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How to establish Labour’s credibility on Europe

It has suddenly become very fashionable in Labour wonk circles to be a pro-EU-but-very-critical-of-it-in-its-current-guise.  David Clarke, ex-Robin Cook SpAd, is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

So just by way of establishing my own credibility as a Europe-getting-leftie, here’s what I said back in early 2010:

The issue for here is that a process of technocratic economic management signed into law under the Maastricht treaty, under a particular set of economic conditions which the then policy makers assumed would last for ever, is now adding to an already considerable burden on people who did not make the crisis, and did not gain from the booms that caused it.

As a result there is a real possibility of major social unrest in many European countries, including explosions of racial hatred as workers take it out on themselves; this is the antithesis of what the European Union is supposed to be about.

That, fundamentally, is the stupidity at the heart of the European Union, and reflects the key problem with it.

The European Union is wholly based on the entrenchment of neoliberal norms of which the validity is now widely questioned, but which are set out in permanent form in the Lisbon Treaty and the treaties which preceded it.

Ah, if only the Labour wonkery had listened then, Labour would be in a much better place now; rather than looking opportunistic around the EU budget negotiations, it might look as though we’d thought it all through earlier.

But we are where we are, and David is quite right to follow in my footsteps:

Little thought was given to how the free movement provisions [I assume David means of both capital and people] designed for six countries at similar levels of economic development would work after the EU incorporated the impoverished countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The idea of a social Europe, envisaged by Jacques Delors as a balance to the single market, has been the casualty of a headlong rush towards liberalisation for its own sake.

The reason this is better than some of the other bandwagon stuff is that it’s about the fundamentals of the EU, not about the budget froth, which I’ve already covered in my critique of Will Straw’s IPPR pamphlet.  Labour needs to focus on the fundamentals of European reform.

The key question, though, is how Labour can cut through the media fog to present an proper, fundamental alternative which actually gets heard.  Vague generalities about the need to build a new social Europe for new times, or whatever, are going to cut no ice with an electorate fed a steady diet of Brussels eurocrats, straight bananas, and French farmers living it large from handouts.

There are two specific areas – both headline-worthy, both off the Tory radar – on which Labour should focus its media firepower.  Being wise and all-knowing about Europe, I have already covered both in detail.

First, there’s the obstacle the single market puts in the way of economic convergence between the richer and poorer EU states in a Eurozone situation where currency devaluation is not possible, but where the break-up of the Eurozone would create even more havoc for the poorer states.

As I’ve set out here, the Lisbon Treaty does in fact make provision (Article 32) for the temporary suspension of the single market, and the creation of export subsidy/import substitution mechanisms, such that convergence can occur even within the Eurozone and without recourse to self-defeating ‘structural reform’ of the type imposed on Greece.  While that level of detail may not be very headline-drawing, Labour can sell such proposals simply on the basis of its creativity – using stuff that’s already in the Lisbon Treaty – just as the Tories are thinking of doing on free movement of people, but with a mind to the benefit of the whole of Europe, not just as a populist, face-saving anti-migrant measure.

Second, and more headline-attracting than the first, Labour should promise that, on coming to power, it will work with like-minded governments for the abolition of the Stability and Growth Pact six-pack regulations and the parallel Fiscal Compact bundled together in panic by Merkel and Sarkozy in the doomed attempt to save the Merkozy hegemony.   As IPPR’s Will Straw said in his reply to my most recent piece on Europe:

As it happens the Six Pack includes provisions for a 0.5% deficit cap which is ludicrous and would effectively outlaw Keynesianism.

In fact, the six-pack regulations already outlaw Keynesianism, as they become European law in December 2011.  A campaign Labour for the abolition of these regulations therefore makes economic sense, but it can also be sold on the basis of the sovereignty argument – that the EU should not be telling member states that the only available economic policy open to it is one which embeds neoliberalism.

Taken together, these two initiatives could be game-changes for Labour’s credibility on Europe.

Trust me, I’ve been credible on Europe for ages.

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