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The Return of the 'B' Word

The Return of the 'B' Word

By John Pinkerton

Unsurprisingly most of us are focused on ‘V’ for virus, but ‘B’ for Brexit has not gone away as we are increasingly being reminded. The recent news on negotiations that haven’t got any easier than they were before the pandemic included how the Northern Ireland (NI) part of the deal is to be implemented. The Tory government has written to the EU to confirm it will put in place Border Control Posts (BCPs) at NI ports to ensure EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods apply here but not in the rest of the UK.

This prompted a spat at Stormont between the DUP and their Executive partners in Sinn Fein when Junior Minister Declan Kearney told the Assembly’s Executive Office scrutiny committee that the “British government has confirmed it will urgently put in place detailed plans with the Executive, which does include the physical posts at ports of entry”. The DUP is holding to its repeatedly stated position that it will oppose any regulations that treat Northern Ireland differently than the rest of the UK. At the same time some commenters are noting a slippery new position that the NI ‘not in - not out’ position is the best of all possible worlds.

The position of the Johnson Tory government is in line with what is becoming the main characteristic of their policies: just say one thing and then say another to give the Government maximum wriggle room.A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said it had always been made clear that there will be "requirements for live animals and agri-food … The protocol puts legal obligations on both sides. We are committed to complying with ours, just as we expect the EU to comply with theirs". Whilst Northern Ireland Secretary Lewis told MPs: "Northern Ireland is part of the UK's single market. It is important it remains that way both ways and we are determined there will not be a border down the Irish Sea.”

‘Down but not out Remainer’ Claire Hanna for the SDLP captured the mood of nationalist Remainers by weighing in with: “The only way to minimise the checks in the Irish Sea is to soften Brexit overall.” But she and anyone else still searching for a way back to the EU (including those in the leadership of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) would do well to lift their heads to see what is happening more generally in the EU where the dots get joined up between the ‘V’ and the ‘B’ words and the left wing case for withdrawal is vindicated.

As left wings opponents of the EU have consistently pointed out it is not a project about bringing the peoples of Europe together to ensure peace and prosperity. The EU is about managing the affairs of European state monopoly capitalism to protect and promote the casino economics of capital accumulation and speculation. Not an easy task given the internal economic contradictions of capitalism alongside competing national state interests – and made particularly difficult in the face of sharp crises such as the banking implosion of 2008 and now the Coronavirus. These crises expose the underlying purpose and real power dynamics that drive and disrupt the EU.

The EU proved itself incapable of mobilising cross national European resources as the pandemic struck. At the core of the EU institutions are the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECB made it clearItaly, France, Ireland and other member states had looked for EU agreement to pool their borrowing and sovereign credit ratings in a common bond, driving down lending costs for crisis-related spending. But the Northern European countries, led by the Netherlands and Germany, opposed such a measure without greater EU oversight of finances of other euro states – in other words the same punishing financial regime the EU imposed following the banking collapse, shifting the cost of overcoming that crisis onto working people through austerity.

The British decision to withdraw from the EU sharply reminded the Brussels bureaucrats, and the financial and industrial interests who set their agenda, that the EU is not a unitary state. Despite the straight jacket on national sovereignty that the EU seeks to tighten it is still a collection of nation states. Ironically the same point was rammed home by the recent German court ruling that the ECB had not done enough to justify its bond-buying programme to stabilise the euro, and that this was a partial breach of German constitutional law. The German judge behind that ruling warned the ECB not to play “master of the universe”, and warned that for the ECJ to take legal action against his court could “weaken or endanger the European Union”.

Faced with that challenge German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has used the political and economic power of Germany to play a central role in the recent history of the EU, said the time had come to “act cleverly so that the euro can, should and will continue to exist”. So she dramatically changed her country’s position to come along side the other big hitter of the EU, France. She now seems to agree with French President Macron who warned early on that the whole “European idea” could collapse if the EU failed to set up a fund that could issue common debt and finance member states according to their needs rather than the size of their economies.

Merkel plans to use the political capital she has built up within Germany through her handling of the impact of coronavirus, to commit to a more integrated and so better controlled EU. Citing former EU commission president Jacques Delors, Merkel told the German parliament that the EU had finally reached its limits with a single currency offering economic union without full political union. “We have come a long way but not far enough”. This will require Treaty change to develop the institutions and powers of the EU and this will not be easy to achieve. But the German leader has indicated that this may be her long-term demand in exchange for greater EU emergency Covid-19 measures in the short term.

So the emerging EU position is not an expression of European solidarity but a reassertion of the basic purpose of the EU – an attempt to manage the economic, political, and social contradictions of state monopoly capitalism in the European region of the imperialist global order. Where real solidarity lies and where the new post Covid political direction should point, was captured by those Italian towns which replaced the EU flag with those of China and Cuba, in tribute to the unswerving solidarity those two nations had shown them when the virus struck.

John Pinkerton is National Chairperson of the Communist Party of Ireland

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