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Posts tagged ‘European Union’

Wales and the Brussels Summit

by Nick Davies

As is widely acknowledged, criticisms of Cameron’s negotiating skills at the Brussels summit in December rather missed the point. His priorities were to protect the interests of the City of London and the unity of the Tory party. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Tim Mitchell Top-table Blues

Brazenly dishonest, of course, was his claim to be acting in the ‘national interest’, when the interests of most of England, let alone the other nations of the UK, were notably absent from his concerns.

For Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, whatever Cameron’s priority, disengagement from the EU is not in the national interest of Wales: ‘I am seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively by the UK government’.

In one sense, none of this is new. Wales has always been, at best, peripheral to the neo-liberal project. The last thirty years have put into sharp relief the divergence between the interests of the South East of England-based financial sector, and everything, and everywhere else.  The Tory party identification of itself with the ‘national interest’ is as old as the party itself and Euro-sceptic Tories from the south of England tend not to lose much sleep over the problems faced by Wales. By the same token, the EU has generally been more popular in Wales than in England, not least because of the strategic role played by European structural funding in compensating for the malign neglect of the Thatcher-Major years.

What has given this situation a new dynamic is the depth of the UK’s economic crisis, the total failure of Cameron and Osborne’s economic policies to alleviate it, the crisis in the Euro-zone and, last but not least, the continuing devolution process which sees an increasingly self-confident Welsh government refusing to be seen by the rest of Europe as merely a ‘region’ of the UK.

With some of the poorest communities in Western Europe and with over 26% of its working people employed in the public sector,Wales has already had to pay dearly and disproportionately for the greed of those 150 miles up the M4.  Wales has lost 13,000   public sector jobs  in the fifteen months since the coalition took office and the fear is that Wales’ manufacturing sector will lose out as a result of the UK’s semi-detachment from the EU, the destination of  about half of Wales’ exports. The collapse of the Euro zone into low, or no-growth austerity (and the consequent increase in the value of sterling as against the euro) will make a bad situation much worse, threatening the 54,000 private sector jobs with EU based companies in Wales.

The Welsh government’s response to the Cameron ‘veto’ has  been a declared intention to seek stronger ties with the EU and, for the first time, Welsh government ministers are  attending meetings of the EU’s General Affairs Council.

However, the EU in its present form is no safe haven for Wales. The ‘fiscal compact’ that Cameron refused  to sign up to, albeit for his own reasons, modifies the Lisbon treaty with a requirement that Euro-zone states’ budgets be balanced or in surplus and that this provision be incorporated into the various states’ legal systems. Thus deficit budgeting,  the  traditional Keynesian response to a recession, is virtually outlawed. Conversely, the austerity that is already taking  the Euro zone into a downward-spiral is set in stone, threatening jobs, public services and, if the bankers’ take-overs in Italy and Greece are any indication, democracy itself.

Since the 1970s many in the Welsh labour movement have abandoned the traditional hostility to the EU as a ‘bosses market’ and, notwithstanding its inherently free market nature, seen in ‘social Europe’, if not a more enlightened alternative to  the jungle of Anglo-Saxon capitalism, at least a place of safety from it. However bad the government might be in Westminster, European money would develop the economy of much of Wales, and the social chapter would act as a safeguard against super-exploitation.

After the Brussels summit that option seems no longer credible. More austerity is the last thing that Wales needs. However, a ‘left’ anti-EU stance, simply reverting to the ‘Get Britain Out’  position of the 1970s, risks getting caught in the slipstream of the  raucous, well-funded and totally reactionary Euro-scepticism of UKIP, the Tory right and the Daily Express, which sees the ‘repatriation’ of powers as a means of racking up the level of exploitation in the workplace.

Welsh Labour, instead of  simply seeking refuge in the EU must, along with other socialist, green and progressive nationalist movements across Europe, act as an agent of radical change and aim to transform the European Union so that it operates no longer for the benefit of the bankers, speculators and profiteers but is instead based on social justice, equality, democracy, international solidarity and the protection of our environment.

Nick Davies, writing personally, is Chair of Welsh Labour Grassroots and is a local council candidate for Labour in Swansea.

This article also appears in the February issue of Labour Briefing


Lens on Labour: Taking on the EU.

Len Arthur

Misgivings about whose purpose is really served by the EU have been held widely within the labour movement. It was not until the early 1970’s that Labour in part supported membership and the 1980’s when the TUC started to warm toward the Social Chapter following the ravages of the Thatcher governments.

On the left, many both within and outside of the Labour Party do not support the EU either due to the loss of UK or Parliamentary control – I believe Tony Benn has this view – or because it is simply an organisation to support capitalism.

Others in Labour and on the left accept these concerns but suggest that UK history has never been independent of what happens in Europe. The two world wars of the 20th Century demonstrated this and it is therefore better to be involved to try to influence events than think we can avoid the consequences of decision taken in the rest of Europe.

The EU Treaty is also a reflection of the post war social democratic and corporate settlement. Sovereignty was shared, the conflict between capital and labour reflected in reforms covering work and re-distribution of wealth geographically, and certain key industries such as agriculture were protected. At the same time, economic policy has been about opening up the internal market and improving international competitiveness through reducing the role of state, encouraging competition, standardisation, free labour movement and now with the Maastricht Treaty, restrictions on the use of government spending to encourage economic activity.

Tensions within the EU between the different assumptions that underpin these approaches have been restricted by the expansion to new states and the establishment of the Euro. It is now clear that not addressing these tensions has aided the crisis within the eurozone and they are being resolved by moving away from the social democratic settlement and democracy and toward an attack on the working class across the EU under the guise of ‘austerity’, making us pay for the bankers crisis.

Similarly tensions on the left have come to the surface. Some have argued, that we should leave the EU and it doesn’t matter if the eurozone or the EU falls apart. Others have suggested that the EU has always offered the opportunity for workers unity across Europe and now is the time to act together internationally, to resist the policies of austerity.

It should also be clear that the Tory government is no friend of the social democratic settlement, they are only interested in pulling back powers from the EU to remove the effects of the social chapter in the UK and cut back public spending even harder.

Whilst in Brussels a few weeks ago I drafted the following piece which could act as a motion for meetings; you can see where I come down on the debate – what do you think?

‘United front against the Treaty

People of Europe against austerity and the treaty: for an alternative social and democratic Europe

ETUC statement now seems radical. It is a measure of how far and how fast the EU has gone to the right. We are faced with a spectre the spectre of austerity. The workers of Europe are being expected to the pay the cost of the bankers’ crisis and not only are the representatives of the bankers’ being elected to use the state to solve their problems but in countries like Italy they have been handed the state without an election. In the UK a millionaires’ government intends to cut harder than across the EU and is primarily interested in representing the City of London.

Time is of the essence. We have until March. We can stop the Treaty if we mobilise across Europe: what is essential is a united front of workers organisations and parties to initiate solidarity action around the demand no to the Treaty; no to loss of democracy; yes to a social Europe based on equality; and yes to full democratic control of EU institutions.

We should call upon the TUC and the ETUC to launch an EU wide petition supporting these and more detailed demands looking for the widest possible support internationally. We should also call upon them to launch EU wide demonstration and industrial action culminating in time when the Treaty may be signed.

If they don’t take this action, we should do what we can to launch ourselves using social media.

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