Seventy years ago, as a battered Europe was dragging itself from the fires of a world war into the frost of a cold one, no one could have imagined that only a few decades later 28 nations, former Allied and Axis powers, countries from both sides of the iron curtain, would co-exist in a political and economic union at the heart of which stood the fundamental principle of free movement and open borders.
Today that European Union is under greater threat than ever. Last year, Greece’s creditors pushed it to the brink of exiting the euro. Now, the refugee crisis spurred by Syria’s civil war is threatening to tear the Schengen agreement apart as nations look to introduce border controls for the first time. And in the next year, Britain, a key pillar of the EU and one of its largest economies, is set to vote on whether or not it should remain in the union.
The European institutions have expanded considerably, both in their geographical reach and their powers, since the coal and steel community formed in 1952. Britain has not had a referendum on the question of Europe since 1975 and the EU we see today is vastly different from the European Community of 41 years ago. As such, it is right that British people should be given the choice again today of whether they want to be part of the EU or not.
At Another Europe is Possible we are campaigning in that referendum to remain. Not because we think the EU is perfect. Far from it. Unlike the official In campaign, we recognise that the European Union as it is currently constituted is deeply flawed. In its structures and the way it operates, it is an undemocratic and neoliberal institution. We will campaign to change that. But we do not believe walking away is the answer.
To leave now, under the current government, would only make things worse for workers for whom progressive measures such as the Working Time Directive can provide protection from the most right-wing government Britain has ever had. The EU may have at its heart the interests of multinational corporations and free trade, but so does David Cameron’s government – one of Europe’s leading proponents of neoliberal policies and a key advocate of TTIP. Leaving Europe would not save us from TTIP. We would get the same stitch up under a different name and any protections the EU did afford would be gone.
It was not Europe that imposed the bedroom tax on Britain. It is not Europe that wants to bring in punishing tax credit cuts. And because we are not in the euro, unlike in Greece, it is not Europe that is forcing immiserating austerity measures on us. As we speak, Cameron is doing all he can to repatriate powers from Brussels to Britain ahead of the referendum. Let us be clear, none of the changes he wants to see will be in the interest of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people. All the powers he wants to take away from the EU will be the ones that protect British workers and safeguard human rights. As well as campaigning for a reformed Europe, we will be opposing any such attempts by Cameron to roll back the EU’s protections for workers.
A Brexit would also be at the cost of freedom of movement. The right to work, settle and live in any EU member state. The bringing down of borders between our diverse nations is one of the greatest achievements of a century that opened with the slaughter of millions on the fields of France and Belgium. And it is to our credit and benefit that people from all across the EU are welcome here. Of course, it is right to criticise the EU for the barriers it has put up to migrants from outside its borders. And we must be ever vigilant as more nations seek to impose border controls within the EU in response to the refugee crisis. Europe can and must do much more for Syrian refugees fleeing the horrors of war. But the answer to Fortress Europe is not to create Fortress Britain.
Leaving the EU would also be hugely detrimental to efforts to fight climate change and environmental destruction. These are global problems that cannot be tackled by one nation alone. Only through cross-border cooperation can we begin to meet the 21st century’s great challenges. We need strict, common environmental policies of the sort only supranational bodies with the power of the EU can properly enforce. When the sea is rising, it won’t help to raise our drawbridge.
The status quo is not enough. The EU is in desperate need of a democratic overhaul. It must be radically reformed to serve the interests of its citizens, not its biggest corporations. But the problems this continent faces will not be solved by Britain turning its back on them. Another Europe is Possible is the campaign to be in Europe to change Europe. The campaign that says no to big business and little England. The campaign that says yes to a citizen-led Europe based on democracy, human rights and social justice.
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