It is a great irony that one of the biggest political issues
facing the left is, in many respects, one of the least politicised.
Since the days of Jacques Delores it has been taken, almost
as an article of faith, that virtually uncritical support
for deeper European integration is the right approach for
the British left.
Almost 50 years have passed since the first great theorist
of European integration, Ernst Haas, wrote his seminal work,
the Uniting of Europe. In that book, he described a technocratic
process, with Europeanised elites driving forward integration,
which would be beneficial to everybody. With a few minor
adjustments, this could characterise an attitude that is
still remarkably prevalent on the British left: Brussels
is on our side – they are relatively enlightened elites,
who will give us a better deal for working people than we
could ever get alone in the UK. However, it is about time
that the left took stock and looked at the direction that
the EU is moving in. Increasingly, the agenda is driven by
European institutions which panders to the right rather than
securing the social democratic advances that the British
left would like to see.
As pro-Europeans of the left, we should ask ourselves whether
it is really in our interest to support everything that is
agreed by our governments in Brussels, or whether we should
apply the same political criteria to European politics that
we apply to our domestic politics.
Let us take the European Constitution. The debate that the
Prime Minister initiated in the UK is essentially that we
must agree to this constitution because there’s nothing
too bad in it. As a starting point that just strikes me as
the wrong attitude to take in politics.
But it gets worse. One of the main reasons, we are told,
that the constitution is not bad, is that the Charter of
Fundamental Rights will not apply to UK law. Indeed, the
Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary can (and do) argue this
case with a great deal of justification. Tony Blair says
the Charter won’t change our labour laws – the
laws he has called “the most restrictive in the western
world”. There will be a huge debate about whether he
is right, and it will end up being decided by unaccountable
judges in the European Court of Justice.
The Constitution is like a list of missed opportunities
to do what the EU already does better. Where are the measures
that reform the Common Agricultural Policy that rewards agribusiness
for over production while small farmers go out of business
every day? Where is the policy that conserves our precious
depleted fish stocks while protecting hard-pressed costal
It is probably fair to say that few people remember a move
from the EU that has managed to illicit such a reaction of
indifference and even hostility from the union movement,
from Tony Woodley to Derek Simpson, key figures see little
positive in the Constitution.
However, this is not just a story of missed opportunities.
There is much good about the Common Commercial Policy (CCP).
But although it protects consumers from private monopolies,
it also limits national governments from carrying out the
sorts of national ownership policies that were normal just
20 years ago. The undermining of the postal monopoly, which
is slowly undermining Royal Mail is an example of that.
The Constitution would extend CCP further, taking in health,
education and broadcasting services. That will only lead
to pressure for more competition and private provision in
these sectors. As well as simply being wrong, that would
also be dangerous for the EU. The EU already suffers from
a perception that it is not really performing a useful task.
It needs to focus on what it is already doing and do it better,
not shift into new areas that would probably put it into
conflict with the voters of Europe.
What’s more, even more aspects of policy could be
brought into the EU without national parliaments necessarily
having a say in the matter with the so-called “Passerelle
clause” that would allow national leaders to agree
policy changes without an automatic right for Parliaments
to say yes or no.
If we are really committed to the European Union, then it
is our duty to point out where new policies are taking the
EU in the wrong direction. In the case of the Constitution,
with an agenda of increasing militarisation and defence spending,
of privatisation and even of undermining the parliamentary
process, we should go beyond the pathetic “yes to Europe” versus “no
to Europe” sloganeering that often passes for debate
on the left. That means saying that the left can support
a constitution that lays out the EU’s political system
in an understandable way but accepting that constitution
Graham Copp is Head of Research at the Centre for a Social
Europe, a new left-of-centre think tank which promotes alternatives
for the left on European politics.