From the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The European Union (EU) is an institution for the economic interests of the European capitalist class, and their mantra is 'free movement of capital, goods, services and labour.' It was the European Round Table of Industrialists which included the chief executives of Daimler-Chrysler, Fiat, Nestlé, Renault, Siemens, BP, Rio Tinto and Rolls Royce who promoted further European integration in the 1980s and which led to the 1987 Single European Act.
The dominant elements of the capitalist class in Europe see an advantage in organising the economy of Europe on a continent-wide basis because the EU is an attempt to overcome the limits of developing the productive forces within Europe's nation-states. The EU comprises 28 states and 500 million people, trades as a single market with eventually a single currency, and represents one-fifth of the world’s GDP. The EU enables Europe to compete better with other global capitalist powers such as the USA, Russia, India, and China.
The EU and the EEC before it, was an attempt to move beyond war after two world wars had ravaged Europe. EEC founder Robert Schumann said 'make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible', and he proposed Franco-German co-production of coal and steel. The 1951 Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community of France, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The European Coal and Steel Community would lead to the European Economic Community (EEC) also known as the 'Common Market', established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome.
It is the concept of ‘Social Europe’ promoted by Jacques Delors (President of the European Commission 1985-95), which sections of the British capitalist class are opposed to. Delors even came to Britain to address the 1988 TUC conference where he stressed economic union must be matched by social union. The 'Social Charter', a Keynesian welfare state model based on full employment in capitalism was adopted at the 1989 European Council.
The Social Charter promoted improved living and working conditions, dialogue between management and labour, health and safety in working conditions, sex equality with regard to job opportunities and treatment at work, protection of pensioners and the unemployed, increased statutory maternity leave, a 48-hour maximum working week, and employment rights for part-time and temporary staff.
Delors and his Social Charter provoked Thatcher into her infamous Bruges speech on the future of Europe in September 1988 which would lead to the formation of the anti-EU Tory Bruges Group which would mutate into the Anti-Federalist League, and ultimately UKIP. The Thatcher Tory government refused to sign the EU Social Charter, and in October 1990 Thatcher spoke out firmly against the vision of European integration, including a 'single currency.' The capitalist class would remove Thatcher from power in November 1990. The Major Tory government signed the Maastricht Treaty on 7 February 1992 and the European Union came into effect on 1 November 1993.
A 2005 European Court of Justice decision in Pfeiffer v Deutsches Rotes Kreu is explicit about the economic relationship between capital and labour: 'the worker must be regarded as the weaker party to the employment contract and it is therefore necessary to prevent the employer being in a position to disregard the intentions of the other party to the contract or to impose on that party a restriction of his rights without him having expressly given his consent in that regard...'
Such pro-worker decisions of a boom-time capitalism are threatened because of the world capitalist recession and Euro-zone crisis which began in 2008. Since the recent capitalist crisis began, a series of decisions determined by the European Court of Justice stress that industrial action by workers violates the employer’s rights to freedom to provide services, as provided in the EU Treaty. The Court has also been intervening on the side of the capitalist class by using provisions on free movement against collective industrial action.
Split in the capitalist class
The split in the capitalist class in Britain over membership of the EU is exemplified in the main UKIP policy which is to leave the EU. UKIP leader Nigel Farage is a former City commodity broker, and UKIP want the City of London excluded from EU controls, and the repeal of an EU directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers which seeks to regulate hedge funds/private equity companies in the City. The EU generates such political heat because it brings no advantages to some elements of the capitalist class in Britain. On 8 August 2013 the Times reported on Business for Britain which claimed to have the backing of 500 influential figures, including FTSE 100 directors and the owners of smaller businesses. These supporters include Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, parent company of B&Q, Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next, John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, Sir Rocco Forte, executive chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, Tim Martin, chairman of pub group JD Wetherspoon, and Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers. They are all bosses of firms producing for the home market.
The majority of the capitalist class in Britain are export orientated businesses. In April 2013, the British Chambers of Commerce poll of 4,380 companies reported in Bloomberg Business Week that 18 percent felt leaving would be positive but 64 percent favoured Cameron renegotiating terms, 60 percent felt exiting would harm business, and even 23 percent wanted further EU integration. In May 2013 leading capitalists Martin Sorrel and Richard Branson opposed EU exit. Sorrell said 'Investors choose to build factories and locate their business here because of our access, not proximity to, but access to the single market.' John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI added 'the UK is best served inside a reformed EU, rather than outside with no influence. Access to the single market has also been a magnet for investment from around the world. Being part of the EU has helped to make the UK one of the leading locations for investment, in part because of our direct access to a market of more than 500 million people and an EU economy with a GDP of £9.75 trillion.' (Guardian 18 January 2014)
Away from the Nation-State
Marx and Engels identified that 'the bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country' (Manifesto of the Communist Party) The 1995 European Court of Justice decision on free movement of labour for football players known as the Bosman Ruling means football clubs can sign any number of players from EU countries. The ECJ decision was based on EU Articles 45-48 where workers have the right to move freely and work anywhere in the EU without discrimination on grounds of nationality. It is very probable that Bosman helped Manchester United win the Champions League in 1999. British football pre-Bosman found themselves at a huge disadvantage in European competitions, they could only field three foreign players per match. Only five of the thirteen players who featured in Manchester United's 1999 Champions League victory were English. Before Bosman that team could never have set foot on the pitch.
European cinema of the 1980s and 90s is another testament to the 'cosmopolitan character to production and consumption' with the popularity of French films such as Diva, Betty Blue,Subway, The Big Blue, Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Nikita, Delicatessen, the Three Colours trilogy, Leon, and La Haine; the Yugoslavian film When Father was Away On Business; Scandinavian films My Life as a Dog, Babette's Feast, and Pelle the Conqueror, and the Spanish cinema of Pedro Almodovar.
The EU established the Schengen Area where passport controls are abolished although no surprise the UK opted out of this. On 1 January 2002, the EU introduced the Esperantist-named 'Euro' as the EU currency, again Britain opted out of this. As members of the EU Britons are entitled to the European Health Insurance Card which provides free health care in EU countries. Britain is already a semi-detached member of Europe but to exit entirely would possibly be to surrender to xenophobia and parochialism completely.
Marx in Brussels in his January 1848 speech On the Question of Free Trade said 'the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution.' Earlier, Marx had attended a free trade congress in Brussels in September 1847 for which he prepared a speech (which was never delivered). Engels wrote an account of the conference, summarising Marx's view, and a fragment of the speech dealing with protectionism has survived: 'If they (the protectionists) speak consciously and openly to the working class, then they summarise their philanthropy in the following words: It is better to be exploited by one's fellow-countrymen than by foreigners.' (The Protectionists, the Free Traders and the Working Class)
There are small benefits for some of the working class in Britain and those living abroad in the EU, other sections of the working class in Britain may benefit from leaving EU, but the majority of the working class will be unaffected by the dispute over the EU. The dispute within the British capitalist class has no class interest for workers. Whether British capitalism is in or out of the EU will make no real difference to their position as a class forced to work for a wage or a salary.