Can the European Union Be Reformed?

On June 23rd the In-Out EU referendum will take place in the UK, the first time the British electorate has been able to vote on continued membership of the EU since the referendum on membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1975.

Labour, Greens, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru are all campaigning for an in vote, despite it significantly undermining their politics. After voting to leave the EEC in 1975 and being Eurosceptic in his backbench days, Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to campaign for an in vote struck me as realpolitik, aimed at appeasing the right wing of the Labour party. Other members of Leicester Socialist Students suggested it could be the opposite: now Corbyn was leader of the opposition, he would use his position in an attempt to bring change to the EU.

Speculation aside, how is reform meant to take place when that very reform goes against the fundamental nature of the EU?

One of the strongest cases of this is Greece. The people of Greece overwhelmingly voted against the harsh austerity measures that were to come with a bailout from the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission). Despite the referendum, the bailout and subsequent austerity measures went ahead, with a complete disregard for democracy by the creditors, as well as the suffering the Greek people would face due to a financial crisis that wasn’t their fault.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s Finance Minister during the negotiations of a bailout, firmly advocates the UK staying in the EU – as well as campaigning for increased democracy within the EU with Democracy In Europe Movement 2025 (DIEM25). In a recent blog post, Varoufakis writes of the potential economic disintegration that could occur across Europe should the UK decide to leave the EU – claiming “the only people who will benefit from that will be the ultranationalists – the Marine Le Pens, The Golden Dawns”.

Far-right parties making gains from economic crisis is definitely an issue that should be taken into consideration, but it appears the irony of Varoufakis’ statement is lost on him. Varoufakis, as well as Syriza, failed the Greek people by accepting the Troika’s bailout and implementing harsh austerity measures – rather than taking action that could have empowered the people of Greece to take the countries future in their own hands. It’s unsurprising then that of the three largest parties in Greece, Golden Dawn were the only party to make gains in the September 2015 elections following the bailout.

Taking the Greek situation into consideration, it emphasises the issues that left-wing reformists (Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, and to an extent Labour) face in trying to change the EU for the better. It seems highly unlikely that they will be able to change the bureaucratic and democratically unaccountable nature of EU institutions such as the European Commission, as well as the European Council. Reformists are at huge risk of letting down vast amounts of people who support their parties, hoping they can bring genuine change by pretending we can have all the nice things within the prevailing neoliberal economics of the EU.

Rather than having any left-wing parties in parliament representing the many strong cases for leaving the EU, we’re left with the likes of UKIP and significant portions of the Tories campaigning or advocating an out vote. It’s hardly surprising then that many young people believe an out vote would be a regressive step – left reformists have let young people down, by trying to imagine change within the EU which seems unlikely to happen – allowing the EU to continue, same as it ever was.

By Callum Mackenzie


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