by Herman Michiel
In a reaction to the Brexit speech of the British prime minister Theresa May (2 March), Gabi Zimmer, group leader of GUE/NGL in the European Parliament and member of Die Linke, made a declaration which supposedly represents the position of the radical Left on the current state of affairs in the Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. I am not happy with this declaration, as it differs hardly from the ones made by the EU establishment.
Consider a statement as “Theresa May did not come up with a coherent proposal on how to concretely translate the political deal of last December into a binding agreement – as requested in the last European Parliament resolution and in the Council guidelines of 15th December 2017.” Or another one: “She dreams of a special treatment for the United Kingdom in the coming future whilst forgetting that she must deliver on the initial promises. Stating that this is not cherry picking does not make it a realistic negotiating option.”
Doesn’t it drip with bureaucratism and EU legalism? Does it suggest any difference between the radical left and the usual representatives of neoliberal Europe? I am afraid not. Parliamentary radical left seems to share the vision of Barnier, Juncker, Tusk, Verhofstadt and tutti quanti on the first withdrawal from the European Union. The parliament resolution, written under the supervision of Guy Verhofstadt, was approved by most radical left MEPs, a quarter of them abstained, none was against. Nonetheless, the resolution requires that the future EU-UK relation be in “strict concordance with the protection of the integrity of the internal market and the four freedoms“, in other words: free movement of goods, services, labour force and … capital. The resolution further requires “safeguarding the EU legal order and the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union“.
For sure, Theresa May is a thoroughly rightist politician, and the Brexit of her Tories is not intended to be an emancipatory project for the working class. But at the same time, May is – whether you like it or not – the current interlocutor for the British nation in its relations with the EU. She will not be that interlocutor for ever. It is not impossible, everyone at the Left hopes so, that a certain Jeremy Corbyn takes that place, who knows even before the 29th of March 2019, end date for an agreement EU-UK.
Suppose this happens. Will the parliamentary radical left then still insist on “the last European Parliament resolution and the Council guidelines of 15th December 2017”? GUE/NGL will certainly know that Jeremy Corbyn recently opted in a speech for good trade relations with the EU, but he also announced that, in case of a Labour government, the UK would negotiate “protections, clarifications or exemptions where necessary in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive.” In other words, the UK under Corbyn’s Labour would not abide by “the integrity of the internal market and the four freedoms”. But it is in vain that one looks for an echo of Corbyn’s Brexit for the many, not for the few in Gabi Zimmer’s declaration.
A large part of the Left in Europe is still captive of Europeanist illusions and inhibitions, and one can understand the difficulties in breaking through that barrier. To give one example: practically the only ones who voted against the Brexit resolution of the European Parliament were from extreme right parties; if the left had rejected the text, media reports would certainly point to the “extremes who find each other in their hate for Europe”. But leaving the extreme right as the sole (pseudo-)opponents of neoliberal Europe is certainly not a solution.
The left in Europe needs an intense debate on strategic and tactical questions. This will certainly be difficult, sometimes even painful (as in the case of Mélenchon’s demand to exclude Syriza from the European Left Party), but utterly important. Let’s start it in our Lexit network as well!