The words below are taken from a post made to Facebook on 26 May 2019, a couple of days after the UK’s final EU elections before Brexit. The post shared the photo (above) with added commentary. At the time – as with most of the Brexit saga – it was still very unclear how things would play out.
I posted this the other day, at sunset on EU Election Day. It’s a quote from Dylan Thomas’ famous poem, but the scene in front of me, on that particular day, evoked its use by Yanis Varoufakis during his time as Finance Minister of Greece. He quoted it the day that Syriza won their famous election victory in January of 2015, and in his memoir, ‘Adults in the Room’, it is a refrain that captures the energy of his work. Varoufakis has landed more blows on the EU than Farage could hope to in a lifetime, but he has done so as a passionate European. His argument, made persistently since the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, through his time in office, and right up to the present, is that the EU is a project to be believed in, but which has badly lost its way. Even after his time as EU Enemy No 1 he campaigned in the UK on behalf of the Remain campaign with a clear message: Remain AND Reform.
My view of the EU has been deeply influenced by my engagement with Varoufakis’ critique. The politics of the EU are deeply tied up with the politics of the Eurozone, and the Euro is a badly structured currency that is very vulnerable to weak national economies. That creates incentives for stronger creditor economies (i.e. Germany) to behave in deeply damaging ways to weaker debtor economies (i.e. everyone in Southern Europe). Where the Eurozone could work as a check on national economy’s worst excesses, it in fact ends up punishing all real attempts at reform.
This is by no means solely the fault of the EU. The IMF and the ECB create conditions that push the EU towards poor decisions. However, the structure of the EU – the power of the Commission, the tendency towards centralisation, and the fact that many of its members have additional currency dependencies – make this all but inevitable.
Of course just quitting the entire project is an easy answer, but, like Varoufakis, I strongly believe that is a bad move. The alternative – a fragmented Europe, divided by suspicion – is worse. Unlike some of my Remainer friends I have a lot of sympathy with Brexit-voters. But the Brexit Party and Farage are not the answer; they can only ever be an outlet for anger, because Brexiteers – across Consevatives and Labour – have demonstrated that Brexit is no serious alternative. Beyond the rhetoric the reality doesn’t materialise.
As UK politics now moves towards a choice between No-Deal or Remain, the case for Reform of the EU needs to take centre-stage. The need for cross-border collaboration is vital, but Europe is not a homogenous blob. That is our great strength and structures that facilitate respect for difference are needed if the EU is to have any future at all. It is not just Brexit which threatens it; all across the continent far-right groups are gaining ground. Unless something drastically changes the entire EU project will fail and be replaced by a poisonous fascism that cannot deliver its promises and will tend ever more strongly towards violence. Our national and local differences are real and need to be respected in a far more devolved political structure within the EU, just as we need far more local devolution within the UK. Real, meaningful, grassroots Democracy is what we need. Only genuinely shared power provides a pathway to a future we can hope in.
So as I wait for the results of the European elections I am, with Varoufakis, ‘raging against the dying of the light.’ The EU is not the light; the light is the hope of a fairer, more democratic world, for which – in Europe, at least – the EU is a vital institution. If it can be reformed.