Should Britain leave the European Union?

Europe
Politics

Kelvin

YES: Kelvin Hopkins has been Labour MP for Luton North since 1997. An economist by training, he is on the Left of the party. Most of his working life has been spent within the trade union movement, including five years at the Trades Union Congress. He is a champion of lifelong learning. During his early years he was a jazz musician.

The European Union (EU) is anti-democratic, anti-socialist and failing economically. With low and negative economic growth, 25-per-cent unemployment and 50-per-cent youth unemployment in some member states, living standards cut by a quarter in Greece, forced privatizations and restrictions on collective bargaining rights as conditions of bailouts, the true nature of the EU is now plain to see.

Free movement of labour is designed simply to reduce wages and reduce wage-bargaining strength. The Laval and Viking Line cases where the European Court ruled in favour of employers and against trade unions made a nonsense of the supposed EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and were a clear indicator of the directions of travel being steered by the EU’s masters. Raising up the market and market forces against elective democracy was evident from the start in its original name, the Common Market, and was opposed at the time by British socialists including Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan and Hugh Gaitskell.

It is time for democratic member state governments once again to stand up for their peoples and to reject the EU. The United Kingdom has an opportunity to take the lead in that process by voting ‘Leave’ in the coming referendum.

Caroline

NO: Caroline Lucas has been the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion since 2010. Before that she was member of the European Parliament. She has worked with various NGOs, including Oxfam and CND. She remains a hands-on environmental activist: in 2013 she was arrested while taking part in a non violent protest against fracking operations.

The European Union isn’t perfect but it has, on the whole, been a positive force for progressive politics.

In a fast-changing world we need international rules to control big business and finance, and to ensure that people’s rights are protected – at work and as consumers.

The EU helps us look after our environment too. It’s only by working with our European neighbours that we can effectively tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution. Thanks to EU rules, our beaches are cleaner, and our dirtiest power stations are being shut down.

Looking specifically at Greece – which you cited – it’s worth noting a couple things. Firstly with the European Council made up of ministers from each member state, it often simply reflects the prevailing currents in European politics. The imposition of austerity in Greece – forcing a population to pay the price for a crisis they didn’t cause – is simply an extension of an economic logic that spans our continent. It’s also worth noting that it is the Eurozone and the IMF, not the EU as a whole, that have been at the forefront of the cruel punishment of the Greek people. But you don’t have to take my word for it: the Greek people themselves, including ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and the Syriza government, also believe that it’s better to stay in the EU and work to reform it, rather than walk away.

Kelvin

We do need international regulations but these need to be negotiated by democratically elected governments – not an ineffectually accountable Commission. In Luxembourg, Juncker set up tax systems designed to enable multinational corporations to avoid paying tax on profits, yet he is now President of the Commission.

A renaissance of genuine democracy across Europe will occur only when member states have law-making powers restored to them, when they can manage their own economies to the advantage of their citizens, using all the levers of economic power – Kelvin

The Greek people would have suffered less if their government had opposed the bailout package and withdrawn from the Euro, establishing a new Drachma at a reduced parity. This would have boosted their tourist industry and their internal economy more widely by deflecting demand from imports to domestic production of goods and services, giving employment to many more Greeks. The European Central Bank is an unaccountable body which has implemented deflationary monetary policies. In the UK we are not immune from the effects of these policies, but at least the Bank of England is ultimately accountable to government and Parliament.

Environmental protection can simply be agreed between the member state governments and does not have to be imposed by the EU. Better public transport would assist in reducing pollution, yet the EU is going ahead in forcing the privatization of rail services – despite the failure it has been in Britain.

The European Union project moved slowly and by stealth at first, later accelerating following the 1980s Single European Act. It was intended to promote the progressive dismantling of the post-War social democratic structures which brought such massive benefits to millions of working people across Western Europe.

The current secretive negotiations to impose TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] would give massive power to the giant private corporations to be able to prosecute democratically elected member state governments. I believe this is conclusive proof – if proof were needed – about the true nature of the EU.

Caroline

It is worth looking at where power lies in the EU. As things stand a majority of EU governments are from the Right. It’s no wonder – with leaders like [David] Cameron and Polish president Andrzej Duda sitting around the top table – that the output of the EU isn’t to the liking of those on the Left. But let’s just remember that the collective failure of the Left to win elections across the continent has played a big role in enabling free-market fundamentalism to take hold in the EU.

The EU isn’t perfect but it has, on the whole, been a positive force for progressive politics. In a fast-changing world we need international rules to control big business and finance, and to ensure that people’s rights are protected at work and as consumers – Caroline

The good news is that changes can and have happened. A movement is blossoming across Europe – called DiEM (Democracy in Europe Movement) – which calls for the EU to embrace accountability. Demands include transparency in decision-making, constraints on corporate lobbying and further democratic input into the EU from citizens.

The European Parliament – which is in many ways far more democratic than our own – should also have the power to instigate legislation, thus building on its ability to block proposals from the Commission. Indeed, an excellent case in point is TTIP. If a majority of democratically elected MEPs choose to vote against TTIP then the deal will be scuppered.

On that note I think you’re wrong to say that TTIP shows the true nature of the EU. It isn’t EU institutions which are to blame for TTIP – it’s governments like our own which are the biggest cheerleaders for this kind of damaging trade deal. Can you imagine what Britain’s trade deals with the rest of the world would look like if the Tories were left in charge of negotiating them? We’d be signing up to multiple TTIPs with any nation willing to trade with us.

Kelvin

The strategic direction of the EU project from its first incarnation as the Common Market has been to dismantle, by degrees, the post-War world of social democracy/democratic socialism. From the beginning, the emphasis has been on the term ‘market’.

Imposing a rigid monetary straight-jacket, with a single currency and a deliberately unaccountable central bank setting interest rates for the whole Eurozone, as well as rules constraining economic interventions by national government, is profoundly anti-socialist and anti-democratic. Rules enforcing free movement of goods, capital and people across national boundaries completes the picture of free-market fundamentalism. This is built into the EU’s architecture, making the political colours of individual governments all but irrelevant. It has been the stirrings of left-wing Eurosceptic dissent which most threaten the EU project, and its nomenklatura masters know that.

A renaissance of genuine democracy across Europe will occur only when member states have law-making powers restored to them, when they can manage their own economies to the advantage of their citizens, using all the levers of economic power. These must include separate currencies able to adjust to appropriate international parities, the power to fix their own interest rates and freedom to decide their own fiscal policies.

Such a world existed in the immediate post-War decades, and it worked brilliantly, with full employment, burgeoning welfare states and the living standards of working class people rising at an unprecedented rate. We should all work to re-establish that world.

Caroline

Even if your rosy characterization of the immediate post-War era is accurate – and I’m not at all sure that it is! – there is simply no going back to the past. The world of the 21st century is very different to that of the 1950s and 1960s. We need modern-day approaches to the world we live in now.

Your stance on ‘free movement’, for example, not only ignores the reality that we live and work in an increasingly globalized economy, but overlooks the fact that breaking down barriers is a positive thing. Not only do EU nationals contribute hugely to our economy, but they enrich our lives. They are our doctors, our teachers, our builders, our professors, and I cherish the part they play in our society.

Ultimately, I believe the European story should be celebrated. After centuries of war, countries with different histories and cultures have come together, opting to share sovereignty in some areas while keeping their own traditions, in order to work together for the common good. Being a member of the EU helps the UK meet head-on international challenges like the refugee crisis, international terrorism and climate change.

We know the EU isn’t perfect – nor is Westminster. We want the EU to be more democratic, to be genuinely accountable to the citizens of Europe. But to make the EU better, we need to stay in and reform it.