Following the British Parliament’s refusal to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal, there is renewed optimism and plenty of glee among many so called “Leftist” remainers that Brexit can be scuppered altogether. This glee is centred on the misconception that the EU represents a paragon of democracy, individual rights, and social protection. They consider the institution to be synonymous with social progressiveness, if not outright socialism.
It appears irrelevant that the Lisbon Treaty was penned under the stewardship of Valery Giscard d’Estating and as such represents a legal framework that reflects the dominant neoliberal orientation of the time. The key components in the treaty that ensure the capitalist nature of the EU are to be found in Articles 107-8, which permits the European Commission to vet state aids, including state aids to the public sector. Additionally, the legal structure allows private corporations to challenge state aid on competition grounds, while Article 106 even allows big business to sue governments where public monopoly contravenes EU competition rules. Furthermore, EU directives pertaining to utilities such as gas and electric ensure that third parties or the private sector have access to national grids, therefore preventing the possibility of state monopolies forming across the continent. This neoliberal framework which prevents wholesale nationalisation is also apparent in the transportation sector, where the treaty has been expanded upon with its “First Railway Directive” (updated in 2012), which explicitly seeks “to boost competition in railway service management”. The significance of the EU’s legal framework therefore is its commitment to increasing liberalisation and the private sector and as such it is not only incompatible with socialism but is ipso facto pro-business.
Of course, the legal underpinnings of the EU have been entirely ignored by the social progressive “remainer” who instead prefers to focus his attention on the words of partisan politicians and journalists whose musings are not based on judicial fact. It is nonetheless essential to recognise that the role of the legislature cannot be simply ignored.
When examining the judicial restriction on the state a pertinent question arises: can social progressive policy be reconciled by the EU emphasis on big business? Let’s look beyond the abstract legal context and examine more tangible scenarios. Here it is key to ask: where do remainers take their optimism from? Where, when they look across Europe, do they see their vision of social progression actually progressing? In Italy, Spain, France, Greece? Perhaps Portugal? These countries by and large have seen the European Commission and European Central Bank impose an incredibly harsh austerity programme, leading to welfare cuts and surging unemployment that in turn provoked a clearly symbiotic rise in right wing politics. Ironically, the British “leftist” remainer, who so passionately denounces austerity just as he detests the likes of Salvini, Orban, Le Pen and the AFD, is wholly unable to see that it is the structural shortcomings in the Union itself that have proved to be the wind in their sails.
The contradictions are glaring but adherence to the EU cause does not diminish and thus is indicative of some strange emotional attachment to some glorified European ideal that simply does not exist in reality. It has a religious like quality that seems enshrined by an overzealous faith that cannot be confirmed by rhyme or reason when objectively studying the EU member states, but nonetheless this ardent faith lives on under the auspices of reform.
And while they rejoice at the failings of the UK government to establish a satisfactory deal with the EU, they fail to heed the sinister warning signs inherent in that failure. The idea of change from within after all can hardly be considered a new concept and yet have not all previous attempts proven fruitless? Certainly, they have failed to seriously address the Thatcherite turbocapitalism that serves as the Union basis. So how exactly does the “remainer leftitst” wish to change the structural issues within the European Union? The legal framework of the TFEU and the TEU, the fundamental pillars of the European castle, make change quasi impossible. Explicit here is Article 48 within the TEU, which stipulates that in order to change or amend a treaty provision, there must be agreement to do so across all 28 member states. Therefore, to bring the EU into line with more socialist principles all 28 states must adopt socialist governments.
This legal aspect, however, does not placate the remainer’s exuberance neither his self-confidence and all this despite states and governments such as Greece, Italy, Switzerland or the very UK failing to impress any change in the organisation. The plucky remainer, who domestically failed to challenge the Conservative Party seriously for more than a decade, has every optimism that to challenge 28 states (anyone one of which has a veto right) the European commission, the Eurogroup, the European Council, the European Parliament without any formal structures or legal basis to do so will prove an unquestionably easier task than fighting one government. Naturally this is absurd and must be considered beyond delusional.
“Socialist” remainers pin their hopes on grassroots activism as if they were running a campaign to protect the vegetarian status of Mars bars. Again a complete misunderstanding of asymmetric power relations. No wonder therefore that the very concise idea of state sovereignty and the democratic potential this offers for change is entirely lost on them.
Of course, the UK should never have entered the EU, independence could have seen the UK arrange a deal similar to Switzerland or Norway, while allowing London to seek additional trade agreements worldwide, not to mention the possibility to erect a more progressive state. It is a scenario which would have brought far greater prosperity to the nation. The people who voted in 1975 to accede the EU however could not have conceived of the idea that the institution would materialise into the force it is today. Despite warnings at the time, it was largely seen as unrealistic that the European Union would entrench itself and become increasingly powerful, and yet this has happened. All institutions commit to expansion in order not only to survive, but also as a means to serve their interests. Against increasing expansionism and political union, resistance or change will simultaneously become increasingly unlikely. The “socialist” reformer has a lot to consider when weighing up his options for change.