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19th October 2015

Leaving the EU: The case from the left

Ben Farren discusses how the EU’s neo-liberal, corporatist agenda has polluted the organisation to its very core

The European Union was once a group of nations who decided to draw closer in trade and politics. It is in ways a wonderful institution, allowing free trade and free travel across borders, something previously unimaginable, particularly for those deep in the Soviet bloc.

It is difficult to explain how important I think this was and is. The shift from authoritarian documented restriction to transcendent liberal cooperation was remarkable, and entirely unpredictable, even soon after 1989. While the coming together of nations and the expression of mutual trust was admirable and ostensibly a sign of human solidarity, perhaps more sinister intentions remained beneath.

Since the beginning much has changed. Early on I’m sure I would have been in favour of some sort of a union across Europe, and in a way I still am. This European Union is a bureaucratic nightmare, which has been paralysed by political disagreements and pettiness across states. It is now clear that Germany calls the shots, whereas for a long time there was at least some, albeit self-interested, opposition from the French.

This new European hegemony has propagated and enforced the neo-liberal corporatist economics that will be the shame of our century. Corporation-centred economics has overlooked financial crises while they were certainly not unpredictable. Bubbles grew and burst and grew and burst again and again. Countries continued to misbehave. Private institutions—with permission, either explicit or tacit—behaved irresponsibly and potentially criminally, for example Goldman Sachs helping Greece hide debts in 2001 whilst joining the Euro.

This wrongdoing has poisoned the EU, and in time this poison has spread to inhibit the very Union itself, representing the wrong values rather than merely being tainted. This point has been made by individual members, but not by the EU as a whole and they failed to take action. This new European culture is poisoned, and I will not be associated with it any longer.

The single turning point, if one is needed, was the amazing referendum effectively on the Grexit. The Greek people turned down the bailout conditions placed on the table from the EU (conditions which had actually expired by the time of the referendum anyway, but details be damned) magnificently. At the time I remember specifically the euphoria and pride across the world’s Left. The behemoths of Germany and the EU Commission were stood up to by the now empty shell of post-austerity Greece. The people who had no money in the bank, services left on skeleton duty, many who were starving, and importantly many middle class people, still voted no. This final landslide victory gave a massive middle finger to the financial elite. Staring into the abyss of an unprecedented financial crisis, the Germans found the abyss staring back into them, with a defiant grin.

After that referendum the EU could have won me over, so disposed I was (and am) to European co-operation, but they did not. Rather than appreciate the fundamental rejection of their principles and methods, the EU’s machinery sought to tighten the screws on Greece, and demonstrate their power. The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras did all he could to not step down. There are decisions for which he must take responsibility, but at the same time we can appreciate that at the time he was possibly the most pressurised man in the world.

The case against Greece is strong, including accounts fraud and irresponsible borrowing, to which I would like to add if there was irresponsible borrowing there was also irresponsible lending. Greece has suffered a lot, but the lenders have not. They were the biggest benefactors of the Greek crisis, as that is where the bailout money went in its majority: To German banks. One positive step I would take to make Europe better would be a strong message being enforced—lenders beware. The EU should not be held ransom to banks and financial leverage.

This is to say nothing of the purely economic mistakes made in the currency union. To give the same interest rates to Greece and Portugal as you give to Germany was never going to be sensible. I would like to say thank you to John Major and Ed Balls for keeping us out of that mess.

The EU is not on the side of the people. The EU is on the side of financial institutions and those who would prefer the corporatist status quo. If you trust David Cameron to renegotiate what you would call a “better Europe,” then go ahead, but I do not. I will not place my trust in him and I would rather start again. I feel very little European citizenship now. Perhaps productivity, and thus the economy, in this country would increase if we were working for each other, rather than for the interests of Angela Merkel?

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