Crunch time in ‘old’ Europe By William Bowles

24 June 2005

Euro BlairApropos my last piece (’Premature Burial’), although not my favourite commentator, Boris Kargarlitsky, enfant terrible of the late Soviet period has a piece, ‘The EU’s Crisis at the Top’ in the Moscow Times (23/6/05) that points to a very interesting phenomenon (but one largely confined to continental Europe more’s the pity) in which he says in regard to the French and Dutch rejection of the proposed EU ‘constitution’,

“In their initial reaction, the ruling elite seemed to takes [sic] their cues from the immortal words of Bertolt Brecht: Because the people proved unworthy of the government’s confidence, the government was forced to dissolve the people and elect a new one. Even before the results of the referendums in France and the Netherlands were known, the business media were abuzz with articles by the cream of the ideologue crop, stating that important matters should not be trusted to popular votes.

He goes on to say:

“If no one really cared, these methods might have worked. But the age of apathy is over. Public opinion has come out against the elite’s creeping rollback of democracy, and this has led to growing discontent…

“The EU elite has been forcing the neo-liberal project on Europeans for decades and has carefully dismantled the social safety net under the pretense of continental integration. The public was told that they had to give up their benefits for the sake of a united Europe. In the end, they lost patience and decided that if integrating meant giving up Europe’s best achievements of the last century, then thanks but no thanks.”

The neo-liberal Blair government has picked up the cudgel (both literally and metaphorically) and decided that it’s time force the issue (see ‘Blair tells EU to change or fail’ but he too, is caught between a rock and a hard place, that is between abject allegiance to the US imperium and his instructions to bring the EU onboard the imperium’s aircraft carrier, for which he needs to profess to being a committed European (whatever that is). Hence all the waffle about “global competitiveness” yet Blair, although under no immediate threat from his own constituency, the rest of ruling political classes of the EU are all too aware of just how precarious their position is. Too much talk about privatization and ‘global competition’ is liable to lead to their demise.

But the reality is a return to a pre-WWII period of intra-capitalist rivalries (but with only one side having the military clout, not that it means much in real terms with regard to the EU unless of course, the US is mad enough to invade Europe).

In the meantime, the major gain of the 20th century, the so-called social net achieved over decades of struggle and about the only thing left of the socialist project, is being defended bitterly right across Western Europe (and in the fullness of time, when the Eastern European states have had enough of ‘Big Macs’, they too, will wake up to the same reality).

The major issue is one of democracy especially in the light of all the propaganda about Western ‘democracy’ and how it has been used to wage war on the rest of the planet. For what is most telling about Kargarlitsky’s observation is that “the age of apathy is over. Public opinion has come out against the elite’s creeping rollback of democracy, and this has led to growing discontent.”

What makes the current situation so different is that the major issue, aside from the defence of the ‘social net’, is that unlike the struggles of the previous era, the one unfurling before our eyes is centred on the issue of democracy. Kargarlitsky makes the point that:

“For the architects of the united Europe, democracy is a naïve and quaint tradition that reduces managerial efficiency yet is essentially harmless – sort of like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Democracy means that officials have to keep to various formalities and procedures, which means that prearranged decisions take longer to implement.”

The proposed ‘constitution’ is (was?) basically a green light for a handful of transnationals to extend and complete the Thatcherite counter-revolution to the rest of Europe, and who better to enforce it than Tony Blair, the local capo of USUK capitalism?

The ultimate irony of the entire process is that the capitalist chicken has come home to roost so-to-speak, for in remaining ‘competitive’, by exporting production to places like China and India has left ‘old Europe’ in a bind. Either the major Euro-based corporations go the same route or face economic ruin. This means depressing the living standards of the European working classes by cutting social spending, privatizing publicly owned resources and so forth.

But in order for European capital to complete the ‘neo-liberal’ re-structuring, it is necessary for the governments “to dissolve the people and elect a new one”, that’s what the proposed ‘constitution’ was all about, not something that the people are too keen on going along with as the ‘No’ votes so clearly demonstrated.

In the UK, the situation is more complex and for two major reasons; first, the process of privatization of social ownership is more developed and second because the UK political and economic classes are divided between an allegiance to US and European capital (50% of the UK’s trade is with the EU). This presents a genuine dilemma for the Blair government as it has already thrown in its lot with the ruling US political class, so what’s a re-constructed imperialist to do?

This also explains Blair’s schizophrenic attitude toward further European integration, for on the one hand, Blair played the xenophobia/’little England’ card in order to maintain its grip on power but on the other, by being tied so closely to the EU’s major economic competitor, the US, it has earned the deep distrust of the EU’s major political classes, the French and Germans. (It also explains the multiple turnarounds of the Labour government over the EU, first opposed to it, then for it, then against it – kind of, and now for increased integration, but on its terms and also why the UK didn’t adopt the Euro.)

The only option for the Blair government is to try and force its agenda onto the EU or pull out of the EU which is simply not a practical solution, economic integration is just too far developed. It would mean dumping a slew of legislation passed over the past thirty-plus years! A gargantuan and immensely expensive endeavour that would moreover, meet with major opposition from big British capital formations, there is simply too much at stake.

Unlike many of my leftie brethren, I am all for European integration but not of course in the interests of big capital but in the creation of an integrated and increasingly international working class and most importantly, common social legislation, human rights, legal protections et al, all of which contribute toward removing competition between working classes of different countries based upon unequal wages and social provisions.

All in all, it points to the increasing contradictions between the economic and political objectives of the various and sundry capitalist classes of the West. One thing is clear; the left should be advocating a Europe-wide political movement, first to defend and extend the gains of the past fifty-plus years and two, to advance a common social and economic agenda based on the creation of a truly democratic Europe.

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