Marxist Attitude On the Question of European Union

Elif Çağlı

12 April 2003





European Union in Reality


Imperialist unions cannot be permanent

There have been several imperialist unions on different levels since the beginning of the twentieth century and formation of such unions today is quite possible. But, because of deep crises of capitalist system which are unavoidable, such unions are always bound to contain the risk of disintegration. Lenin noted that the imperialist tendency to form big empires was, in practice, being frequently materialised in the form of imperialist alliances of sovereign and politically independent states. He says: “Such an alliance is possible and is encountered not only in the form of an economic merger of the finance capital of two countries, but also in the form of military “co-operation” in an imperialist war.” [1]

It must be kept in mind that multi-national companies have a complicated structure and that the tendency of capital towards union makes its way through counteracting factors. Kautsky denied this important fact and asserted that it was possible capitalism might enter a new phase beyond imperialism from an economic point of view. Moving from Hilferding’s “organised capitalism” Kautsky said competition and struggle among finance capital groups with different national identities could be overcome. For him, the finance capital united on an international level could usher in a new era, an era of “ultra-imperialism,” based on a joint exploitation of the world. In criticism of Kautsky, Lenin says that it is possible only in an abstract sense that the monopolist tendency leads to a world monopoly. All dead abstractions about “ultra-imperialism” would serve to divert attention away from the profoundness of existing contradictions. Best answer to these kinds of dead abstractions is to lay bare concrete economic realities of the world economy.

It is in contrast to concrete structural features of capitalism to claim that the tendency towards union operating among big capital groups would completely abolish competition among nation-states. It is completely wrong to jump over to an extreme as if a real tendency is realised hundred percent in reality. This is against Marxist method which seeks to grasp things in their contradictions in life. Monopolisation and internationalisation of capital do not lessen contradictions on a national and world scale, rather aggravate them.

On the other hand, rise of competition to the level of a competition among monopolies encourages economic unions both on a national and international level. The existence of monopolist capitalist countries such as the US having enormous resources drives other countries having no such power towards union. Regardless of the level of such drives, they essentially rest not on an abstract wish for union but on quest for maximizing capitalist interests. Unions formed by major capitalist powers to divide the world into spheres of influence, though they might include some weak countries, would be imperialist unions first and foremost pursuing the interests of the former countries, not abolishing the conflicts among them. It is thus in contrast to real workings of capitalism to perceive imperialist unions and alliances as unbreakable, static and stable unions.

Capitalist blocs cannot be lasting. They change as the power balance changes. The assumption that EU or similar unions can abolish the contradictions between member nation-states and start an era of super-union free of inner conflicts has not stood, and cannot stand, the test of realities. In capitalism division of interests and spheres of interest is solely based on the general economic, financial, military might of the parties involved. The balance of power between those involved does not remain same, but it changes. For capitalism means unequal development and it is impossible for countries, industries, monopolies to develop equally. As Lenin said, it is unthinkable that the balance between imperialist powers would remain same in 10 or 20 years’ time.

The history of imperialism is full of examples proving the possibility of formation of military, economic alliances, coalitions, blocs, institutions when there are joint interests between various capitalist powers for them to stand against their rivals. European Union is exactly such a union. Formed out of certain concrete conditions and calculations, such unions break up when conditions change, and there will be new ones. The fate of the European Union should certainly be assessed in this framework.

America’s rivalry has given rise to the European Union

Contrary to what some bourgeois writers tried to portray, the European Union in its whole actual course has in no way advanced towards lifting the borders between European countries. What essentially motivated the union was not the tale of integrating the common historical and cultural identity of Europe but economic interests as always the case with such formations. The main motive that lay beneath the progress from the EEC to the EU was to gain more competitiveness by getting united against the USA and Japan. The mounting competition among imperialist powers in 1960s, between the USA and Europe in particular, motivated the aim of advancing the economic unity of Europe. The competition between the trading blocs of America and Europe was feverishly addressed by some bourgeois European writers to accelerate the efforts towards EU. Servan-Scheiber’s book entitled The American Challenge was an important example of this genre in 1960s. [2]

In imperialist era which is based on worldwide movement of finance capital, it is impossible to bring a “common market” under control and protection based solely on the interests of the member states. Other grand rivals would seek and find ways into this “market” as long as they find it profitable and advantageous. Thus European common market has been an attractive place for investment and sale for American and Japanese companies during the period of economic upswing. Imperialist capital groups that belong to different trading blocs try to be active both within their own trade bloc and in the rivals’ and divide the lot according to their size and might regardless of national or continental identities. Thus, just as it is not possible in a capitalist partnership for all partners to get equal shares, it is not a rule that the ones to get the most out of the European common market must necessarily be its members. Hence the effort of those countries such as Germany and France not content with the common market to seek a tighter monetary and economic union in the face of rivals. Also “deterrent” measures to prevent member states to resort to devaluation to increase their exports were brought in.

From EEC to EU

In the aftermath of the Second World War Europe was in ruins and exhausted. The US imperialism however kept its ascendency and became a world hegemonic power. The Bretton-Woods agreement, for instance, was one of the embodiments of the domination of American economy. As Trotsky said, the centre of gravity of the world economy had shifted from Mediterranean to Pacific. In a decline accelerated by the Second World War, Europe came to be in need of America’s aid. It was surely unthinkable that the USA would not rush to the rescue of European capitalism against the danger of a revolution in Europe at a time when the Soviet Union set out to form its “socialist” bloc. More importantly, as in the aftermath of all big imperialist wars, the USA considered Europe a profitable area of reconstruction and a fruitful area of investment after the destruction of Europe. With the aid of the USA through Marshall Plan the old continent began to experience a new capitalist boom. The main conditions of the plan disclosed by the US General Marshall were that the tension between France and Germany would be ended, economies of European countries be internationalised and financial discipline be established.

On the other hand, there was the need to protect the European market in the face of big rivals such as the USA and Japan, which led the way to European common market and customs union. As it is impossible for European nation-states individually to cope with the world competition in imperialist era, they set out for an economic union among themselves. In the first place the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1952 to protect steel and coal industries which were very important at that time. The six founding member states were France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, which were called The Six. This is followed by preparations for a more extensive common market including other commodities and a wider union. In 1957 Treaty of Rome was signed by the Six and European Economic Community was founded. The main aim of the EEC was to establish a common market and a customs union wherein free movement of commodities, services, capital and workforce would be possible. And in January 1959 the member states made the first reduction in tariffs which was 10%. In July 1968 tariffs among member states were removed and a common tariff was agreed to be applied to non-member countries.

The main problem of European big capital was to survive and strengthen the European trade bloc vis-à-vis US (and Japanese) imperialism. In striving to solve this problem various European countries signed an agreement for a single market in 1987 that can pursue a common policy of prices. EEC would begin to be called European Community with 1980s and later in 1993 it turned into European Union. In 1997 the Union made a decision to expand, obviously considering the new balance of forces in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. [3]

The Delors Report of the EU, dated 1989, set the convergence criteria for member countries to follow in order to proceed towards financial and economic union. And the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992 set various economic and financial criteria for the member states. One aspect of the treaty was to achieve European Monetary Union (EMU) and start a common European currency. Many member countries entered new millennium with euro as their currency and in 2002 the euro became the only currency of the EU by and large. Another criterion in the Maastricht Treaty was that the budget deficit in member countries must be at most 3% of the GDP. Even the relatively strong Germany has failed to meet this criterion. With the pretext of reducing deficit public expenditures have been cut across Europe. The attack on the social rights won by hard struggles of the working class has gone rampant through practices such as privatisation, de-unionisation, outsourcing, and flexible work regime. These measures imposed as criteria for union by European capitalists clearly demonstrate whose union is the European Union.

Many economic and financial criteria that can be implemented in a feverish economic conjuncture have not worked due to the conditions of stagnation. For instance, although the EU criteria require that the tendency to union not be hindered by protective measures, with the insufficient level of economic growth member states became worried to maintain their national income and budget balances. In fact this project for union was already maimed due to the spasm experienced by the world economy when the leading imperialist powers of the EU, i.e. German and French imperialisms, imposed single currency and boosted the propaganda for union. The future of the EMU which is presented to be a lasting monetary union is uncertain in the event of the EU going into a process of disintegration. One of the main reasons for the hegemony war launched by the US imperialism in Iraq is the contention between euro and dollar which is a direct consequence of the rivalry between EU and USA. If we consider historical examples, we can see that a stable system of currency can only be possible in a period of ascendency with a relative balance secured under a hegemonic power like in the example of Bretton Woods in the aftermath of the Second World War.

EU is a contradictory union

In the period of feverish economic growth after the Second World War until 1974 the big capitalist powers of Europe indeed moved on towards economic union as it suited their interests. Headed by Germany and France, this process of getting united was not without contradictions and problems. For instance, as France under De Gaulle was sceptical of Britain for its intimacy with the USA vetoed her first application to join the EEC and Britain could join only later in 1973. Over time there would be many conflicts among member states. The EU experience demonstrated that a union of nation-states without contradictions is not possible under capitalism. At turning points where political balances change or economic situation deteriorates these contradictions deepen and bring serious tensions, conflicts. And the time when the Soviet Union collapsed was such a time.

German unification in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism made Germany potentially a big economic power. In the struggle for hegemony going on within the EU German imperialism made a leap forward and embarked on taking a strong role in Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia an so on. It also advanced its role in the Russian market in its effort to surpass the rivals. While the Bosnian war revealed the imperialist ambitions of the EU, it also demonstrated the impossibility of an EU free of conflicts of interest among member countries. It exposed the impossibility of the big powers of Europe, i.e. France, Germany and Britain, to follow a common foreign policy. Because whenever it suited their interests each of them could draw near to another power, i.e. the USA, without bothering about its European “brothers”.

France seeks to limit the hegemony of German imperialism within the EU and place an alliance of France-Germany at the heart of the union. And Germany is conscious of the fact that it can pursue its imperialist ambitions only under a cover of Europeanism. German imperialism needs to develop its power in political, diplomatic and military terms as well. Quests for coming close to Russia, plans to form a European Army outside NATO, the propaganda that a European federation can be set up, are all consequences of it.

As to Britain, although certain bourgeois sections opt for the EU, she is kind of an extension of the USA within the EU. [4] Because the USA is the guarantor and protector of investments of London across the world. Britain, in search of maintaining her superiority and cunning skills in world politics and diplomacy obtained during the era of big colonial empires, is playing the role of a scornful imperialist power coupling its assets with the economic and military power of the USA. Hence, as if to prove its exceptional imperialist position, it has neither become part of Schengen nor euro, let alone its insistence on not changing certain standards including things like traffic direction. Its essential role in the EU is to weaken the role of the France-Germany axis. It is in search of undermining the EU by making it something different from what France and Germany intend it to be, and this effort includes its policy to include countries like Eastern European countries and Turkey that are supposed to play the role of Trojan horses of the USA.

Turkey’s uncertain EU journey

Turkey-EU relations have had their ups and downs for the last 40 years with an uncertain future. Turkey made its application for full membership of EEC in 1959. In its reply EEC recommended a partnership agreement that would be in force until the point where full membership criteria are reached. This agreement was signed in 12 September 1963. According to this agreement called Ankara Agreement after a certain transition period Turkey would completely join the European Customs Union. At the end of this period of preparation Additional Protocol was signed in 13 November 1970 and it was put in force in 1973. With the protocol first tariff reductions were made and preparations for membership were accelerated.

But Turkey was not going to be able to fulfil its obligations due to economic and political crisis conditions and the angle between the EEC and Turkey would grow. After the military coup in 12 September 1980 the Community suspended its relations with Turkey and financial cooperation was ceased. Negotiations restarted in 1986 thanks to factors such as the first parliamentary elections after the coup held in 1983 in Turkey and the beginning of integration with the world economy in 1984. In 14 April 1987 Turkey applied for full membership and tariff reductions began in 1988 with a rapid pace. It was agreed that the process of customs union would be complete in 1995 and following the negotiations and preparations in the years that followed Customs Union between the EU and Turkey started on January 1, 1996. However, despite the process of expansion agreed in the 1997 summit of the EU, the Turkey problem remained unsolved and only in the Helsinki summit in December 1999 Turkey was given the status of candidate member in the framework of certain conditions.

In 2000 the EU drew up the Accession Partnership Document for Turkey. And a plan for partnership relation between EU and Turkey (a road map) was drawn. Afterwards Turkey made some legal regulations to comply with the EU criteria and the so called “harmonization package” was passed hastily from parliament. There was a general mood that in the 2002 December summit Turkey who seemed to have convinced the EU that it was implementing certain criteria would be given a date for full membership. But in reality among the conditions put forward by the EU was the solution of Cyprus question. TUSİAD, the union of big capital, and pro-EU bourgeois milieus pressed for a speeding up of reforms in political and legal sphere in Turkey and a solution for gangrenous questions like Cyprus according to the demands of the EU. The Ecevit government which was said to be an obstacle for the process of change had to step down and early elections were held. The elections on 3 December 2002 put an end to the period of old political parties and coalition governments of them. These old parties have in recent years been discredited in the eyes of the masses. Even in the first days of its rule the AKP was anxious to speed up the process of joining the EU with the pressure of the pro-EU big capital milieus. But the strife between the USA and EU which for a long time has its reflection in the ruling circles in Turkey was soon to put its grip over the AKP government and the fate of the process of joining the EU was again to fall into uncertainty. And the expectation of Turkey for membership was to fall to the barbed wire of Cyprus question in the Copenhagen summit. While the summit which was held on 12-13 December 2002 gave the date 16 April 2003 for membership of Southern Cyprus, it was declared that the situation with Turkey was to be overviewed at the end of December 2003.

It is nearly impossible for the traditional ruling forces in Turkey, the high level state bureaucracy, the army staff being in the first place, to come to terms with any proposals for a political solution to Cyprus question or Kurdish question and act in accordance with the EU. Although in recent years organisations of big capital have increasingly taken an attitude in favour of the EU, the decisive role of the army staff in the ruling heights of Turkey can by no means be ignored. And the primary role belongs to this element of ruling elite in uniform as a strategic partner of the USA within the NATO alliance in drawing Turkey into the war front. In fact, as a peculiarity of the capitalist development in Turkey, the army is in the position of the representative of one of the biggest financial capital groups. Although the chief of staff appeared to be taking a softer position about EU criteria since the last days of Ecevit government, the new order of warfare being involved in the Middle East has made the cooperation with the USA more important.

The conflicting process over the EU flows in fact from the Turkish bourgeoisie’s need for a deeper incorporation into the imperialist system. Keep in mind that all sections of the big bourgeoisie know very well that national isolation would mean sort of an economic and political suicide. What matters to them is to choose their allies according to their own interests in this scramble for greater share. The fact that a bourgeois section or organisation which appears to stand against the EU with a jargon of “national independence” is in fact an expression of their effort to blur the consciousness of the masses and to conceal their choice, let’s say, in favour of the USA instead of the EU.

The fact that there was no certain date determined for Turkey’s full membership in the December 2002 Copenhagen summit is considered a retrograde step taken by the EU in its endeavour to dismiss a perspective of Turkey’s membership. One element that strengthened the hand of the alliance of Germany and France who are unwilling about Turkey’s membership was that the ruling circles in Turkey and Northern Cyprus were unwilling to accept the Annan Plan which proposes a “joint state” on the Cyprus question and that they were also in search of a US backing for their cause. Moreover, preparations for an Iraq war by the USA without EU consent have already increased the tensions between the USA and EU. Thus the EU membership of both Turkey and Northern Cyprus has now entered in a process of utter uncertainty. Although there may be some new developments in the EU course of Turkey depending on the course of the hegemony war between imperialist powers this question is not simply a question of joining the EU. This long-time painful question has become part of the “new world order” which is now being forged through the flames of imperialist wars.

The fate of the European Union is uncertain

The European Union spearheaded by Germany and France has for some time been under serious tension. Europe had been in a disadvantageous position against its main rival, namely the USA, due to factors such as low growth rates, high labour costs and insufficient industrial integration level around the continent. Additionally, the big crisis and war atmosphere increased the tension within the EU bringing it to the brink of disintegration. In fact the plan of the EU to expand towards Middle and East Europe, Balkans even Turkey means in a sense a watering down of the union by the USA. The USA intends to undermine the EU and take it under its hegemony by encouraging the entry of those countries that are considered to be easier to keep under control of the US. At a time when American imperialism raises the tension in a drive to reshape the world the EU is cracking while it tries to expand.

With its current attitude Britain, as one of the biggest components of the EU, takes its side with the USA and not with the EU. Many EU members support the US’ war coalition either directly or indirectly. The plight of the EU displays that it is not at all the kind of union that progresses towards a joint state contrary to the promoters of the myth of a capitalist European Federation. European Union is essentially an economic union. It is an economic association formed by the big capital in various European countries to maintain and expand their spheres of hegemony. While the fact that it is based on the European continent gives it a unique character, in the final analysis, it has similar foundations with other economic unions encountered in the monopolist stage of capitalism. Of course it cannot be ignored that the geographical and cultural affinity of European countries gives a special importance to the commercial and economic relations among them. However, overrating the question of “union” of European countries and arguing that the nation-states of Europe will unite under a new nation-state would be completely wrong.

The dream of a United States of Europe came into the stage by the pressing need of overcoming the narrow framework of nation-states which is an obstacle to European capitalism which had elevated to the monopolist stage. However it was but a delusion that these fetters could be overcome and productive forces would continue their development without contradiction under capitalism. While some are waiting for the train that is supposed to carry the EU to the United States of Europe in a manner of political mindlessness, the real world has begun to shake by the US’ hegemony war. With this new period we have just entered, let alone the delusion to achieve a United States of Europe, all capitalist alliances which marked the long period after the Second World War are cracking. The fate of all capitalist unions and blocks from NATO through the United Nations to the EU is uncertain. Since every “union” based on conflicts of interest is destined to fall apart with reshuffling of cards. In a word, the fate of the European Union which is said to progress towards the goal of United States of Europe is not certain even in its present form. Therefore let alone the dream of a capitalist United States of Europe even a project of a lasting European Union is destined to fail in the test of realities.

[1] Lenin, A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism, LCW, v.23

[2] In this book, published in September 1967, Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber advocated that, in the face of the challenge posed by America, Europe needed a change in organisation and mentality and a technological breakthrough in order not to become a satellite of it. He said the only way to counter the competition of America was economic, financial, political and judicial cooperation, reviving the bourgeois’ dream of United States of Europe. He advanced the idea that a big state to cope with big affairs in Europe must be a federal state like the USA necessitated by international division of labour. And he was trying to implant this idea to the working class as a hope. Contending that the European left needed a renewal, he advised the way for a social conciliation among workers’ unions, boss’ unions and governments.

According to this, those countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia that are more advanced in terms of complying the EU criteria would be accepted as members in the first round, and be followed by a second round of countries such as Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania. And later Malta, Turkey and South Cyprus were added to the list. This was the plan for enlargement of the EU, which means addition of 13 candidate members to the existing 15 members, i.e. Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal.

[4] For instance, Thatcher, who was one of the most prominent figures of neoliberal wave, claimed that all problems that are dealt with by the world were generated by Europe and that founding of EU was “perhaps the biggest stupidity of modern age.” As former leader of Tories Thatcher says Britain must withdraw from key agreements of the EU such as agriculture, fisheries and defence.