You don't recognise him, you don't know his name ... but Brian Ager, Secretary-General of the European Round Table of Industrialists, wields more power in the EU than most of its member countries. Photo: © European Union / Tim De Backer (CC BY-NC-SA).
Something rotten in the state of Europe
13th July 2015
As the EU comes down for neoliberalism, austerity and capital against popular will, Greens and other 'progressives' must consider switching sides in the 'in or out' debate, writes Jenny Jones. A Union that stands for TTIP, corporate empowerment and the trampling of Greek democracy is one we are better off leaving.
A pro-TTIP European Union, eager to impose the imperatives of capital against people, determined to evacuate democracy in Greece and other member states of its meaning, is not an EU we should wish to be part of.
Just in case you hadn't noticed: something is rotten in the state of Europe.
The EU is becoming a dictatorial imposer of austerity and deregulation, uncaring about its impacts on the wellbeing of people and planet, and determined to derail any elected government that dares dissent from its neoliberal ideology.
I write as a Green who has stood for the European Parliament on a mission of EU reform. I acknowledge that the EU can be and has been a powerful force for good - for example, in keeping the peace among member states, and in its impressive role in social and environmental regulation - now tragically at risk from the drive to 'deregulate'.
But I believe that the general support of the EU by the Green Party, and the Left, and bien-pensant intellectuals, and 'progressives', needs to come to an end, to be replaced by a more honest willingness to face up to the very serious flaws besetting the EU.
The two key events of the last few days that have made starkly clear that something is rotten at the top of our continent are first, the EU moving a big step closer to backing TTIP, the starkly anti-democratic and pro-corporatocratic 'TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership'.
And second, last night's imposition on Athens of a programme for privatisation and savage cuts even worse than that rejected by the Greek people in the referendum last week onto Greece with its decisive 'NO' vote.
Secret corporate lobbying over the heads of the people
The TTIP is the EU-US 'free trade' agreement currently being negotiated, to which the European Parliament, tragically, gave its provisional approval last week.
The Green Party is united against TTIP. And the Green Party argues strongly in favour of the EU. Is there any tension between these two facts? We think that there is. The TTIP
- enables the democratic will of the people to be struck down by big business;
- is in its very essence a project of secretive lobbying;
- is about gigantic corporations being able to break open and gobble up public procurement and public services.
My case is simple: this should not be viewed as some kind of aberration from EU standard practice. It is EU standard practice.
The EU has been from the beginning (but also increasingly, the key examples here being the Lisbon Treaty and the 'Stability and Growth pact') a pro-business front, a vehicle for organisations such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists to get their way.
There is far too little democracy in the EU: for example, the Council of Ministers operates almost entirely in secrecy and holds the whip hand over the Parliament on most issues; Brussels is dominated by corporate lobbyists who outnumber NGO lobbyists by about 15:1, while wielding immense powers of hospitality and patronage. EU rules would make it very difficult for (e.g.) the railways to be brought back into full public ownership in this country.
It is an illusion to think that TTIP is anything other than a natural extension of the logic of the EU as it is currently. Greens, being serious about our outright opposition to TTIP, need to be serious also about radically reforming the EU.
Anything less than truly radical reform - democratisation, an end to the culture of lobbying and secrecy, prioritisation of public service over private profit, prioritisation of one-planet ecological sanity over business profit - would leave the EU more of a hindrance than a help to Green objectives.
Greece - you call this 'negotiation'?
The imposition on Greece of harsh and unwanted measures that eliminate its sovereignty and strip the people of the democratic power they exercised last week in the referendum is not a departure from business as usual for the EU.
It is, on the contrary, a manifestation of the EU's long-standing disrespect for democracy and the sovereignty of its member states, and the determination among EU elites to impose a business-friendly vision onto any recalcitrant government and people.
This deal forced onto Athens - on pain of a forced crash out of the Euro - is a massive wake-up call to democrats everywhere. It is increasingly clear that the EU, far from standing up for Europe's people against overweening corporate power, are doing the exact opposite: ganging up with corporate and finance capital to suppress democracy and popular aspirations.
Above all, the huge power of business lobbyists in the EU - who can usually get what they want, unless the European public puts its foot down (as happened, thankfully, over ACTA - but that is a very rare event) - simply must end.
Moreover, systemic problems are caused by the 'four freedoms' that are at the core of the Treaty of Rome: the freedom to move capital, products, services and labour all over the EU. The four freedoms add up to a 'bosses charter' giving capital one great supranational freedom - that to exploit labour anywhere in Europe on the most favourable possible terms. There is no Leftist case for an unreformed EU.
That referendum - in or out?
There are tremendous structural difficulties in the way of reforming the EU to address these problems and recreate it in a Green image. But unless they can be achieved we may have to support withdrawal in the UK's 'in or out' EU referendum.
Just as Syriza's negotiating position has been fatally undermined by its refusal (in my view deeply mistaken) to countenance leaving the Euro, so we - Green and progressive voters - will lack any leverage so long as we tolerate a bad EU, for fear of something even worse.
Meanwhile we have to contend with David Cameron's own campaign to 'reform' the EU, backed by other right-wing governments like Poland's: for them, the EU's main problem is that it is not pro-business enough, and imposes intolerable shackles on the pursuit of corporate profit as a result of its social and environmental legislation.
Leave the reform agenda to Cameron and friends, and the EU will only become an even more anti-democratic, anti-ecological, pro-growth, pro-big business centralising organisation than it already is. We must be forceful in opposing and denouncing that dystopian vision of a corporate Europe.
And make no mistake: a pro-TTIP European Union, eager to impose the imperatives of capital against people, determined to evacuate democracy in Greece and other member states of its meaning, is not an EU we should wish to be part of.
Jenny Jones, aka Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, is a London Assembly member, green campaigner, long term Green Party member, and member of the House of Lords.
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