Like most Canadians, I favour the European Union and have a negative opinion of Brexit. According to a poll by Carleton University, 75 per cent of Canadians have positive or somewhat positive opinion of the E.U. and 64 per cent are unsympathetic or somewhat unsympathetic of Brexit.
Curiously, Canadian views are partisan. More Conservatives are sympathetic of Brexit than Liberals and New Democrats (46, 13, and 8 per cent, respectively). What’s odd about Conservative sympathy is that Brexit will hurt the flow of British capital.
Equally odd is support for Brexit by Britain’s Tory Party, the traditional party of capital. Neil Davidson, author and professor at the University of Glasgow, explains:
“The Tory Party is not acting in the interests of British capital in pushing through Brexit. This dereliction of its duty is the result of how ruling-class parties have evolved in the neoliberal era (Harper’s, October, 2019).”
This is further evidence of the shift in conservative values towards populism. The Republican Party in the U.S. no longer has capitalism as a core value, rather it owes fealty to a reckless madcap leader who supporters see as maverick. Britain’s Boris Johnson has the same eccentric appeal.
Here’s why rational conservatives should support the European Union:
“Given the illusions many on the left have about the E.U., it’s ironic that its structure corresponds quite closely to the model of ‘interstate federalism’ devised by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1939,” says Davidson. “Hayek, in many ways the intellectual forerunner of neoliberalism, proposed that economic activity in a federal Europe should be governed by a set of nonnegotiable rules presided over by a group of unelected bureaucrats, without any elected members of government and irrational voters getting in the way,”
British capitalists have always been in favour of the E.U. as a replacement for their colonies. As the British Empire imploded and colonies became self-governing and resistant to exploitation, British capital sought new opportunities for investment and found them right next door.
Not only Britain, but capitalists in Germany and France looked within Europe itself for opportunities. Global capital needed outlets for investment beyond the boundaries of individual states. At a time when decolonization across the Global South reduced slavery as a source of cheap labour, the E.U. provided a means for capitalism within Western Europe.
Contrary to my impression of the E.U. as being a foil to the rising U.S. military industrial complex, the E.U. benefited the U.S. as well. The E.U. was a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance in Europe, part of Washington’s Cold War imperial project.
The global economic crisis in 2008 exposed the structural inequalities of the E.U. as not a union of equals. Germany imposed austerity measures on weaker states, throwing countries such as Greece into depressions.
The E.U. is a model of globalization in which “free trade” is the advertised objective but the imposition of non-trade clauses, such as copyright and protection of Big Pharma patents, is a primary goal.
The E.U. is more undemocratic than any of the nation-states that compose it, including Britain. Its least democratic institutions such as the European Commission and the European Global Central Bank have the most power while the nominally democratic European Parliament has the least. It’s a undemocratic institution designed to prevent social democrats from infringing on the logic of capital in Europe.
Brexit will diminish the power of capitalism as we move into an era of populism and protectionism characterized by the Trump administration.
My hope is that organic movements, such as climate activism, will rise to restore sanity in resolving the greatest threat to humanity.