EU debate: “Leaving the EU won’t get rid of neoliberalism”

Bettina Trabant, originally from Germany, currently living in London, continues the discussion on which side to support in the vote on EU membership. We will be continuing this debate with another article from Brian Parkin tomorrow. 

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Socialists have been debating the upcoming EU referendum ever since the general election in May and can be found arguing for both yes and no to EU membership. What we think of the EU isn’t fundamentally different between the two sides: we both agree that neoliberalism is bad and that freedom of movement is good.

However, as it’s a yes/no referendum on EU membership it demands that we have a concrete answer. Abstention, or not having a position sadly won’t do.

I want to put an argument for socialists to take a yes position. Not because I have any illusions in the EU or because I support the official ‘Yes Campaign’ that will consist of people making strong pro-business arguments.

My arguments for staying in the EU are as follows. Aside from the issue that leaving the EU would make life a lot harder for migrants like me, which is one of the main reasons I couldn’t possibly argue for a Brexit, I am struggling to see how leaving would benefit ordinary people in Britain or help the class struggle. I can’t see Britain leaving the EU bringing an end to neoliberalism and austerity here in the UK, or in the rest of Europe.

I also think the EU, while weakened through Brexit, would be strong enough to withstand it. Even if the EU were to explode, unless that coincides with a massive upturn in class struggle, a lot of the treaties would be renegotiated under a different name. Austerity and neoliberalism would remain.

Having said that I agree with the arguments that the EU was not set up to benefit the working class and it’s main purpose is to be an economic and military counterweight to Russia and the USA, and for European capital to be competitive on a global scale.

There are a lot of negatives about the EU, that do nothing to benefit people, but the EU has also brought some positives, the main one being freedom of movement.

I see the arguments that have been floating around regarding fortress Europe, that we should vote for the right of migrants to stay, but for a Brexit, as slightly problematic. I agree with the arguments about Fortress Europe in as far as I can see the enormous tragedy and loss of life that have resulted from the failed policies of European countries towards non-EU migrants. I think however, that while freedom of movement and migrants’ rights are a long way of from being perfect, they are far better than if we were to leave the EU. Leaving the EU would get rid of the limited amount of free movement that we have.

On a practical level, however much we campaign for a position of no to EU, yes to freedom of movement, if Britain leaves the EU in practice will mean that things will get far harder for migrants.


  1. As a migrant from the UK to Slovakia I disagree that it’s the EU that has enabled that migration. I have relatives in Russia and a Japanese sister-in-law in London. Their migration didn’t rely on international treaties.
    However the ability to settle in a new place is linked to the economic stability and all the austerity and cuts makes migrants lives harder not easier.
    The various parties hide behind the economic orthodoxy as though it has the inevitability of laws of physics. The EU makes the accountability of local politicians harder not easier. Left liberalism and right liberalism argue about the quality of paint on the walls of the hospital while the building has no roof. Both sides accept the EU’s constraints that there’s no money.
    Leaving the EU wont get rid of those insisting neoliberalism is the answer, but if they are elected it will make it easier to pin the resulting chaos on them.


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