Post-Brexit, EU must change direction – Matt Carthy MEP

 

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has said that the European Parliament needs to be radically reformed if it is to earn the trust of citizens across Europe.  Carthy was speaking at a debate entitled “Is the social Heart of Europe still beating?” during the Roger Casement Summer School in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday.

 

The Midlands North West representative told the gathering that “The European Union was an economic project from the start and one that was led by a European elite as opposed to the people of Europe.  The people of the European member states while permitting this to happen had little input into how it developed.  While in many cases the European Union has had positive impacts on the lives of the people of Europe, the social agenda was never at the heart of the European project. It was first and foremost an economic project serving the economic interest of the large European states”.

 

He said that Brexit has shown that there are two extremes in Europe:

 

“One of them is the xenophobic, racist, isolationist right wing elements – they want to bring the house-of-cards down, to scupper any semblance of solidarity.  But the other extreme is often that self described ‘centre’ because what they want to do is what they always intended only to do it faster and with even less democratic oversight than was originally intended.  Their answer to every question is more Europe, more federalisation, less national democracy, less accountability.  Peoples across Europe have repeatedly let it be known that this is not the type of EU they want or support and in many respects it is the unrelentless drive of this agenda that has facilitated the growth in the far right.

 

“On the other hand, it has been progressive left parties like Sinn Féin who have articulated an alternative way, a better way, a more democratic way.  Sometimes it has been difficult to have this alternative vision heard primarily because any criticism of the EU is brushed aside as being ‘anti-European’.

 

“Our role in campaigning for a remain vote in the north during the Brexit referendum and in subsequently advocating for that majority vote in the six counties to be respected, I think, has allowed people to see that Sinn Féin’s vision is indeed one of Ireland’s place being in Europe but continuing to seek the radical reform that the EU desperately needs”.

 

“It’s my view that a social Europe is possible – it’s my ambition that Irish political representatives will work together to achieve it”.

 

Full text of Matt Carthy’s opening remarks to the debate:

“Is the Social heart of Europe still beating?”

 

Thanks to Roger Cole and to the other organisers for inviting me to be here today at this Summer School which remembers the legacy of Roger Casement – an Irish republican who played a crucial role in the struggle for Irish freedom and a social campaigner who stood up for the indigenous people the Congo and the Amazon appallingly exploited by European colonisers.

 

Brussels, to which I travel most weeks, as part of my role as an MEP was once at the heart of the scandal which Roger Casement was crucial in exposing. It is sobering to realise that the part of the wealth and grandeur of that city was built on the brutal exploitation exposed by Casement.

 

But when Casement travelled to the Congo and helped expose the unparalleled brutality of King Leopold’s forces in the ‘Belgian’ Congo, Leopold was being lauded by anti-slavery groups and other philanthropists who believed his claims about the benevolent role of his forces in the Congo.

 

Things are not always as they seem.

 

The question “Is the social heart of Europe still beating” starts with an assumption that the social agenda has in the past been central to the European Union project.

The European Union was an economic project from the start and one that was led by a European elite as opposed to the people of Europe.  The people of the European member states while permitting this to happen had little input into how it developed.  While in many cases the European Union has had positive impacts on the lives of the people of Europe, the social agenda was never at the heart of the European project. It was first and foremost an economic project serving the economic interest of the large European states.

 

In 1973 Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC), what was ostensibly a free trade organisation.   Today we are part of a political union where many of those in key positions of power aspire to create a federal state with not only a common currency but also tax raising powers and an EU army.   Among these is the incoming president of the EU Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen.

 

The EU has become characterised by arrogance and bureaucracy.  Lobbying and the influence of corporate interests have been corrosive for the social agenda in the EU.  The effect of corporate lobbyists in watering down progressive social and environmental legislation is well documented.  The EU institutions are subject to a level of corporate lobbying that would make a Washington insider blush. There are 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone with lobbyists estimated to impact on over seventy per cent of all EU legislation.

 

I, and Sinn Féin, believe in the concept of a European Union.  We believe that it is possible and commendable to create a Europe of equal member states working together in their common interests and in the best interests of their citizens as opposed to corporations or elite special interest groups.  In order to deliver that we need to be honest about the failings of the current institutions.

 

While the EU is keen to hold itself up as a project of peace and defender of human rights, there are serious questions to answer regarding the treatment of refugees fleeing war, the situation of political prisoners particularly in Catalonia, and the EU’s complicity in the perpetration of abuses elsewhere through its economic and political ties.  Its response to Viktor Orban’s dismantling of democracy in Hungary has been pathetic – we have to ask why the Christian Democrats of which Fine Gael is a member have not kicked Orban’s party out of the group?  But then again Ursula Von Der Leyen would not have been elected as President of the EU Commission without the support of Orban’s Fidez party or the Polish Law and Justice party.

 

And then look at the EU’s willingness to negotiate the Mersecor Trade deal with the Fascist Bolsanaro government in Brazil despite his war on the Amazon and its people that echoes the exploitation of the Amazonian people exposed by Roger Casement.

 

The eurocrisis was a severe blow to the idea of solidarity between member states and between the peoples of Europe.  And to the idea of the EU as a benevolent actor, acting in the best interests of member states.  Protecting ordinary citizens, workers, social protections or public services was not the priority.  The social heart did not beat for the people of Greece, Ireland or other peripheral states coping with austerity imposed upon them by European institutions.  In fact weaker, smaller and peripheral member states took a kicking from the EU and its institutions.

 

Let’s be clear: EU-imposed austerity had devastating consequences – patients were dying in Greece as the public health system disintegrated under the unbearable burden of EU-imposed austerity.  In Ireland a generation of young people left while we continue to carry a disproportionate burden of the European banking crisis.

 

Sinn Féin’s criticisms of the European Union are consistent and constructive.  We want a European Union that listens to the concerns of the people of Europe who are increasingly alienated from a project that is not delivering for them.

 

I would argue that the people of Europe want a different kind of European Union – they want a social Europe.  One built on real solidarity that delivers social and economic improvements for all.  That plays a positive and leading role in the wider world, particularly on issues such as tackling climate breakdown.

 

We have a lot of work to do if we are to put the social agenda at the heart of the EU project.   It means challenging the ideologically foundations of much of the EU project- the social heart of the EU will not beat while neoliberalism remains a dominant ideology underlying institutions and laws, including fiscal rules, of the European union.

 

The policies that result from this ideology have created widespread hardship as austerity, deregulation and privatisation have undermined the social function of states and the rights of workers.  It has created winners and losers, precarious employment, wealth inequality (including inequality between core and peripheral states), debt dependent growth and privatised public services.

 

As we enter, potentially, a post-Brexit scenario, there are two visions for the future of the European Union.

 

One is for an increasingly integrated and federal European Union empowering corporations and disempowering citizens, characterised by bureaucracy and red tape, increased military spending and a growing alienation from the people of Europe.

 

The other vision is for a social Europe that puts people first.   But this requires a complete change of direction.

Powers will have to be returned to states.

Brussels will have to be cleaned up and democratised.

 

We cannot have winners and losers.  The failed economic model must change.  The privatisation agenda must end.

 

The federalists will have to be reined back in and made to listen to what the people of the member states actually want.

The European Union must be radically reformed to become a cooperative union of nation states committed to working together for progressive social and economic change. We should be working together on common issues such as taking ambitious action on climate change, advancing social and employment rights across Europe, building a system of fair trade and using our common strengths to improve the lives of citizens.

 

In the period since Brexit became part of our everyday vocabulary there has been a lot of talk about the ‘extremes’.  The self described ‘centre’ often try to pit the extremes as the Hard-Right, including the Brexiteers, and progressive left forces.

 

There are extremes in European politics and one of them is the xenophobic, racist, isolationist right wing elements – they want to bring the house-of-cards down, to scupper any semblance of solidarity.  But the other extreme is often that self described ‘centre’ because what they want to do is what they always intended only to do it faster and with even less democratic oversight than was originally intended.  Their answer to every question is more Europe, more federalisation, less national democracy, less accountability.  Peoples across Europe have repeatedly let it be known that this is not the type of EU they want or support and in many respects it is the unrelentless drive of this agenda that has facilitated the growth in the far right.

 

On the other hand, it has been progressive left parties like Sinn Féin who have articulated an alternative way, a better way, a more democratic way.  Sometimes it has been difficult to have this alternative vision heard primarily because any criticism of the EU is brushed aside as being ‘anti-European’.

 

Our role in campaigning for a remain vote in the north during the Brexit referendum and in subsequently advocating for that majority vote in the six counties to be respected, I think, has allowed people to see that Sinn Féin’s vision is indeed one of Ireland’s place being in Europe but continuing to seek the radical reform that the EU desperately needs.

 

It’s my view that a social Europe is possible – it’s my ambition that Irish political representatives will work together to achieve it.

ENDS

Post-Brexit, EU must change direction – Matt Carthy MEP

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