Carl Packman is an author and independent debt and finance researcher.
For a long time it was assumed the bulk of British lefties were idly pro-EU. As Mark Wallace, of these quarters, put it in the Guardian last year: “The prominent Eurosceptic voices today are almost universally those of the centre-right – not because it is a rightwing pursuit, but because the left has failed to uphold its own beliefs.”
Clearly things are beginning to change. Doyen of the left, Owen Jones, recently penned a scathing opening salvo for modern British leftists who don’t view the European project through rose-tinted glasses, calling for the rather catchy ‘Lexit’.
Jenny Jones, former Green mayoral candidate, also wrote about the rotten pursuit of ‘neoliberalism, austerity, and capital’ in the EU, which should spur the left to switch sides in the ‘in/out’ debate.
Euroscepticism, at long last, is no longer the preserve of the right. But what exactly is the left-wing case against the European Union, and why must more left-wingers sign up to it?
Firstly there is the secretive decision-making at the heart of the European project.
Take TTIP for example, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This revealed the risk of backdoor privatisation deals made through totally above-board bilateral trade agreements between the EU and the US.
One principle of the agreement is to indefinitely open up public services to competition from US firms where privatisation is already established. Given that privatisation is already [resent within the NHS, British health services are exposed.
Did we have a say over this? Despite UK politicians all making claims to protect our health service, we might ask why something decided in Brussels, locked away from public scrutiny, might not require the validation of the British electorate.
The second point is the dominant financial programme of the European project.
The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (or the Fiscal Stability Treaty), effectively enshrines into law balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits, which in turn outlaws expansionary fiscal policy.
But any left-winger worthy of the name would ask: is it sensible for the European institutions to outlaw a mechanism to stimulate growth in the economy, even if it sticks in the throats of fiscal conservative lawmakers?
On occasions governments will need to temper the risk of an economic downturn with temporary increases in spending. You don’t just need to be on the left to realise that. But this is common sense too far for the EU.
The EU Fiscal Compact is a legal requirement on eurozone states to slash their public debt (by 1.5 per cent of GDP in France, two per cent in Spain and 3.5 per cent in Italy and Portugal) every year for the next two decades.
In any case whatever fiscal conservatives may think, is it fair for the economic programmes of elected political parties in Europe to be swayed like this? And by law?
Thirdly, there’s the social impact.
The point of the European project was to provide socio-economic harmonisation to European nations. However in recent times the status of some European countries as richer, more solvent creditor nations looming over debtor countries has created unhealthy tension.
While in principle the left advocates internationalism on progressive terms between European nations, we hardly see evidence of this between France and Germany, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland today.
One of the supposed principles of integration was to see the North of Europe become more like the South and vice versa, but where is this in practice? In what way can europhiles say Northern European is more Southerly today?
Let’s look at Greece for example. Simply put, the troika has sought to make an example of a government, within the eurozone, who want to disrupt the dominant European economic programme.
Loans made to Greece, happily underwritten by European creditors to the previous Pasok government and protested at by current and former Syriza ministers, were unsustainable. The austerity medicine for the Greek economy made things even worse, shrinking the economy by 25 per cent from 2007-2014.
Greeks voted out Pasok and for a national programme of anti-austerity and debt write down. Did the institutions listen to the democratic will of Greeks? No.
The message is clear: the will of people in sovereign nations count for less than the will of the unelected European Commission, the European Council, and the Council of Ministers.
And this is the main point: normal Europeans cannot get rid of these people, and if the principle of democracy and national autonomy mean anything – which they ought to for left-wingers within the democratic tradition – then the European Union is a case in point for everything we should stand against.
How do you think these people would fare measured against Tony Benn’s five essential questions of democracy and power?
As a last ditch, leftists might argue that the European Union offers some social good that arbitrarily blocks the excesses of the Tories. The European Working Time Directive, for example.
But the sticking point is this: if maximum working hours are something worth fighting for then they are worth doing so with the backing of the British electorate.
The right have had euroscepticism covered exclusively for too long; we on the left must pursue the case for sovereignity, too, recalling Hugh Gaitskill in 1962 at Labour Party Conference in Brighton: “European integration would mean the end of a thousand years of history”.
This is why the left should vote to leave.