The European Union — the optimistically titled “ever closer union” — is under great strain.
After the collapse of European Stalinism in 1989-91, the EU had a run of success, and expanded to 28 states, with up to 10 more waiting to join. Drunk with capitalist triumphalism, the EU’s leaders did little to develop democratic and political capacity to cope with challenges. And since 2009-10 they have damaged the fabric of European unity by insisting that “unity” means uniform neo-liberal policies across the eurozone, with crushing effects in the EU’s poorer countries. Now wars and repression in the Middle East and Africa are pushing millions of people to seek refuge in Europe.
The EU has to deal with Russia’s imperialist ambitions in Ukraine. And the Tories’ referendum on EU membership could damage the fabric further.
Cameron is running the referendum as a gamble, to woo back Tory voters who might be switching to Ukip and see off the Ukip-minded wing of the Tory party. We do not want barriers between countries in Europe to be raised high again. In the referendum we will campaign for the UK to stay in and for unity with workers across Europe to win democracy, reduced barriers between countries, and social “levelling-up” across Europe.
Some socialists, including the SWP, SP and Morning Star, pretend that success for nationalists in the coming EU referendum — which is what Brexit will represent — can benefit workers or boost the prospects for socialism. That is nonsense. Even under capitalism, voluntary European unity is better than high barriers between countries. It is progress compared to centuries of elite feuding, wars, and nationalism. At the social and economic level, Europe is the rational arena in which to develop the economies of the European countries, and begin to level up conditions for working-class people across Europe and further afield; to organise industrial and agricultural production to benefit the whole human race, as well as to protect the environment on which we all depend.
The EU’s lower borders make it easier for people to travel or to move countries in search of a better job and a better life. Literally, they allow Europe’s 500-plus million people to find new ways to speak to each other. The undemocratic arrogance and neo-liberal short-sightedness of the EU’s capitalist leaders threatens all those gains. Our alternative: workers’ solidarity: discussion, joint trade union action, common political initiatives across the EU to make its institutions more democratic and to create Europe-wide alternatives to the ruling-class elite.
Europe’s refugee “crisis” could be solved easily. Let them all in! Wealthy Europe could easily welcome several million refugees and integrate them into its 500-million-plus population. All those who need to come to the EU should be provided with a safe passage out of the Middle East and African war zones, and an adequate living in Europe.
Instead, European governments are increasingly resorting to reintroducing border controls between EU states, attacking migrants at flashpoints such as Calais, and trying to seal the EU’s external borders. The EU leaders’ miserable response to the refugee crisis is a danger to Europe and to the limited easing of borders and barriers achieved over the last century. The refugees are not. The USA’s population, not counting Native Americans, was about 15 million in 1836. Over 30 million people, twice as many as that previous population, moved to the USA between 1836 and 1914. In 1907, 1.3 million migrants arrived, to add to a population then about 80 million. That migration, relatively free until World War One, made the USA dynamic, prosperous, and culturally enriched.
In the years after 1944, about 12 million refugees, people of German descent expelled from central and Eastern Europe, arrived in West Germany, which then had a population of 40-odd million. Settling them was difficult because the country was war-shattered and the Allies were removing industrial equipment as war reparations. But the result of that migration was the German “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 60s. Europe can and should welcome many millions of refugees. Among Europe’s major governments, the worst, the most mean-spirited and narrow-minded, has been Britain’s. Up to September 2015, Britain had granted asylum to fewer than 6000 refugees. Let them all in! Now!