is that we would be left with a Conservative government ideologically hell-bent on getting rid of EU initiatives such as parental leave just to conserve their beloved free market. The eurosceptic Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg described the EU as “a single market that shackles us with regulation”. This is indicative of the future of Britain under the Tories if we leave the EU; they would significantly reduce and or get rid of crucial rights such as paid holiday or European food safety regulations just to ensure nothing intervenes in the market.
The Tories would want a free market with limited regulation, where big business will be able to dictate the rights of workers and consumers. The European Union prevents this from happening and we must ensure that it continues.
We also have to accept that some of the large threats we face today, whether it be climate change or wealth and income inequality, are on a global scale. In order to address these threats we must work and co-operate with our European partners. Take income inequality – according to a report published by Oxfam, the richest 62 people in the world own as much as the poorest half in the world. That is astonishing. 62 people have the same amount of wealth as roughly 3.4 billion people around the globe.
Surely if we are to redistribute wealth and take people out of poverty globally then we must work with our European counterparts in the EU and lead the fight against these grotesque levels of inequality. It is worth highlighting that the EU has tried to tackle the concentration of wealth among a select few through its proposal of a Financial Transactions Tax – a tax on the extremely profitable financial sector. It is no surprise that the market obsessed Tory government chose to opt out of this initiative. In the spirit of internationalism let’s be a leading member of one of the world’s biggest international institutions and change it so that social and environmental justice are at the heart of it.
Whilst the EU has got its benefits, we must also recognise that in its current state the European Union is deeply undemocratic and European leaders seem to have a constant obsession with neo-Liberal economics. No more is this evident than with Europe’s handling of Greece. The Greeks voted and voted AGAIN against austerity, and yet the EU along with other members of the Troika forced austerity on the Greek people.
The treatment of Greece was disgraceful on the part of the Troika. It was also an example of how leading figures in the EU were desperate to shut down any alternative to the current neo-Liberal consensus. Despite all this, instead of leaving we must fight for the democratisation of the EU and we can have hope that this is possible. When looking across Europe today, there are growing numbers of people disillusioned with the status quo, demanding an alternative. Whether it be Syriza’s victory in Greece or the rise of Podemos in Spain and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, people are crying out for change. By working with our progressive counterparts across Europe we can radically change and democratise the European Union.
The left must fight hard for Britain to remain in the European Union so that the Tories are not free to slash social rights and regulations. Europe offers protection for workers where this Tory government would not. However Europe needs radical social and democratic change, and we can make this happen. Another Europe is possible – but only if we stop leaving the case for Europe to the establishment and instead construct an EU-wide progressive movement for the democratic Europe that we can champion.
Adnan Rahman is a supporter of Another Europe Is Possible, and a member of the Labour Party and Momentum in Oxford. He blogs at the Political Optimist.
8th March 2016