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Why EU exit is the key to combating austerity

A new CPB pamphlet makes a compelling case for quitting the EU, says ALEX GORDON

European Union Withdrawal: The People's Answer To Austerity

by John Foster

(CPB, £2)

This new pamphlet by the Communist Party's international secretary John Foster updates and refines the analysis previously presented in The EU And Alternatives To Austerity published in June 2012.

Recent EU developments, including the continuing destruction of the Greek state and society, the Cypriot "bail-in" and the ever more overt EU interference in north Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine, merit much deeper explanations than the superficial and often self-serving analyses presented by much of the mainstream media.

Whether reporting on the eurozone crisis or British and French military adventurism in Libya, journalists have resorted to trite homilies of "balanced budgets" beloved by followers Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher or to the discredited "liberal humanitarianism" of the Blair-Bush era.

This CPB pamphlet places current events and processes in the historical context of the emergence of the EU as an elitist anti-democratic state formation, founded on neoliberal governance, to ensure primacy of a volatile coalition of German, British and other capitalist interests.

As Foster puts it: "Each had their own objectives: Germans wanted industrial dominance; the British wanted to dominate the financial market. But both were united in wanting an irreversible shift in the governance of European states that would exclude any demands from the left for the democratic control of markets and capital."

Thus, for those on the left demanding an alternative to austerity, war and neoliberalism, this pamphlet is required reading.

Its Marxist analysis of contemporary monopoly finance capital and current trends in imperialism turns on its head the tiresome slur trotted out by liberals and social democrats that criticisms of the EU constitute "single-issue politics."

Far from being a single issue, the critical analysis of EU imperialism in this pamphlet demonstrates the necessity of constructing an alternative to EU structures and policies today, in order to develop a popular and unifying perspective which links opposition to war, privatisation, public service cuts and to attacks on democracy.

Foster sounds an articulate clarion call both to the left and to trade unionists in Britain to shake off the illusions and reactionary ideas that characterise the "European project" and to see global capitalism's regional policeman clearly, as it really is.

Britain's communists base their alternative to failing capitalism on a call for independence from supranational EU structures and policies in order to build a society based on investment in public services, public ownership and democratic control of banks and corporations, an active industrial strategy and the redistribution of income and wealth.

This is why the CPB is supporting No2EU - Yes To Workers' Rights, the coalition established by the RMT union to contest this year's European elections.

As John Foster shows, contrary to illusions about creating a "social Europe," the EU is in reality directing the destruction of social gains won by organised labour since 1945 such as universal education and healthcare, social housing and state pensions.

Social democratic parties are losing their electoral base because of their involvement in this anti-social project and their continuing apologetics for it.

Popular democratic politics - politics for the people, by the people - is only possible if implemented outside EU control. Therefore EU withdrawal is the key to unlocking the democratic socialist alternatives to neoliberal capitalism and austerity.

Foster provides chapter and verse on the structural processes by which the EU has ensured its neoliberal strategy is carried out by national governments since the 2008 banking crisis. EU Reform Programme policies in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus are already well known.

What has been overlooked too often, however, is the EU Excess Deficit Programme (EDP) which has been applied to 18 EU member states where annual public-sector spending deficits exceed 3 per cent of GDP.

This includes Britain, whose EDP was reviewed in June 2013 by the EU Commission and Council of Ministers. They recommended that the Tory-led government "set the high public debt ratio on a sustained downward path."

EU recommendations for Britain were followed to the letter on June 26 last year when Chancellor George Osborne, known to be a "good European," proposed additional cuts of £11 billion for 2015 on top of those previously announced.

Foster sets out clearly why the EU pursues austerity policies more zealously than all its competitor capitalist blocs.

The reasons are rooted specifically in the 1986 Single European Act (SEA) negotiated by Thatcher and Helmut Kohl - and strongly supported by Ronald Reagan - to eliminate all obstacles to the "free movement" of capital, labour, goods and services between EU member states.

This meant eliminating all public monopolies, state subsidies that "distort markets" and any obstacles to the free flow of cheaper labour thrown up by national occupational qualifications, trade union collective bargaining or by the domestic contracting and procurement practices of national and regional governments. The SEA also required a single currency - the euro - for transparent pricing.

Subsequent EU programmes, directives, green papers and European Court of Justice judgements continue to bear down on workers in the name of promoting a "competitive and flexible labour market."

The social forces capable of breaking the domination of neoliberal capitalism in British politics already exist yet the labour movement and the left have been hidebound in recent years by a strangely subservient attitude to EU anti-social fundamentalism.

Speakers critical of the EU are rarely heard from left-wing platforms such as the People's Assembly while - and it's a strange omission - the People's Charter fails to mention the EU in its demands at all.

Nevertheless, there are clear signs now that left-wing apologetics for the EU are going out of fashion, even if their echoes are still heard occasionally. Even George Monbiot has recently picked up the warnings from trade campaigners and trade unionists that the new EU-US TTIP trade deal represents an existential threat to Britain's NHS.

The positions of communist and workers' parties have also hardened considerably since the eurozone crisis began in 2011, as confirmed recently at their 15th international meeting in Lisbon last November.

The Greek CP has long called for its country to withdraw from the EU and Nato, but now the Hungarian Workers' Party opposes EU membership as do the communist parties of Portugal and Ireland. Akel now calls for Cyprus to leave the eurozone. The CP in Denmark opposes eurozone and EU membership.

The German CP sees the EU as imperialist and even one of the euro's architects, Oskar Lafontaine of the Left Party, now calls for the eurozone to be wound up.

An alliance that links the demand for Britain's withdrawal from the neoliberal empire that is the EU with socialist policies for public-sector intervention, public ownership and wealth redistribution has the potential to unite - around the trade union movement - a large number of the community organisations which represent the social and economic forces suffering EU austerity.

This would also be the most effective way to combat the advance of the racist right.

Foster's new CPB pamphlet clarifies many arguments in what can be an intimidating and confusing area. It helps to fill a much-needed void by developing proposals in our lifetime for building the socialist alternative to the structures of neoliberal capitalism.

Alex Gordon is chair of the No2EU trade union information group.

John Foster's pamphlet can be obtained (£3 p&p) from the CPB, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon CR0 1BD or online at


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