The extraordinary impact of the Extinction Rebellion has, perhaps much to everyone’s relief, eclipsed, if only temporarily, the debate about Brexit. And yet the two are intrinsically connected. To stop climate change, we need action at global levels and that can only happen if the European Union takes a leading role.
This is why the European elections are so important and why the Labour Party, in particular, needs to participate seriously and effectively. Over the past week, there has been a spate of articles in the press about how these elections are a proxy for a second referendum. This is wrong. These elections are about the very nature of the European Union and how the European Union evolves will affect not just us in Britain but the whole world. The Brexit debate has been extraordinarily parochial – the arguments are all about the impact of Brexit on us. There has been almost no discussion of the big global issues and how they might be addressed.
The European Union represents a new kind of political institution. It is a regional organisation that is more powerful than a typical inter-governmental organisation but at the same time does not displace the nation-state. It came into being not on the basis of war, which was the case for nation-states, but rather in opposition to war, fascism and colonialism. Anthony Barnett calls it a ‘regulatory union’. I prefer the term global governance. It has the capacity to regulate those phenomena that cross borders and cannot be addressed at national levels – carbon emissions, multinational corporations, financial markets, wars, or migration. In theory, at least, effective and accountable global governance protects the ability of nation-states to respond to domestic demands by regulating those phenomena that currently threaten this ability.
At present, the European Union is overly influenced by corporate interests and by market fundamentalism. But this election could change all that.
At present, the European Union is overly influenced by corporate interests and by market fundamentalism. But this election could change all that. If Labour wins sufficient seats, the Socialists could become the largest political bloc in the Parliament. Together with the Greens and other Left parties, it could shift the balance in the European parliament. The European parliament now has considerable powers to approve appointments, to amend legislation and to approve the budget. Therefore a left Parliament would mean a left Commission.
The Manifesto of the Party of European Socialists (PES) opposes austerity and neo-liberalism. It calls for a Europe of the Many and for a Feminist Europe. And it calls for a ‘green transition’. The Manifesto has been approved by Labour which will produce its own manifesto on April 30. What we need in that Manifesto is a central commitment to a European Green New Deal.
A campaign for a European Green New Deal would counter the campaigns of both the Brexit Party and the remain parties – the Liberal Democrats and Change UK. It would counter the Brexit Party by showing that Labour is the only party with concrete policies for meeting the needs of deprived areas of Britain; a Green New Deal would involve large-scale investments in these areas so as to shift their socio-economic base from declining manufacturing and mining towards new growth sectors such as renewable energy, resource saving infrastructure, high tech companies and non-material sectors like health, education and culture. And it would counter the purely remain parties who want to preserve the status quo by calling for radical reform of the European Union.
Labour’s ‘better deal’ satisfies no-one; it seems too close to the EU for leavers and too far away for remainers.
Of course, Labour’s manifesto must include a commitment to a confirmatory vote as members of UNISON, GMB, TSSA and other unions are calling for. All the polls suggest that without that commitment, Labour would lose votes to both the Brexit party and the remain parties. Labour’s ‘better deal’ satisfies no-one; it seems too close to the EU for leavers and too far away for remainers. Moreover, Labour needs to mobilise young voters in this election both as activists and voters and this will not happen without a commitment to a confirmatory vote. Finally, the complexities of the voting system makes tactical voting very important. With a commitment to a confirmatory vote, Labour could sweep up Green, Liberal Democrat and Change UK voters.
But what needs to be stressed in the campaign is the possibility of transforming Europe and building a pan-European socialist alliance so as to address both inequality and climate change. It would bring Labour back to its internationalist roots. And it could reverse the dangerous trend towards right-wing populism. It is not only Nigel Farage we have to worry about. Far-right parties are predicted to be the second largest political bloc in the European parliament after the elections. Without Labour, the whole balance of the European Parliament will shift to the right. Do we not have a responsibility both to our fellow Europeans and above all to the planet to prevent that from happening?
An earlier version of this article referred to the political party Change UK as Change.org. Change.org is a petition website and has no party political affiliation. The article was corrected on 1 May.