My original hope for the EU, though it wasn’t an altogether confident one, was that it might act as a barrier to the relentless global spread of free market capitalism, which is, after all, the dominant trend in the world today, and in my opinion a deeply problematical one. One of my reasons for thinking this derived from history: the fact that Britain and America had invented, or at least were the original crucibles for, the free market system and the ideology behind it, and were the keenest zealots for it today, whereas most of continental Europe had always been more ‘statist’, and so had taken to this system and the assumptions behind it rather less enthusiastically: until the behemoth had started to bite into even its most social-democratic economies, like Sweden’s, from the 1990s-on. With Continental allies like these, I thought, we Leftists in Britain might stand a chance of pushing the monster back; which was the main reason also why I feared Britain’s exit from Europe, which would enable the Brexiteers to push Britain, liberated from – for example – the EU’s Social Chapter, even further in a ‘new liberal’ direction. At the time that I voted for ‘Remain’, I have to say that I wondered whether I wasn’t entirely fooling myself here. Europe seemed to be capitulating to the enemy in almost every way, climaxing in the Eurozone’s near destruction of Greece for essentially free marketist reasons. The battle was hopeless.
This last week, however, two things have happened to revive my hopes. The first is yesterday’s EU’s ruling on Apple’s tax arrangements, and Ireland’s tax regime, which has been met, predictably, with howls of rage from Apple itself, the government of Ireland and in America; all of whom clearly believe that capitalists have no social responsibilities to the countries they do most of their business in (how many i-Pads are made or sold in Knocknaheeny, its base for taxation purposes?), which of course is the ‘free’ trade way. That’s huge – if it survives the inevitable well-funded appeals – and should do a little to restore the balance between big business and the voter, or capitalism and democracy, which globalisation has so skewed in recent years. The second ray of light is the clutch of reports coming out recently that TTIP – another attempt to assert the primacy of business methods and profit over the will of the people – is struggling to find acceptance among EU nations, with the opposition this time led by France. Apparently TTIP may, against all expectations, never come about. In both these matters it’s the collective power of the EU that has had these effects.
So-called ‘independent’ nations would never have this clout. Which leaves Britain much weakened: more able and willing, in her economically straightened condition, to supplant Ireland as a ‘tax refuge’ (in effect); and much more likely to accept a TTIP-type treaty on her own. Certainly our present leaders don’t appear ideologically averse to this – they’ve supported TTIP far more enthusiastically than most governments, and are presently expressing their dissent from the Apple ruling; and they might be forced into it, if only to save Britain’s bacon if the European single market spurns her. And then will follow all the other natural concomitants of free marketist fundamentalism: the rich getting richer (in finance), the poor growing poorer (in what is left of industry), controls on the exploitation of labour lifted, more privatizations… and all the rest.
If only we were back in the EU… On the other hand, if we were, the EU might not have been able to be so radical, held back as it might be by our free market zeal. Has Brexit liberated it, at the same time as subjecting us to the behemoth?