The Left Case Against the EU is a book by Costas Lapavitsas that clearly explains why the EU is a “neoliberal juggernaut” and therefore does not deserve left-wing support. There is no credible chance of reform in the foreseeable future due to German dominance and the embedded and undemocratic nature of its corporate-friendly institutions and structures. It is a valuable contribution to the big-picture Lexit debate, in contrast to the rather stunted discussion on the British Left. This is typified by the debate over whether the EU would likely stymie Labour’s state-aid plans.
Lapavitsas describes why the EU is not a “benevolent and humanitarian force” championing worker’s rights. It is dominated by appointees and heads of state. The fragmented nature of the structurally weak European parliament, reflects the lack of a pan-European polity and demos. This has resulted in the systematic pursuit of a business-friendly course. It is a “hierarchical alliance of nation states that have created the institutional framework of a single market relentlessly promoting neoliberalism.”
The EU response to the eurozone crisis best illustrates this. Priority was given to the rescue of Big Finance (French and German banks), visiting severe austerity on the people far beyond anything we have seen in the UK. The EU response was to double down, increasing the influence of undemocratic, technocratic groups such as the Troika and Eurogroup (eurozone finance ministers). They intervened directly in the politics and economies of nominally sovereign states such as Greece. As an ex-member of Greek Syriza – he resigned to protest Syriza’s 2015 capitulation to the EU – Lapavitsas has seen at first hand the human carnage caused by the sharp end of EU policies. His unequivocal response to this catastrophe is to advocate Grexit.
And as an economist, Lapavitsas explains how a neo-mercantilist Germany has come to dominate the Euro by systematically suppressing wages. Schröder’s SPD government did this through labour market deregulation and precarious employment. This is profoundly ironic since the French promoted the euro to restrain post-reunification German hegemony. There is nothing magical about German industry (French productivity is actually equivalent) – the German export “miracle” is solely due to the competitive advantage from exploitation of the undervalued euro by systematic wage suppression.
As British growth strengthens in the third quarter of 2018 to 0.6% (= 2.4% p.a.), we should not fear imminent Brexit-induced economic meltdown, though no deal would likely have negative short-term repercussions. Lapavitsas explains at the end of the book why the Left should not be afraid of Full Brexit: “The single market is hardly compatible with the aim of beating neoliberalism, restructuring the British economy, and reducing the power of the City in favour of workers and the poor through a far-reaching industrial strategy.”
Revisiting the original debate around British accession to the EEC in the 1970s when there was substantial left-wing euroscepticism led by figures such as Tony Benn, Lapavitsas comments: “The EEC was perceived by the Left as a capitalist club that would harm workers’ interests and damage British sovereignty.” This has been borne out and this book convincingly explains how and why.