Committing Maastricht to the Flames

From Perry Anderson:

In the pre-enlargement core of the EU, the western Europe of the cold war era (the topography of eastern Europe is so different that it can be set aside for present purposes), movements of the right dominate opposition to the system in France (Front National), the Netherlands (Party for Freedom, PVV), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria), Sweden (Sweden Democrats), Denmark (Danish People’s Party), Finland (True Finns), Germany (Alternative for Germany, AfD) and Britain (UKIP).

In Spain, Greece and Ireland, movements of the left have predominated: Podemos, Syriza and Sinn Fein. Uniquely, Italy has both a strong anti-systemic movement of the right in the Lega, and a still larger one across the left/right divide in the Five Star Movement (M5S); its extra-parliamentary rhetoric on taxes and immigration puts it to the right, but it is put on the left by its parliamentary record of consistent opposition to the neoliberal measures of Matteo Renzi’s government (particularly on education and deregulation of the labour market), and its central role in defeating Renzi’s bid to weaken Italy’s democratic constitution (3). To this can be added Momentum, which emerged in Britain behind Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected election as Labour Party leader. All the movements of the right except the AfD predate the crash of 2008; some have histories going back to the 1970s or earlier. Syriza took off, and M5S, Podemos and Momentum were born, as direct results of the global financial crisis…

Both are reactions to the structure of the neoliberal system, which finds its starkest, most concentrated expression in today’s EU, with its order founded on the reduction and privatisation of public services; the abrogation of democratic control and representation; and deregulation of the factors of production…

Movements of the right predominate over those of the left because from early on they made the immigration issue their own, playing on xenophobic and racist reactions to gain widespread support among the most vulnerable sectors of the population…

The single currency and central bank, designed at Maastricht, have made the imposition of austerity and denial of popular sovereignty into a single system. Movements of the left may attack these as vehemently as any movement of the right, if not more so. But the solutions they propose are less radical…

As long as the European Community was confined to the countries of western Europe, the factors of production where mobility mattered most were capital and commodities: migration across borders within the community was generally quite modest. But by the late 1960s, immigrant labour from former African, Asian and Caribbean colonies, and semi-colonial regions of the former Ottoman empire, was already significant in numbers. EU enlargement to eastern Europe then sharply increased intra-union migration. Finally, neo-imperial adventures in former Mediterranean colonies — the military blitz on Libya and proxy fanning of civil war in Syria — have driven large waves of refugees into Europe, along with retaliatory terror by militants from a region where the West remains camped as overlord, with its bases, bombers and special forces…

In national elections, the average figure across western Europe for all such right and left forces combined is about 15%. That percentage of the electorate poses little threat to the system; 25% can represent a headache, but the ‘populist danger’ of media alarm remains to date very modest…

The socio-economic status quo is widely detested. But it is regularly ratified at the polls with the re-election of parties responsible for it, because of fears that to upset the status, alarming markets, would bring worse misery…

After Maastricht, the British political class declined the straitjacket of the euro, only to pursue a native neoliberalism more drastic than any on the continent: first, the financialised hubris of New Labour, plunging Britain into a banking crisis before any other European country, then a Conservative-Lib Dem government of an austerity more drastic than any generated without external constraint in Europe. Economically, the results of this combination are unique. No other European country has been so dramatically polarised by region, between a bubble-enclosed, high-income metropolis in London and the southeast, and an impoverished, deindustrialised north and northeast where voters felt they had little to lose in voting for Leave (crucially, a more abstract prospect than ditching the euro), whatever happened to the City and foreign investment. Fear counted for less than despair…

Trump’s victory has thrown the European political class, centre-right and centre-left united, into outraged dismay. Breaking established conventions on immigration is bad enough…

Trump’s lack of inhibition in these matters does not directly affect the union. What does, and is cause for far more serious concern, is his rejection of the ideology of free movement of the factors of production, and, even more so, his apparently cavalier disregard for NATO and his comments about a less belligerent attitude to Russia…

[T]he EU is now so path-dependent as a neoliberal construction that reform of it is no longer seriously conceivable. It would have to be undone before anything better could be built, either by breaking out of the current EU, or by reconstructing Europe on another foundation, committing Maastricht to the flames. Unless there is a further, deeper economic crisis, there is little likelihood of either.

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