British voters bravely rejected a profoundly undemocratic, neoliberal EU, which is perceived as placing the interests of the financial elite ahead of the needs of ordinary citizens.
ATHENS — (ANALYSIS) It was one year ago when “leftist” activists across Europe and around the world declared that the European Union had effectively staged a coup in Greece, blackmailing the Mediterranean country into accepting harsh austerity measures after it had already rejected a referendum against more austerity.
Yet these same activists are now decrying the British referendum result in favor of a “Brexit.”
I sense some hypocrisy here.
British voters bravely rejected a profoundly undemocratic, neoliberal EU, which is perceived as placing the interests of the financial elite ahead of the needs of ordinary citizens. Indeed, despite the claims of international media and numerous “intellectuals,” the British referendum result has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia.
The EU: An unrepresentative, anti-democratic institution
The bloc’s center of decision-making, the European Commission, is led by an unelected leader. And it’s current president, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently stated that European prime ministers “listen too much to voters.”
“Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion. And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts. We have too many part-time Europeans,” the Telegraph quoted Juncker as saying in May.
Juncker was heavily implicated in the “Lux Leaks” scandal, which revealed that the Luxembourg finance ministry helped multinational corporations “slash their global tax bills” during Juncker’s time as prime minister.
Instead of punishing Juncker or members of his government who enabled this tax evasion, it is the whistleblowers who have been convicted. In the meantime, Juncker and other EU officials wag their finger at the people of countries like Greece, scolding them for not paying their taxes.
The rest of the EU’s leadership is similarly unrepresentative. Neither the president of the Eurogroup nor the president of the European Council is an elected position. Even the president of the European Parliament is not elected directly by citizens. European commissioners are also not elected, and the European Parliament only has the right to “suggest” laws for consideration by the Council and Commission.
Furthermore, there are no checks and balances, and there is no mechanism to recall EU officials, who, along with EU civil servants, enjoy lifelong immunity for acts performed by them in their official capacity.
EU officials have repeatedly demonstrated contempt for democracy. Juncker has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”
Likewise, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, one of the EU’s most influential figures, has said, “Elections change nothing. There are rules.”
Referring to popular opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a major proposed trade deal negotiated in secret between the EU and the United States, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade, asserted: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”
The TTIP, a marvel of neoliberalism similar to NAFTA, would severely weaken domestic restraints on business and allow corporations to sue national governments in special, unaccountable courts. Members of the European Parliament have been obliged to sign confidentiality agreements regarding the negotiations, while the Commission placed a 30-year ban on public access to key TTIP documents.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist, recently argued that a “Brexit” would be preferable to TTIP for Britain. RT reported:
“The US economist said TTIP represents a wholesale ‘rewriting of the rules with no public discussion.’
‘The dangers to our society are very significant,’ he added.”
The EU: Neoliberalism, austerity and the death of democracy
Democracy also didn’t matter to the EU when it forced the resignations of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011. Berlusconi resigned after the Italian Parliament approved EU-imposed austerity measures, while Papandreou was forced out after threatening to hold a referendum on whether Greece should exit the eurozone.
With the EU’s blessing, these democratically-elected leaders were replaced by non-elected technocrats: former Goldman Sachs adviser Mario Monti in Italy, and Lucas Papademos in Greece. Papademos had overseen the country’s transition from the drachma to the euro as governor of the Bank of Greece. In an academic visit to EU institutions in 2013, I heard EU technocrats state that “Monti was the best thing to ever happen to Italy,” while adding their belief that “certain regions of Italy should be ruled directly from Brussels.”
In 2013, the EU imposed a 30 percent “haircut” on bank deposits over €100,000 in Cyprus, a precondition for the approval of a so-called “bailout.” Though the Parliament of Cyprus initially rejected the EU’s demand for a haircut, the bloc forced the island nation to reconvene to approve a modified plan. Similarly, following a referendum in which Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, voters were sent back to the polls the following year for a new referendum, which passed.
Earlier this year, voters in Holland rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, but the agreement was nevertheless approved by the Dutch legislature.
The keystone moment in the EU’s habit of rejecting referendums, however, came last summer, when 61 percent of Greek voters rejected the EU’s proposed austerity package. Not only was the referendum ignored, but the purportedly left-wing Syriza-led government agreed to an even harsher austerity package days later. The vote occurred amid a climate of financial strangulation in Greece, with banks shuttered and capital controls imposed, despite the EU’s vaunted “free movement of capital.” A European movement in “solidarity” with Greece dissipated soon after the betrayal, never to be seen again. This same movement is the one now rejecting the Brexit referendum result as “racist.”
The snubbing of democracy is further evident by the European Commission’s recent challenge to a new French law which requires foreign truck drivers to be paid the country’s minimum wage when making deliveries in the country.
The Euro: A pre-planned economic disaster
Voters in France and Holland rejected the proposed European Constitution in 2005 — but their will was nevertheless ignored, as the proposed constitution was replaced by the Treaty of Lisbon, which serves as the EU’s governing document today. It is the world’s only constitution which explicitly contains neoliberal policies: It takes precedence over domestic law; it is self-amending (meaning no democratic debate is necessary in order for it to be altered); and it strips the European Parliament of independent legislative power.
Neoliberalism is also built into the European common currency, the euro. According to the architect of the euro, economist Robert Mundell, the goal was to strip national governments of their ability to create fiscal and monetary policy. Instead of being able to devalue a national currency or increase deficit spending in response to an economic downturn, governments would be left with one option: austerity. The economic crises and austerity we are seeing in countries from Greece to Portugal today aren’t the result of a mistake with the euro; they are the goal.
This has not been a victimless development. The Greek GDP has declined by over one-quarter in six years. Official unemployment has reached 28 percent, not counting the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who have migrated abroad. Earlier this year, a report issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights stated that there have been “large-scale violations” of human rights in Greece as a result of the austerity regime.
In May, following EU demands, a 7,500-page omnibus bill was passed without parliamentary debate, transferring control of Greece’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years. The ESM is a non-democratic, supranational body unaccountable to any electorate. Within this legislation, the Greek Parliament also rendered itself voteless: The legislation annulled the role of parliament to approve a budget or to enact tax policies.
These decisions will now be made by EU institutions. If fiscal targets set by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the ESM are not met, automatic cuts will slash funding for everything from social spending to salaries and pensions. In earlier legislation, the Greek Parliament agreed to submit all pending legislation to the troika — the decision-making body formed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF — for approval.
For historical precedent, look no further than the Enabling Act of 1933, in which the German Reichstag voted away its right to exercise legislative power, transferring absolute power to govern and to pass laws to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
Today, following the Brexit referendum result, it is Germany which arrogantly proclaims that “we won’t let anyone take Europe from us.” Here, “us” refers to Germany, not to the European people as a whole. The country has been the prime beneficiary of the EU project, particularly in terms of the eurozone economy.
The EU: An arm of a corporate, imperialist empire
Despite this damning reality, the public is repeatedly told that the EU is a force for peace and unity, the body responsible for preventing war and conflict in Europe following World War II. And some analysts have even argued that British voters opted for the Brexit due to racism and xenophobia that’s grown in response to Europe’s refugee crisis.
These arguments conveniently overlook the fact that the refugee crisis in Europe is largely of the West’s making; a result of the imperialist military involvement of the U.S., NATO, and the EU in the Middle East, North Africa and Ukraine, among others.
Furthermore, despite only making headlines in the past year, the refugee crisis has persisted for over a decade. Due, quite simply, to geography, countries like Greece have borne the brunt of this. Over 1 million refugees have entered Greece in the past decade, escaping conflict in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Once in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, these refugees have remained trapped as a result of the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which requires the country where a refugee first entered the EU to process the refugee’s paperwork and asylum claims, while a refugee who went on to other EU countries is returned to the country of entry, if caught.
Today, with the EU’s blessings, thousands of refugees are stashed away in glorified concentration camps in Greece and throughout Europe, such as the “Calais Jungle” in France and the recently-privatized decrepit former international airport of Athens.
Meanwhile, the recent agreement between the EU and Turkey regarding refugees may violate international law, according to the United Nations and other human rights groups. This deal essentially bribes Turkey to halt the refugee inflow to Europe.
A side result of this agreement is that NATO warships and the “borderless” EU’s own border guard, Frontex, are on permanent patrol in the Aegean Sea. It can be said that it is EU policy and the EU’s leadership which have proven to be racist and xenophobic, not British voters.
Intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, in arguing against the Brexit, claim that it will bring Britain closer to Washington’s sphere of influence. However, EU membership did not prevent Tony Blair — a Brexit opponent — from following President George W. Bush into Iraq in 2003. Nor did the EU stop Britain, Italy, Spain, and other member states from joining the “coalition of the willing.”
Like their counterparts in the mainstream media, Chomsky and other prominent leftists such as Yanis Varoufakis, the pro-austerity former Greek finance minister, and Jeremy Corbyn, the pro-”Remain” leader of Britain’s Labour Party, would have us believe that anyone in favor of Brexit is xenophobic and racist.
Are figures such as leftist intellectual Tariq Ali, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former British MP George Galloway, and 17.5 million British voters all xenophobes? Were the 62 percent of voters who voted “no” in the Greek referendum also racist and xenophobic?
The internationalist ‘left’ discredits itself and the legitimate case against the EU
It is ironic that such prominent “leftists” are adopting the same position as practically all of the major global media outlets, including mouthpieces for the financial class such as Bloomberg, which, in opposing Brexit, are protecting their own vested interests in the status quo.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise when talking about the EU, an institution whose founders and early key figures include former Nazi and fascist collaborators like Walter Hallstein, a prominent law professor under the Nazi regime who went on to serve as the first president of the European Commission, and Guido Colonna di Paliano, a vice-consul for Mussolini’s fascist Italy who later became the EU’s commissioner for Internal Market & Services. In true fascist form, criticism of the EU was outlawed in a 2001 decision by the European Court of Justice.
Leading intellectual and political figures such as Varoufakis, through his “Democracy in Europe Movement,” and Corbyn, plus movements including Spain’s Podemos, claim that they want a “better” EU. But an undemocratic institution founded by fascists and based upon a neoliberal ideology that’s inherent to its operations cannot be reformed.
We are told that Britain will find itself “isolated” as a result of the Brexit. Yet this ignores the fact that Britain would be free to develop economic relations with any European country, in addition to having access to the British Commonwealth and global trading partners.
Those decrying the loss of “free movement” as a result of the Brexit ignore the fact that Britain is not party to the Schengen Agreement. There would not be any obstacle, however, for Britain to sign treaties for, say, visa-free travel with other countries. Indeed, Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland have done just fine for themselves outside the eurozone and the EU.
The “internationalist” left seems to assume that the only way to achieve peace and cooperation between the people of Europe is through the EU, as if by birthright. So much so, that it is willing to reject democracy when the results don’t go its way. In turn, the global media defends a status quo that suits its owners’ interests. Both demonstrate utter contempt for democracy when they disagree with the outcome.
By painting Brexit supporters as racists or by belittling them, as youthful satire shows and purportedly apolitical publications have done, they discredit the legitimate case against the EU. While marketing the EU’s “common currency,” “no borders,” and ability to work across the EU, they ignore the EU’s undemocratic, neoliberal tendencies, leaving anti-EU campaigning to the Euroskeptic right and a smattering of true leftist voices.
The “internationalist” left has discredited itself, and it has no one to blame but itself.