Issue 227 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Europe Debate

Part of the union?

Should socialists welcome closer European union? We print two responses from well known figures on the left to our article last month

Francis Wheen:
Francis Wheen How depressing to see a party which used to have the word International in its title now lining up with the most insular and reactionary buffoons in the land. Even Socialist Review admitted as much, in the three pages of anti-euro articles in your January issue. 'The line up of forces opposed to EMU is bound to be dominated by the right, and any campaign will certainly be used by right wing politicians to strengthen their hand... A call for a no vote would therefore fit naturally with protests and campaigns on all the day to day issues we face: health, education, job losses, closures.' Some non-sequitur, surely?

Of course we shouldn't be starry eyed about EMU. As Dave Beecham points out, big companies will undoubtedly seek to use it 'to rationalise on a European scale, eliminating less profitable businesses', though, as he also notes, even the best laid plans can go pear shaped, especially if there is coordinated resistance 'on a European scale' as well.

But does anyone imagine that Britain will somehow escape the heat if it stands alone, becoming a workers' Garden of Eden while the rest of the continent goes the way of Sodom and Gomorrah? We'll still have redundancies, spending squeezes and so forth. Those who complain about ceding so much power to the European Central Bank overlook the fact that Tony Blair has already handed over the steering wheel of the British economy to the equally unaccountable Bank of England.

It is all very well for Dave Beecham to grumble about politicians' 'almost mystical reverence for markets'. No reader of Socialist Review believes in claptrap about the benign 'hidden hand'. But markets do have enormous power--and this power is wildly out of control. John Major (remember him?) issued a rash challenge in September 1992--who runs Britain, the government or the international currency dealers? The answer came the very next day when Major capitulated to those selfsame dealers and George Soros pocketed £1 billion.

Soros himself is now saying that unless Britain joins the single currency it will be ripe for yet more plundering by speculators such as himself who grow rich by gambling with our livelihoods. Although this may sound like a serial murderer begging, 'Stop me before I kill again', in view of his past record we must assume that he's not bluffing. (Another small but gratifying consequence of the euro, incidentally, will be a collapse in the profits of bureaux de change.) For all its obvious economic and political shortcomings the single currency will at least be a standing rebuke to the poisonous petty nationalism represented by the Sun, and to those politicians and spivs who have for so long tried to play one country off against another.

Dave Beecham's final point is that EMU will provoke fierce arguments about what kind of economic policies Europe needs. 'The conflicts to come', he warns, 'will see much greater political tensions.' Since when did the SWP shy away from political conflict?
Francis Wheen writes for the Guardian and Private Eye


Tony Benn:
Tony Benn I voted against the Maastricht Treaty, and I am opposed to the single currency.

This government asks us to approve the progress it is making towards entry into the single currency when the referendum has occurred. A recent report on convergence criteria noted that 'Denmark, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Finland and the United Kingdom need to exercise firm control over domestic price pressures with regard to, inter alia, wage and unit labour costs. Support is also required from fiscal policies, which need to react flexibly to the domestic price environment.'

If I were a nurse whose pay claim had been phased, I would ask, why? If a nurse asked me that question, I would reply, 'Because it is a requirement that these controls be exercised in order to equip us for the single currency.'

We must relate these arguments to real life. The reality is that the framework, set by the European Monetary Institute and adopted by the government, is forcing a squeeze on people, who will suffer as a result.

My second point relates to the independence of national central banks.

We are being asked to accept that we have no rights in the following areas. We have no right to give instructions to central banks or their decision making bodies, not just on interest rates but on anything that they do. Eddie George is free--protected by the treaty from any pressures that may be put on him by the government elected overwhelmingly by the people in May 1997.

The government's policy is causing hardship to many people because of the restriction on public expenditure, and because the currency valuation affects jobs and abandons our right ever to do anything in those areas that might relieve those pressures.

I object to these arrangements, not as a British person but as a European, because they destroy democracy in Germany and France, too. For example, the German people will be unable to influence the decision of their bankers.

We are consenting to an act of unilateral economic, industrial and financial disarmament. From now on we are saying to our electors--who are, after all, the people who have sent us here and can remove us--'You can remove us next time, but you will never be able to change the policies that may lead you to want to remove us.'

We are dealing with the question of whether it is legitimate in countries that boast of democracy for the electors to elect a government and a parliament that can influence the form of their own lives. It applies throughout the EU. This is not a British objection--I would feel just as strongly if I were a Frenchman, a Spaniard, a Greek, or from any other country.
Tony Benn is Labour MP for Chesterfield. This is an extract from a speech in parliament


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