Great Britain leaves the European Union—How often have they been warned?


In practically all cases in which EU populations have been given a chance to speak out on ‘European’ policies a majority have said no, and time and again, that verdict has been ignored. The European Constitution, voted out in France and the Netherlands in 2005, was simply introduced a few years later as the Treaty of Lisbon. Neither the Greek ‘no’ to the socially destructive Eurozone policy, nor the rejection of the EU Association Treaty in the Netherlands last April were heeded. And now 52 percent of the British voters have voted to leave the EU. Will there be a meaningful response this time, other than abuse and revenge?


‘Europe’ has always been a capitalist project, albeit under changing auspices. Until the 1980s, capitalism here was built around compromises. A compromise between capital and organised labour, a compromise between East and West (the Cold War after all was based on the Yalta agreement to divide up the continent in an American and a Sovjet bloc), and finally, also a compromise between France and West Germany.

The compromise of integration held between 1950 (when the plan for a Coal and Steel community was launched) and 1991, when the current EU was founded. It meant that each time there was pressure by the United States to return greater freedoms to West Germany (politically, militarily, and economically), France was able to wrestle itself in between and give the respective issue a ‘European’ twist. The Federal Republic had to abide because formally, France was still one of the occupying powers of its defeated neighbour. Britain joined the German-French axis only in 1973 when the traditional bond with North America had reached a historic low. Whilst the US was in the doldrums with Vietnam, the dollar crisis and Watergate, the continental Six appeared to be getting stronger.

In 1991 the European compromise fell away when Germany annexed the collapsed GDR and the four occupying powers returned it its full sovereignty. France still succeeded in obtaining one final result and that was the euro, which at the very last transformed the inevitable rise of the German mark into a ‘European’ currency with a common interest rate.

Even before the European compromise, the two other compromises had become unstuck. From 1979, under Margaret Thatcher, an attack had been launched on the trade unions. Capital was now strong enough to suspend the concessions which it had made to labour following the Depression and two world wars, and began its quest for cheap, unorganised labour.

A year later Ronald Reagan a new Cold War against the Soviet bloc and the Third World, although some would argue that that assault, too, begain in 1979, with the NATO decision to deploy new missiles in Europe, aimed at Soviet command centres. Here we should also mention the drastic interest rate hike in the same year that terminated dollar inflation and which kicked the world into the debt crisis.

Capitalism now entered a new phase, from ‘corporate liberalism’ with its compromises to neoliberalism, in which the market is supposed to provide the answer to all social problems. And although Thatcher’s policies pioneered this transformation, the Iron Lady feared the rising power of Germany after 1991. Under her successors the rift with the EU was growing and Britain even remained outside the euro altogether. In that respect Brexit follows a trend already dating from the 1990s.

‘Brussels’ meanwhile embraced Thatcherism wholesale, preaching the gospel of a completely free market and implementing it by decree. Elsewhere, too, a massive privatisation of economies occurred (the Soviet bloc, China, India...). One result was that the wage-dependent world population doubled to around 3 billion. The entire globe now became the playground of transnational capital.

However, the collapse of the USSR robbed the liberal West of its historic alternative, and neoliberal capitalism lost both its focus and inner cohesion. This gave speculative, freefloating money capital the upper hand over long term investment.

One financial bubble after another was inflated and deflated again, whilst the population of the EU countries found itself submerged into a ‘risk society’ from which social security has evaporated. Because no boundaries are recognised any longer, and no compromise granted, European integration too has been drawn along into the vortex of speculative capital movements and predatory raids, as in Iraq and Libya. Countries which do not go along, or cooperate insufficiently, such as Russia and China, are being threatened with war. Massive migration flows are being triggered by the unstable and extremely unequal relations that have been the result of this complex of forces. For capital, these are first of all new sources of cheap labour, but for the large mass of the population, the newcomers are the embodiment of the definitieve end of what remains of social protection. In Britain this was the last drop.

The resistance to a Europe which not only allows, but actively encourages this process to develop, is growing. The tragedy is that this resistance is primarily mobilised by the nationalist Far Right, and the longer the mainstream Left remains hostage to neoliberal theory and practice, the further this tragedy will take us.

Kees van der Pijl

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie plaatsen