The EU is unreformable

Labour’s ‘Remain and Reform’ agenda is delusional

Fraser Myers
Topics Brexit Politics UK

‘Remain and Reform.’ That’s been the mantra of the anti-Brexit left and second-referendum campaigners since the UK’s historic vote to leave the EU. Now that the Labour Party has shamefully turned its back on Brexit and is campaigning for the overthrow of the largest democratic vote in UK history, it has been forced to adopt a Remain and Reform agenda.

Some advocates of Remain and Reform have attempted to jazz up the slogan with a third R. People’s Vote coordinator Roland Rudd speaks of the need to ‘Remain, Reform and Rejuvenate’, while certain leftish EU-philes have opted for the radical-sounding ‘Remain, Reform and Revolt’. But beyond ‘Remain’, these words are nothing more than empty posturing.

One reformer who should know better is Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister who resigned over his party’s humiliating acceptance of a Eurozone bailout package, in defiance of a referendum result rejecting it. At the weekend, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, once a committed Eurosceptic but now an enthusiastic Remainer, invited Varoufakis to sketch out a common reform agenda for the EU. The event he addressed, the International Social Forum, was apparently focused on the search for a ‘new internationalism’.

Varoufakis opened his speech by joking about globalisation. He praised the ‘exceptional capacity’ of ‘the Troika, the global oligarchy, the financiers’ to work together, across borders, to eviscerate the Greek working class. Greece’s creditors showed an ‘impressive solidarity’ with each other, he added. If ‘internationalism’ can be used for bad (ie, bank bailouts, austerity and privatisation), so his argument went, why not use it for good (ie, socialism)? But like many Remainers, Varoufakis conflates international cooperation for progressive ends – a worthwhile pursuit – with membership of the EU.

Left-wing Remainers tend to pay lip service to two of the EU’s defects: its democratic deficit and its institutionalisation of neoliberal economics. But these are design features, not bugs. Genuine reform of the EU – certainly on the left-wing, socialist or pro-democracy lines that Labour reformists claim to support – is impossible. The EU was established precisely to insulate European elites from democratic pressure and to maintain capitalist relations. Its leaders are appointed and not elected, as illustrated by this week’s coronation of Ursula von der Leyen as president of the EU Commission. As Wolfgang Streeck told spiked earlier this year, ‘The neoliberal core of the EU as an institution and the results of European integration were intended by its framers to be eternal and irreversible’.

With the deck stacked so deliberately against reform, the task is Herculean. In order to make fundamental changes to the EU, according to the Lisbon Treaty, left reformers would have to put forward a proposal that would win the consent of the majority of members of the European Council. With the current size of the EU, that would entail winning 15 national elections. Then, the Council must consult the European Parliament and the European Central Bank. The president of the European Council must convene a convention featuring representatives of national parliaments, national governments, the European Parliament and the unelected European Commission. If they produce a text that is approved, it must then be ratified by each member state – either by national parliaments or by the people through referendums.

In the current political landscape, the left has next to no chance of achieving even the first step. Left and social-democratic parties have, for the most part, been decimated in national elections. Some centre-left parties, like PASOK in Greece or the Socialist Party in France, have gone from holding office to facing electoral oblivion. Parties of the radical left have fared poorly, too – Greece’s Syriza is now out of government, while Spain’s Podemos is in dire straits. Labour’s relative success (and even it failed to win the 2017 election) is the exception rather than the rule in the EU.

Perhaps there is no better indication of this fundamental lack of electoral support than Varoufakis’s own movement, Diem25. John McDonnell has signed Labour up to Diem25’s plans for European reform. A cursory glance at Diem25’s electoral fortunes shows it is going nowhere. It obtained zero seats in the last European elections. Affiliated parties have just nine seats in the Greek parliament and four seats in the Danish parliament. This is no basis from which to launch a leftist reform of the European Union.

But even with these hurdles in place, no Remain party can ever provide a sound basis for reforming the EU. If a party does not respect democracy at home, and is willing to trample all over the Brexit vote, then how can it be trusted to bring democracy to the EU level?

Remain and Reform is a sham. It adds a radical or progressive gloss to maintaining the status quo. Only exiting or overthrowing the EU can deliver what these leftist Remainers claim they want to see.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


James Williamson

28th July 2019 at 3:22 am

Varoufakis has always been a wishy-washy Euroskeptic. If a “real” one at all.

Steve Gray

18th July 2019 at 4:02 pm

This campaign is no more than a new-fangled version of the UK Labour Party’s traditional strategy of ‘get ’em in shirts and ties and make ’em ask for an extra farthing an hour’.

Thomas C

17th July 2019 at 11:21 pm

Added to those structural obstacles to EU democracy is the very attempt to create a single government responsible for over half a billion people. Even if it were comprised of die-hard democrats, government on such a scale would necessarily be out of touch with the people.

James Knight

17th July 2019 at 5:30 pm

It is not just the difficulty of getting a consensus with 27 other counties. The problem is the EU is a club for political elites who have absolutely no vested interest in meaningful reform. And the point is the EU has reformed, just independently and in the opposite direction the way people want. Even a recently elected Green MEP has had a rudge awakening as to how the EU works. I also suspect many of those who demand reform are not thinking making the EU more democratic. They are thinking of making the EU into a better vehicle for their particular political agenda.

“Stay and reform” is part of TINA where the status quo is posited as the best of all possible worlds. It is the ultimate Panglossian optimism.

John Millson

17th July 2019 at 9:07 am

The elite Brexiteers and most ‘clean-Brexit’ supporters on the Right, those who are calling the shots now, do not care about the poorest and least powerful, many of whom voted to leave in 2016.

If there is a ‘no deal’, ‘clean’ Brexit in October the poorest and the least powerful are likely to feel the destructive material and psychological effects of dislocation, cutbacks and shortages most intensely. No amount of jolly patriotism is going to compensate for that.

The EU may well be unreformable as this piece states but it doesn’t make sense to contrive an ecomomic crisis in pursuit of notions, ‘freedom’, ‘equality of opportunity’, ‘democracy’ which the leading current political players don’t really believe in.

We shall see…

Hana Jinks

17th July 2019 at 10:04 am

The eussr is a commie hellhole jon.. It’s best to get away from it.

In Negative

17th July 2019 at 10:12 am

Aye, I think that accords to the way the apparent politics currently stands, but it ignores the cultural and political impact more broadly, which should hopefully be immense.

If Brexit is realised, what then happens to the Left? There is no way the current Left could continue to exist in a world untethered from the EU. They would need a new vision and it would suddenly give those of them with more democratic, non-EU principles more cultural relevance. A lot of middle-of-the-road, visionless careerist bastards would also vanish.

What happens too to the Demos? They’re already more radical and politically informed/active than they were in the world of televisions. There are people up and down the land who can’t believe they slept through the Maastricht or Lisburn treaties. It’s hard to say, but there is every chance that they are ripe for all kinds of new political vision. Your Boris’ and Nigels are no more equipped for the post-Brexit universe than Liz Kendall. It’s very hard to tell from here who will rise and who will fall and what the political landscape will look like in 10 years (assuming Brexit happens).

As things stand though, the mainstream Left seem to have completely abandoned the future. No imagination, no vision beyond a light tinkering with ‘the same’. If the people do suffer at the hands of a right wing elite, it was the fault of the Left for being so incomprehensibly absent from what the people they claim to represent believed in.

Hana Jinks

17th July 2019 at 10:54 am

I’m pretty sure that the levt has completely discredited. The only guy l trust is Gerard Batten.

Hana Jinks

17th July 2019 at 10:57 am

* has been

John Millson

17th July 2019 at 11:26 am

Thank you for the reply.
As an older citizen, remembering the 1980s, being made ‘structurally unemployed’ twice, forgive me if I find it hard to see round Brexit at the moment. I find it hard to be positive in this political climate, with the prospect of a dog-whistling, craven Johnson government mirroring the Trump administration. (USA – the nation that landed a man on the moon, gave us the i-phone, James Brown and Philip Roth etc. – ‘what’s goin’ on?’ )
The ‘remainiac’, 2nd vote nonsense has sucked out so much energy and has caused the iminent ‘hard’, ‘clean’ Brexit. I’m not Corbynite (his stance on Israel is disgraceful. He should never have been elected and he knows it. ) but he is correct to say that the vote should be respected. A more competent leader would have made his views more active and led the way. The Labour Party could have had more influence over Brexit if more Labour members respected more Labour voters.

Jerry Owen

17th July 2019 at 10:57 am

John Millson
We heard all your blah blah blah de dahs of doom and gloom before the referendum , now you parrot exactly the same after the referendum some three years on . How tedious do you sound !

Change the record, you sound like a stuck record.
You lost sunshine get over it !

John Millson

17th July 2019 at 12:03 pm

We all ‘lose’, sunshine.

Jim Lawrie

17th July 2019 at 11:15 am

“the destructive material and psychological effects of dislocation, cutbacks and shortages” – what is to be dislocated.? Of what will there be shortages? What will be cut back?
As for pyschological effects, that sounds as vague as it does desperate.

John Millson

17th July 2019 at 12:05 pm

So blithe. Boris Johnson will love you.

Andrew Bailey

17th July 2019 at 7:09 am

Anyone deluded enough to think there’s any chance of meaningful democratic reform in the EU would do well to read or watch Blair’s 2005 speech to the European Parliament. 14 years after warning them for the need to close the democratic deficit and absolutely nothing has changed.

Jane 70

17th July 2019 at 5:04 am

The Remain and Reform anthem:

If we say it loud enough
We’re showing that we’re righteous,
Just the very thought of it
Is making us quite nauseous

Hana Jinks

17th July 2019 at 10:06 am

I’d do a punk one, but they’re too gay to satirize.

Jane 70

17th July 2019 at 4:31 pm

O I don’t know. Just imagine what Johnny Rotten and The Sex Pistols could do to the Remain and Reform lot,if they were still around.

Hana Jinks

19th July 2019 at 2:03 pm

Very true, but l think that they’re allowed to be around any more after grunge.

Jane 70

17th July 2019 at 4:11 am

The 3 R advocates are designer democrats: the true revolt was the vote for Brexit, which they’ve dismissed as an inconvenient plebiscite ; vulgar plebs making a nuisance of themselves.

Rod Conrad

17th July 2019 at 12:44 am

But it’s much easier to reform a throwback monarchy with the house of frauds …


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