Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Whose Europe is it anyway?

In M. Davies on March 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

“Our Europe Not Theirs”, edited by Glyn Ford and Julian Priestley. Published by Lawrence and Wishart.

Reviewed by MAT DAVIES

Our Europe Not Theirs is a timely call for a break with what the authors consider to be the right-wing orthodoxy which has gripped the European Union. The aim of this book is to offer a series of “progressive left-wing policies” such as tackling fuel policy and wage repression whilst simultaneously safeguarding national interests.

It achieves the former by criticising current policies and then exploring a variety of key institutions which are capable of delivering legal and political change. Whilst some arguments are coherent, particularly with respect to fuel poverty, there are also a series of points which fall victim to ideological generalisation, historical ambiguity, and what I suspect to be a misreading of the economic and security agenda in the EU.


The thrust of the book is concerned with reforming the European economy, which Derek Reed takes up. He argues on page 33 that “there can be no progressive economic alternative without a radical shift in tax and regulatory regimes – especially, but not only, the financial sector.” This assertion emerges from his observations that the interdependency of states and global capital is led by a neoliberal ideology which emerged out of “Austrian” economics such as those proposed by the late Frederick Von Hayek. Whilst few would argue that the tax regimes currently in place need harmonising and reforming and that global capital flows need appropriate and effective regulation, his argument is institutionally and historically wrought with some rather basic problems.

First, Von Hayek, author of the Road to Serfdom, certainly inspired right-wing governments in the 1970s and ’80s, but his key arguments were not realised. Like Milton Friedman, many of his prescriptions are caricatured and used to prop up what is termed “neoliberalism” which is rarely conceptually spelled out.

Second, the institutions that Reed critiques such as the European Central Bank were institutionally designed based on a report led by the French Socialist Jacques Delors. The kind of reforms Reed would like to see were actually presented and rejected in the early 1970s. The “Werner Report” argued that an ECB needed to be concerned with unemployment and a broad set of social indicators in addition to interest rate setting and keeping inflation under control. Why this was not mentioned is curious. Nonetheless, Reed identified a series of institutions and policies which currently lack accountability in their design.

Furthermore, Reed is clear about linking “fuel poverty” which is a major issue in the UK to the European Union. This is a very important policy issue, currently lacking from Labour’s reasoning on “how” to tackle the topic after the next General Election. As an overview. Derek Reed’s contributions are well written, accessible and balanced. I doubt if many on the left would argue with his central points. Yet the “what to do” question is not as problematic as “how to do it” with electoral legitimacy.


Moving on from the economy, Patrick Costello makes a compelling case regarding the role of the EU and Britain’s security. He pursues the fact that the EU has moved in this highly contentious policy direction in a number of ways, most noticeably since the Lisbon Treaty and the launch of the European Action Force led by UK Labour politician, Baroness Ashton. And a number of achievements have been made.

However, he reports that Britain’s national security policy has undermined this European shift, through fuzzy agreements with France when the UK ought to be more concerned with leading the way in security policy at EU level.

This is a very important chapter, but again fails to point out that there is nothing new about this school of thought. We have had a European Security Policy since 2003, and a series of obscure programmes which were hardly reported in the UK. These have led to a number of transnational bodies which police borders (Frontex), surveillance (Eurosur) and policing (Europol). Unfortunately these are developments which the electorate will not likely know about, but will further fuel UKIP’s argument of an anti-democratic EU. I am not clear why these agencies and their mandates were not given attention.


The strongest chapter, which should concern the moral pulse of those on the left is called “turning back the tide of nationalism”, and is written by Glyn Ford. Glyn identifies a broad shift across Europe towards the extreme right. This is observed in France (Front National) and Italy (Northern League) amongst others such as the neo-Nazi party in Greece (Golden Dawn) which secured 7 per cent of the vote in the last national elections.

This chapter calls for on the ground action at its best, delivered with positive messages, statistics and case studies, which begin to turn back the tide of pandering to innate nationalism that we have seen over the past few decades .

In summary, the book charts key themes such as economics , security and nationalism as well as green policies and international trade. It should interest most people on the left concerned with Europe. But it’s light on footnotes and heavy on terminology.

One final criticism I have to make concerns the closing by Julian Priestley who argues that a referendum on British membership of the EU should not take place because the public are not properly informed about the EU’s institutions and policies. This is a morally shady argument which could likely precipitate the lack of legitimacy the EU already entertains. Based on that assertion, the book should perhaps have been called “Their Europe Not Ours”.



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