Umberto Eco the great Italian semioticist died in the same week as Terry Wogan. Terry, bless him, taught us to laugh at the Eurovision song contest that overblown camp extravaganza in all its glorious absurdity. If we had been listening to Umberto he could have taught us something far more important, he could have helped us to decipher the absurd language around the current debate on our membership of the European Union.
Umberto’s last book of essays has the title, Inventing the Enemy, he implies that every country, every people need an external enemy to unite them and given them a sense of who they are by defining who they are not.
For me this is particularly relevant to the EU which for some people is the omnipotent other that controls their lives from afar. To which we can attribute everything we do not like about our lives. This is a fantasy possible because the real problem with the EU is its weakness not its strength.
Most people give up trying to understand what it actually does and how it actually works because of the EU’s secret weapon. It is boring!
First let me make a confession I am actually enjoying the current debate I love the mixture of absurd posturing and claim and counter claim about our future in or outside the EU. When I was younger I worked for five years as a research assistant for a Euro-MP. I sadly understand all the institutions and most of the treaties and know my way around the European infrastructure.
If I had back in those days had to describe my own position on the whole European adventure I would have described myself as a pro-euro-sceptic. Meaning that I am in favour of an ever closer Europe indeed of a fully federal union what I am sceptical of of is that the current confederal structure with what is called in the euro-jargon flexible geometry going to get us there anytime soon.
As the Clash once put it back on Combat Rock the current question is Should I Stay or Should I GO? There is no doubt that the EU has many flaws. The most important of course being its anti-democratic nature and a structure which enables multi-national capital to run rings around both democratic governments and that which is probably driving the split in the Tory party domestic or national capital.
For me any conceivable position outside the EU is worse than the one we currently occupy. The Norway and Swiss options leave us in the Single Market and in Schengan with no voice on any of those rules and regulations. Michael Gove has advocated the Albanian option. One it seems even the Albanians do not want to occupy.
In some ways the EU has been a modernising force in British politics, bringing us regulations and directives that have had a direct impact upon the free movement of workers and inequality between men and women. The main benefit of these measures is that they can combat certain forms of discrimination – whilst of course trying to make the labour market as competitive as possible.
I want to stand up for migrant workers. I have been one. Without whom Britain would currently have no economic growth at all. I am against discriminating against workers in the UK on the basis of their passports! The Tory demand to have discriminatory benefits depending on where you come from should have no truck from any socialist.
The European tragedy however is the overall economic policy which has greatly contributed to its current malaise. That neo-liberal policy which of course is replicated in spades here in the UK.
For me the economics makes little difference in or out without a significant change in economic policy. The issue then comes down to politics. There is no doubt for me that Brexit leads to Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and his vision of a deregulated free market UK and a triumph for Nigel Farage on a tidal wave of xenophobia.
At a time when all my friends in Europe want us to stay and work with them to reform the economics of Europe and help tackle the devastating crisis of migration, which I feel the UK is partly responsible, leaving feels like an act of betrayal.
That is why I am joining John McDonnell, and his demand for a Europe of solidarity, workers rights, and environmental justice, and in supporting Another Europe is Possible.
Utopian? Possibly, but less unattractive than the alternative, of blaming the EU for all our problems when we are the EU! Of blaming them when we should be blaming us! Often for things that our own government have supported but have not told us.
The real challenge for us remainers however is to admit the future we seek is a federal democratic Europe one which allows small nations to flourish, welcome Scotland and Catalonia and sees an end to the fantasy of London as an imperial capital.
I reject the binary choice of Brussels business as usual or a retreat into nationalism. We need to bring transparency to the EU’s current institutions and to build towards a new constitution creating a genuine European democracy with a sovereign parliament.
I am a European.