Finally, Labour edges towards a sensible position on Europe
Finally, finally, it looks as though the Labour leadership is edging towards a coherent position on the European Union.
Denis MacShane, presmuably with the go-ahead from Miliband, has a piece up at Comment is Free, setting out how Miliband might use his visit to Hollande this week to set out a substantive Labour position quite distinct from Cameron’s silly rhetoric:
Labour should fashion its own R&R policy – reform of the EU institutions and rebalancing of European economics in favour of growth, jobs and a focus on salaries and wages, not rentier income. Right now all the focus is on the eurozone crisis and the need for less austerity and more growth. But the EU institutions – a 27-strong commission that is far too big, a European parliament disconnected from national parliaments, and three EU presidents (commission, council and parliament) and a high representative – need substantial slimming down and refocusing to make them fit for purpose.
A centre-left R&R (reform and rebalancing) project for Europe should be developed to counter Cameron’s dangerous and isolationist repatriation and referendum politics. Winning Hollande’s engagement for a serious examination of reforming the EU, together with rebalancing Euronomics, would show Miliband setting the agenda on this important policy area.
I disagree with Denis’s view that Labour should entirely rule out a referendum, as to do so is (as with Cameron) to throw away an important bargaining chip. It might well be counter-productive to leave the EU now, but if the plans now being drawn up by Herman van Rompuy (the outlines passed without fuss at the recent Council summit) for the further entrenchment of neoliberalism in the EU go through as I fear they might, exit may become a much more valid socialist response.
I also disagree with Denis on which bits of the EU instituitions need ’slimming down’; I’d slim down the member states’ Council back to its pre-Lisbon size, in favour of a European Parliament with real powers and a real connection to national political parties (not parliaments), while Denis’s wording about the European Parliament’s’ disconnect’ suggests he wants the reverse.
Nevertheless, the general direction set out by Denis is good, especially if it’s followed through upon – most notably with a well-developed 2014 European election manifesto, presaged by localised publicity around the Labour candidate selection process (which I understand will start in January 2013).
Labour needs to be bold on Europe, and go much further, much sooner, than the first tentative steps it has taken in the right direction. It needs to see itself as a pro-active force on Europe, aggressively differentiating its own pro-activity from the reactionary little-Englander nonsenses of the Tories.
Labour (and the commentators who support it) need to stop worrying that an EU referendum will ‘define’ Labour’s first parliamentary term (assumed to be in some way for the worse), and instead be confident that it will be seen by voters as an integral part of strong Labour party project.
Labour needs to enunciate clearly that Europe is not currently working for working class people, because its institutions have been captured by the Right, and it needs to have a clear plan for their recapture by the Left. This is not an anti-Europe stance. This is an anti-rightwing Europe stance.
Labour needs to be clear on what it means by European democracy, and it needs to put in place the right people to make European democracy work.
It’s good to see Labour finally catching up, but it’d all be a lot easier if I was in charge of Labour policy on Europe in the first place…..