By Colin Foster
Capitalism in Europe is becoming euro-capitalism, like it or not. In general and in principle, we - the socialists, the labour movement, the working-class left - should "like" it.
A broader, wider arena for capitalist development is also a broader, wider arena for working-class struggle against capital, and a better starting point for future socialist development.
To support European unity in general and in principle does not oblige us to support the particular methods, policies and institutions by which the ruling classes of Europe edge towards unity in their own interests and in their own way.
Between the different paths towards unity, it is the more forthright, open and democratic that we should prefer. A haggled, horse-traded unity, fixed up by meetings of ministers, adjusted behind closed doors, will be a less favourable terrain for workers’ struggles to "level up" across Europe than a straightforward federal united Europe, legislated for by a democratic all-Europe elected assembly.
A single currency across Europe makes a better baseline for united cross-Europe workers? demands on wages and benefits than a system of negotiations between bankers and governments to limit exchange-rate fluctuations.
"United action, of the leading countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat", as Marx insisted in the Communist Manifesto. Every move which breaks down frontiers and reduces barriers between nations should be welcomed by socialists, who know that capitalism "in one country" can only be developed with great difficulty, but socialism "in one country" is downright impossible.
We have to make an exception if the breaking-down of frontiers is through the annexation and oppression of one nation by another. But the European Union is not like that. It represents negotiated capitalist integration, not conquest. Those who say that it represents the destruction of "British sovereignty" by an all-devouring "Brussels bureaucracy" are nationalist scaremongers.
So: yes to the euro!
But not at our expense! In his speech on 9 June, Chancellor Gordon Brown explained that the main action he wants in the next year or so, towards euro entry, is to increase the "flexibility" of the labour market in Britain.
In plain words, he wants to make it even easier for bosses to respond to economic shocks by cutting wages, sacking workers, or putting them on short time.
Britain’s labour market is already more "flexible", in that sense, than those of continental Europe. But because Britain, with its exceptional links to the USA, "converges" less with other European economies, and still has interest rates differing significantly from the eurozone, British capital needs extra flexibility on the labour-market side if it is to lose flexibility on the interest-rate side by joining the euro.
Longer term, euro entry can increase pressure on British governments to "level up" worker protection to the standards of continental Europe. But that is longer-term, and in the meantime eurozone bosses are already battling to "level down" those standards.
The European Central Bank, with its power to set monetary policy independent of any democratic control, is one of their weapons in that battle.
Working-class socialists, therefore, cannot support or endorse the policies by which this New Labour government is moving towards euro entry - or by which Lib-Dems or pro-euro Tories would move towards entry. We oppose those policies - while linking our opposition to agitation for workers’ unity across Europe and for a democratic united Europe, and sharply separating our opposition from the opposition of the nationalist anti-euro campaigners of both right and left.
Short of catastrophic economic crises and dislocations of trade, the eurozone is going to consolidate and grow. Twelve of the 15 member states of the European Union have already joined the Euro; Sweden will hold a referendum on joining on 14 September; the 10 other states due to join the EU in May 2004 have it written into their agreements on joining that they will eventually come in to the euro.
Why is Britain out of the euro? It is not because some special strength of the British labour movement has forced British capital to maintain a currency system somehow more favourable to labour. The pound and the Bank of England are not better than the euro and the European Central Bank; and the labour movement in Britain today is more trammelled and fettered than in any major European country. Britain has stayed out of the euro, so far, because of the special ties of British capital with the USA - which make the process of merging currencies trickier - and because of the greater weight of parochialism, nationalism, and insularity in British politics.
Socialists have no interest in defending these peculiarities of the British. Our interest is in unity - in workers’ unity across Europe, and even in capitalist unity, to the extent and degree that it facilitates workers’ unity.