By Kevin Henry
Nick Clegg – the Lib Dem leader who betrayed students by breaking his promise to freeze tuition fees – has organised meetings in Britain to “appeal to young people” to support the EU. Tax evader Bob Geldof has patronisingly pleaded with Irish people in the UK to vote ‘remain’ as follows: “If you’re young, vote for your future. If you’re old, vote for the future of your young people.” All of a sudden, establishment figures that didn’t care about sky-high tuition fees, youth unemployment and rock-bottom wages are concerned with the future of young people!
It’s not surprising, therefore, that the EU referendum debate currently dominated by pro-austerity politicians is not enthusing young people. Reportedly, only 52% of young people are ‘definitely intending’ to use their vote on 23rd June. A recent YouGov poll has shown only 10% of young people trust politicians to tell them the truth about the EU referendum, just 13% trust the media and 16% trust business leaders.
At the same time, the racist rhetoric of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – which has consistently been mirrored on the ‘Remain’ side – is particularly repulsive and many young people understandably fear that leaving the EU would be a move towards narrow nationalism. Socialists have nothing in common the right-wing politics of the official ‘Leave’ campaign.
We want to see a Europe that is run in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires. The EU project is the polar opposite of this. It was a central part of the “Troika” which imposed austerity on the working class of Europe. This has resulted in attacks on education and crisis levels of youth unemployment.
The EU and the Troika imposed technocratic governments of bankers on the people of Greece and Italy and acted to corral SYRIZA when it was elected by the Greek people to end the nightmare of austerity, threatening an immediate economic crisis by cutting off access to funds from the European Central Bank.
When the Greek people overwhelmingly rejected the proposed austerity package by referendum, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker simply stated, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”. The EU has institutionalised neoliberal policies in various agreements including the Lisbon Treaty and Fiscal Stability Treaty and through international free trade deals. For example, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP,) a free trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and US will allow governments to be sued by multinationals when labour, health and environmental regulations limit their ability to profiteer.
The EU is central to driving the attacks on young people. In Greece, youth unemployment is 48% and in Spain it is 45% according to the EU’s own figures. As I am writing this, the European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi has just declared that European countries must press ahead with “structural reforms” without delay. By “structural reforms”, he means the attacks on working conditions that French workers and young people have taken to the streets to oppose.
The new labour law imposed through emergency legislation will allow employers to unilaterally extend the working week, reduce ordinary and overtime pay and make it much easier to sack workers from permanent jobs. This is just one example of an agenda driven across Europe to create “flexible” working conditions, such as zero-hour contracts. At the same time, the EU is pushing “activation” schemes to make unemployed young people work for their dole, undermining real jobs.
Both NUS & NUS-USI have decided to advocate the status quo by calling for a ‘remain’ vote. The truth is that, rather than being a force that defends our education system, the EU has played a role in co-ordinating the agenda of cuts and privatisation. The “Bologna Process” was an agreement between European education ministers over ten years ago allegedly to ensure similar standards across the EU. The process is really about imposing “structural reforms” in education so that university courses are increasingly orientated towards the needs of business, with students spending less time in class but with a greater workload.
Many people are worried about human rights and the EU portrays itself as a guarantor of our rights. However, its “Fortress Europe” immigration policies which have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war show that to be a sick lie. Despite protests across Europe demanding a humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis, the EU has acted to reinforce its borders, including doing a dirty deal with the reactionary Turkish government to effectively establish prison camps for refugees. It now intends to do similar deals with Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and the Sudan.
It has also not being a force that has helped win equality in Northern Ireland. It has done nothing to support the fight for women’s right to choose and nothing to demand LGBT rights. In fact, the European Court of Justice has upheld the right of governments to continue the ‘gay blood’ ban.
Crucially, the EU cannot be reformed. The Parliament we elect cannot initiate its own legislation, only tinker with the laws put forward by the right-wing, unelected European Commission. Power is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of unelected technocrats who act in the interests of the 1% and they are contemptuous of democracy. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s attitude to anti-TTIP campaigners sums this up: “I do not take my mandate from the European people”. This undemocratic EU would act as a block on Jeremy Corbyn implementing his popular policies, such as taking railway and energy companies into public ownership or even reversing the privatisation in the NHS, all of which are not allowed as a result of EU directives.
Despite the bravado, the Tory government is weak and has been forced into U-turn after U-turn on their right-wing programme. The EU debate has further opened up divisions within the Tories. Cameron and Osborne – representing the majority of the capitalist establishment – support remaining within the EU. A vote to leave will escalate these divisions, with Cameron fundamentally undermined and the Tories, split and facing a serious succession crisis.
For the establishment, this referendum is high stakes and their ‘Project Fear’ has gone into overdrive to try to secure victory. Socialists and trade unionist like those in NIPSA who voted to advocate leaving the EU, say we should vote against the fear-mongers, break with the EU and join the fight to build a different Europe run in the interests of the 99% – a socialist Europe based on international solidarity between the working class and oppressed, not exploitation and inequality.