March 2016        

The EU and the future of European nations

Eoghan O’Neill


Something is changing beneath the surface. Like the currents under the surface of the water, there is a strong current of change in the people’s attitudes and beliefs regarding the EU, its legitimacy, and its future.
     This was made clear at the Right2Change conference held in the Mansion House in Dublin on 13 February, and has since been solidified in the debates regarding a British withdrawal from the EU. That the debate is even happening, never mind gaining traction, is something that five years ago would have been unthinkable, although many pages in Socialist Voice have been dedicated to just such an issue.
     Before we have that honest and much-needed debate, we have to put the European Union—its origins, its expansion, its treaties, its raison d’être—into historical context.
     The official line on the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 was that it would “make war (i.e. between European states) not only unthinkable but materially impossible,” because it would “neutralise” the competition for resources between those countries. This is quite telling, because one of the main reasons for the two world wars was not so much competition for resources among the European states themselves but for the control of the territories and colonies and the resources they possessed.
     The vision of a common market, and then a supranational or federal state, was seen as the best way to advance European societies that were ravaged and scarred by two world wars. It was clear from the point of view of the architects of the ECSC, EEC and EU that if they worked as a bloc they would be more powerful—in exploiting other nations and continents—and less likely to have internal wars between the powerful European states. War of itself was not seen as unthinkable, only war within itself.
     When the Soviet Union and the other Allies defeated fascism, the United States almost immediately reverted to its pre-war hostility towards the state that “tore the guts out of the German army” (in the words of Winston Churchill). The unfounded fear of Soviet expansion into western Europe drove the Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of Europe on US imperialist terms. The Marshall “aid” was not given as loans, as there were stipulations attached to it. These were to ensure that the influence of the victory of the Soviet Union, the successes of the centrally planned economy and the rise of communist and workers’ parties in the West were to be countered by capital to enhance free-market and free-trade policies. The coal and steel industries—the powerhouse of European industry—therefore were the first to amalgamate on a Europe-wide monopoly basis.
     In Ireland the Marshall aid that was given had the real effect of making Ireland abandon any notion of developing its own indigenous industries, instead favouring foreign direct investment. This in turn led to the government of the day joining the EEC in 1973 as a way to solidify this economic policy. As the treaties consolidated European monopoly capitalism, Ireland’s trajectory as a facilitator between American and European capitalism was copperfastened by the introduction of a single currency, the euro, which would eventually lead to the virtual collapse of the Irish economy.
     Let us be clear: the ECSC, the EEC and then the EU were always derived from and driven by the interests of finance and industry. The EU institutions have never been about democracy but about trade, and strengthening the hand of European imperialism in the global economy. As monopoly capitalism advanced, and finance and debt became a bigger driver of economies, the European monopolies regained their pre-war strength. This helped with the concessions given to labour and the welfare rights of European citizens, who saw their fellow-citizens in the east gain so much in this field: a free health service, free education up to third level, social housing with small rents, guaranteed jobs, holiday leave, sickness leave, maternity leave, social insurance, and a host of other welfare benefits.
     While world events took hold and the decades rolled on, various EU treaties were passed—the Treaty of Rome (1957), the Single European Act (1987), the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1999), the Nice Treaty (2003), and the latest Lisbon Treaty (2009), all of which further consolidated the institutions, assuming supranational powers over those of the sovereign European states and integrating the economies of Europe in a power bloc.
     What they also enshrined was the economic models of all states within the EU, which is based on the tenets of capitalism: free trade, competition (leading to monopoly), privatisation, and—most importantly—profit. The inevitable conclusion of this state-building would be the introduction of a functioning yet undemocratic legislative, executive and judiciary and a single currency. An armed force and a central police force are next in line, and are high on the agenda, because of the increased violence and war within and beyond the EU.
     In 2016, as the dust settles from the general election, we can see that in just two years the class-consciousness of the Irish people has taken a huge leap forward. The troika parties no longer exclusively hold on to power within our communities, as they, or their counterparts, have done for the past century. However, the conclusion of our elections will not change the trajectory of our economic and social policies: legally they can’t. So long as we are in the European Union we must abide by EU rules, rules that have been developed for the past sixty-five years to benefit monopoly capitalism, not the peoples or democracy.
     Some people—Varoufakis leading the charge—have laid out a choice for the future of Ireland and other European nations: either we democratise the EU or “retreat” into the “cocoon” of the nation-state. This is a false dilemma, and therefore a fallacy. You cannot democratise the treaties, the very fibres of the EU, as they are not designed for democracy but to enhance European capital.
     The CPI has already issued a comprehensive statement on why we cannot democratise the EU. The other option of retreating into the “cocoon” of the nation-state is a straw man. No-one, least of all the CPI, believes that nation-states can survive in complete isolation. No nation is a self-sufficient island, cut off entirely from every other nation on earth. There are certainly some that are isolated, but none are cocooned.
     No nation wants to be isolated either. The social productive forces that have developed over many centuries are interconnected at the global level. Certain geographical areas lend themselves better than others to the extraction and production of resources for the needs of the global society, whether it is oil, gas, coal, steel, gold, iron, copper, rubber, silver, diamonds, water, trees, plants, animals, fish, fruit, vegetables, or a whole list of other materials and natural resources; they form the basis of present-day needs that no single state can fully provide from its own soil. Historically it was pillage, rape and plunder that secured the resources for the most ruthless militarily and technologically advanced nations—Britain, Germany and France being the flag-bearers of Europe, of course.
     If we are truly to advance to a higher level of class-consciousness, of solidarity among nations, of independence, sovereignty, democracy, and social justice, then we do need to take a step back—not in the way envisaged by EU “reformers” and their “cocooned nation” theory but by the vision of socialist republicans, such as James Connolly, who saw the nation-state as the protectorate of the people. Its role is to provide for the material, cultural, social and mental well-being of each citizen and to ensure that the people have a democratic say in the economic, political and social aspects of their daily lives.
     This the EU was never designed to do. No form of supranational state can guarantee this until we guarantee it and enshrine it for ourselves first within a democratic socialist republic.
     The EU is a barrier to the establishment of European socialist republics; and for any self-respecting socialist or republican it has to be opposed.

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