Europhile or Europhobe? My guess is that if you’re young, educated and somewhere on the left, you’re likely to consider yourself the former.
For our generation, euroscepticism has remained a distant and reactionary creed, one that any self-respecting trendy lefty wouldn’t so much as touch with a barge pole.
And understandably so. As seemingly alien as it is irrelevant, euroscepticism tends to summon all kinds of unfortunate associations. Whether it’s immigrant bashing, the ‘it’s-the-muslims-wot-done-it’ guff of the Mail or rampant-Ukippery, chances are, if it’s the sort of thing your awkwardly racist great uncle is likely to believe, best steer well clear.
Yet, it was of course once the radical left that gave voice to passionate anti-Europeanism. The last (and only) time the British public were given the chance to put our membership of the then-Common Market to popular vote, it wasn’t a Conservative government that feared a damaging split over the issue but Harold Wilson’s Labour one.
Enter New Labour, and the increasingly liberal tilt of the party under Tony Blair saw that the European question was quietly dropped, its mantle taken up by the rival ‘pull-up-the-drawbridge’ brigade of the conservative right. Think about it now and the suggestion seems risible, but we forget that had Blair had his wicked way, Britain would have found itself dragged through the mud over the Greek debt crisis à la Germany and France as paid up members of the Eurozone.
With the wheels now falling off the European cart as it, in any case, plunges towards a looming cliff face, the ‘old’ Labour naysayers have every right to say I told you so. The Greek sovereign debt crisis became almost a caricature of the doctrine lefties love to hate: neoliberalism. Not content with an already crippling dose of bad medicine, the Troika creditors stuck the knife in, driving the logic of austerity to its ultimate conclusion. No compromise. No surrender. Not even a respectful nod to the democratic will of the Greek people.
Forget the loony left, this was dogma in action.
But what else were we to expect? Europe is, after all, an idea. At the heart of the whole affair is an unwavering commitment to “ever closer union”. The trouble is, we know what tends to happen to political unions that serve an idea before the people. At first, things seem to go just swimmingly thank-you-very-much. That is, until the real world intervenes. Much like an ill conceived one-night-stand, remove the beer goggles and the idea loses that special something in the harsh light of day. The dreaded c-word rears its ugly and treacherous head: compromise. Yet still, the idea persists. It must persist. After all, what are Gulags and 50% youth unemployment to a nice set of intact, ego-massaging principles?
Okay, I’m being a tad facetious; the European Union isn’t Stalin’s Russia. To make my point, I’ll instead defer to the fount of all wisdom that is The West Wing. In Season Two, Josh Lyman tells a group of school children that the reason the free world is so valuable is that it allows for “more than one idea.” Look past the sickly, bathos-ridden scriptwriting and it’s a lesson worth heeding. The reason the modern nation state didn’t clap out two centuries ago is because the only rule that it insists upon is that there really are no rules. We can face the challenges of the future, not because we’ve been to the mountaintop and seen what’s new, but because we’ll forever be foundering in the foothills and don’t we just know it.
By adopting the logic of austerity, in foul weather or fair, the European Union has made short shrift of the doubters. The almost sadistically clinical ‘structural adjustment packages’ (read: austerity on speed) visited upon the periphery countries of the Eurozone have been fuck-off unqualified disasters. The damage has been criminal: persistent unemployment, social upheaval, and the life chances of a generation tossed onto a bonfire of public services, ideals and hope.
Like some horrible European cautionary tale, but worse, and with Angela Merkel in it.
The message is clear: dare to dissent, and you’re next.
The sad thing is, if the British left is to really start taking the fight to the cosy neoliberal consensus that has monopolised western politics for the past 30 years, there’s no chance of us doing that alone. Forgive the wonk-y reference, but as the economist Thomas Pikkety argues, it will take a team effort on a global scale to challenge the dominance of high finance and to reverse damaging inequality. Yet, with Britain now preparing to surrender the workers’ protections, limits on finance, and equality legislation that come under the ‘Social Chapter’, what morsels of hope that remained of building a truly progressive European Union are quietly slipping away.
To add insult to injury, Angela Merkel insists that what happened to Greece was done in the name of “solidarity.” I’m not sure about you, but as a socialist, I’ve come to understand solidarity as being when diverse peoples come together in the name of something altogether bigger: fighting injustices of power and wealth wherever we find them. The idea that strong economic powers, gleefully inflicting lash after lash upon those feckless, lazy Southern Europeans in any way constitutes ‘solidarity’ is a true perversion of the idea. Europe sullies its name, and I want no part of it.