by Francesca Lacaita
- Open Letter On Europe To Jeremy Corbyn by John Palmer
'Brexit' and workers' rights – no case for a 'no' by Kirsty Hughes
- What should Corbyn demand of Europe? by Luke Cooper
- Jeremy Corbyn: rebel with a cause, by Max Tholl
Progressive pro-Europeans from the “Continent” are not accustomed to looking to Britain for orientation. Not only because of the more widespread Eurosceptic attitudes there, but also, in particular, because of the traditional lack of interest for things European on the part of the British left. Could the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party (who has recently declared he will campaign for Britain to stay in the EU, and in general reverse David Cameron’s stance on European issues) be sign of new times to come?
Taken together, these four articles provide a nuanced answer to the question. John Palmer and Luke Cooper appear to believe so. They press a number of issues on Corbyn’s attention which indeed, if he took them up, would make a significant difference for Europe. From the fight against austerity to the demand for a European New Deal, from opposition to the TTIP to the defence of migrants’ rights and the building of a transnational coalition for a “different” Europe. And if Corbyn did indeed act on such advice, he would get wholehearted support from all progressive pro-Europeans from the “Continent”. Of course all this implies reversing Britain’s years-long policy towards the EU. Not just David Cameron’s request to “renegotiate” Britain’s relationships with the EU under threat of “Brexit” (a “renegotiation” which would pervert the very nature and purposes of European integration and which would perhaps be much more traumatic for Europe as a whole than “Brexit” itself), or the several opt-outs which – whether threatened, enacted or withdrawn – have punctuated Britain’s membership in the EU. But also those policies à la Tony Blair, which, while paying lip service to “Europe”, made sure the EU would not be going a social, democratic, let alone federal way.
And here’s the rub. For it is not simply policies that are to be reversed, but also attitudes, especially that sort of dualism in British public discourse which forever pits “Britain” against “Brussels” (whether this refers to the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament, or whatever). It doesn’t obviously mean agreeing with whatever comes from “Brussels”, but it does mean feeling part of a union, and not a counter-party to it, as is too often the case, and not only with the Conservatives or the UKIP. That this may not necessarily have changed with the election of Corbyn appears from the articles by Hughes and Tholl.
In her article, Kirsty Hughes expresses her concern about the Trade Unions’ threat of campaigning for a “no” vote if Cameron succeeds in brokering any deal from “Brussels” which would water down workers’ rights. Hughes rightly points out that «the real attack on workers’ right would be if the UK left the EU», and that such a stance hardly makes sense, unless the Unions – which by the way have been more consistent than the Labour Party in defending workers’ rights in the EU over the last two decades – actually oppose continuing EU membership «(in which case surely they should just say so)». It is certainly understandable that the British unions should lose any interest in a European Union that would sell out their workers’ rights in that way. But if workers’ rights were so “negotiable”, that should be taken as ill omen for the workers all over the EU, as indeed the UK opt-out from the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992 should have been taken – hopefully we’re all wiser now. It should be the business of all workers in the EU to prevent Cameron from reaching such a deal – possibly with more courage and determination than has been shown so far in solidarity with Greece. In these cases in can really be said that «if a clod be washed away by the sea / Europe is the less».
Opening to like-minded forces on the “Continent” would make all the difference for Britain and Europe. I am not sure I agree with Max Tholl when he writes in his article that «Germany needs a strong, conservative, neo-liberal partner in the EU that will support it in fending off stricter regulations and demands from Brussels. The UK under David Cameron does just that. New Labour under Blair and Brown did the same. The prospect of losing this partner and facing a strong opponent of austerity and free-trade is Angela Merkel’s absolute nightmare». That overstates the role of Britain in the EU. If Germany intends to assert and secure such a policy in Europe, it can only be convincing if it is able to at least address the ruling classes of Europe and speak “European” somehow. Cameron is simply inept at that, and so was Brown; Blair was partly successful, but only until the turn of the century, or thereabouts. If Corbyn really is to become «Angela Merkel’s absolute nightmare», he will need to speak “European” too.
Source: Social Europe; Open Democracy