This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar


The internationalist case against the European Union

For the first time in a generation Britain will vote on its membership of the European Union, probably in the autumn of 2016. How to vote in that referendum is a difficult choice for anyone on the left. Since the 1990s the anti-EU camp has been dominated by the chauvinist and racist right, initially on the Thatcherite wing of the Tory party, but now enjoying separate and increasingly powerful representation in the shape of the UK Independence Party. But anyone who contemplates therefore voting Yes in the referendum is confronted with the reality of the EU as a neoliberal club currently busy nailing the people of Greece to the cross of austerity. Viewing the standoff between the Europhobes and the oligarchs of Brussels and Frankfurt one is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s description of fox-hunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. This article seeks to address this dilemma, arguing that there is a powerful internationalist case against the EU. [1]

The left against Europe last time

The underlying assumption of those on the left supporting a Yes vote is that the EU represents, however imperfectly, the transcendence of nationalism and so internationalists and antiracists should vote for Britain to remain in the EU. John Palmer, who writes in support of a Yes vote elsewhere in this journal, has over the years put an eloquent and sophisticated argument for understanding the EU as fundamentally a progressive response to economic globalisation and the decline of the nation state.

A similar view was expressed very strongly by one of the most influential contemporary Marxist thinkers, Toni Negri, at the time of the May 2005 referendum in France on the European Constitutional Treaty:

The Constitution is a means of fighting Empire, this new globalised capitalist society. Europe has the chance to be a guardrail against the single thinking [pensée unique] of economic unilateralism: capitalist, conservative and reactionary. Europe can also erect a counter-power against American unilateralism, its crusade against Iraq for petrol. The United States have understood this very well, and since the 1950s fought like madmen against European construction. They see in it a lock against the extension of their power … the real question is who is going to regulate the world market. National resistance is no longer a bulwark. Only the pursuit of European construction can allow global alternatives to be built for what I call the multitudes, the movements of resistance to Empires. Changes that set up a new political space in which this shit of the national state will disappear. [2]

This kind of thinking has exerted a powerful influence on the radical left – thus, Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece can trace its ultimate origins to the Communist Party of the Interior, which broke away from the strongly nationalist Communist Party of Greece on a Eurocommunist basis. But for a long time this was a minority position on the left, with the many of the most powerful forces in the reformist camp opposing the European Economic Community (EEC) on a left-nationalist basis. [3]

read more


Recent Articles

What Mr Tsipras learned about bargaining power in the EU

Published on by | Comments Off

Shortly after SYRIZA’s electoral victory last January, I wrote on this blog that SYRIZA’s positions showed that they did not understand European Union (EU) politics. They were proposing changes to Greece’s bailout programme, which they did not have the bargaining power to negotiate successfully. Shortly before the Euro Summit on Greece (the summit of the […]

Mr. Tsipras owes the Greek people an apology

Published on by | Comments Off

Little over a month ago, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was still claiming that his party’s electoral victory last January had put an end to bailout programmes. A few days ago, he told the Greek people that a ‘No’ vote in the Greek referendum would lead to a deal with Greece’s creditors within 48 hours. […]

The Beginning of the End for Mr. Tsipras

Published on by | 1 Comment

When Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided to unilaterally abandon negotiations over Greece’s so-called ‘bailout programme’ and to propose a referendum on the latest offer that Greece had been made, he employed a tactic that is common in negotiations in the European Union (EU): using difficulties with domestic ratification of EU agreements to extract concessions. […]

What David Cameron can learn from SYRIZA

Published on by | Comments Off

It has been little over a week since its electoral victory and SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) has already begun to back down from some of its most radical positions. Prior to the election, SYRIZA claimed that they would negotiate the forgiveness of the better part of Greece’s debt. Now Greek Finance Minister Yanis […]

Is SYRIZA just another Greek party that does not know what to do?

Published on by | 1 Comment

Less than a week after SYRIZA’s (Coalition of the Radical Left) electoral victory, uncertainty regarding the newly formed Greek government’s economic policy has increased. In a statement emailed to Bloomberg News, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: ‘we need time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery programme’. Mr. Tsipras’ statement followed his Finance […]

A Quiet Success? The EU-China Partnership in Practice

Published on by | 2 Comments

How are Sino-European relations doing today? “Rather well, since you ask.” This could have been President Xi Jinping’s reply to a hypothetical question he could have been asked during his recent visit to Brussels. For slightly over ten years since the launch of the EU-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, links between the two giants are wider […]

Why Mogherini’s Appointment as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Matters Little

Published on by | Comments Off

Last weekend, the European Council (the heads of state or government of European Union [EU] member states) appointed Italian foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, as the next High Representative (HR) of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The holder of this post is responsible for ‘conducting the EU’s foreign policy. As was the case […]

Subscribe to a fortnightly email featuring posts from Ideas on Europe hosted blogs

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.