In the Brexit debate opponents to Britain leaving the EU are seeking solutions to create an improved and updated European Union addressing the problems that have not only caused Brexit, but much disillusionment within the EU – one in which even the principle of freedom of movement would be modified. Colin Hines offers a solution and a new EU Treaty, the ‘Treaty of Home’
We at Brave New Europe don’t take a position on Brexit. While we recognise that many dark and odious forces lay behind the Brexit vote, and that the process will inflict significant economic damage on many people, we also know that European institutions and policies typically reflect a strong neoliberal slant – and we launched this project to oppose and change this. We have sympathy with the anger against European institutions – but we also believe in the principle of European cross-border co-operation and co-ordination in many areas. Reflecting this complex reality, we will host both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain articles.
Colin Hines is author of Progressive Protectionism
As the complexity and economic cost of implementing Brexit become increasingly apparent to British politicians and commentators, there is the beginning of a shift in the debate. Since the Referendum of June 2016 the prevailing argument had been that ‘the people have spoken’. It seemed that the 48% of those voting, who had voted Remain, had no further right to speak to challenge the inevitability of Brexit. Now that challenge is finding more of a voice.
The shift is occurring on two levels. Firstly in the UK June election the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) put forward the proposal that whilst accepting that the people had spoken, the sensible thing was for another referendum to allow them to express their opinion on the actual destination ie the final terms agreed (if any). For other parties Brexit was not such a big election issue as doubts about Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership qualities. And the Labour Party tapped into popular dissatisfaction after years of austerity, while adroitly saying it accepted Brexit and the need to manage migration. It insisted this would be possible while maintaining something like the present trading relationship with the EU, along with protection of jobs.
An exit from Brexit
After the election Vince Cable, the new LibDem leader, started calling for an ‘Exit from Brexit’. Labour’s ‘all things to all people approach’ was also under increasing pressure. The party’s surprisingly improved performance in the election and the resulting hung Parliament made a Labour victory in future elections a real possibility.. The fact that so much of Labour’s success was due to the younger urban voters supporting it, many for the first time, and that they were overwhelmingly in favour of staying the in the EU put these voters at odds with those Labour MPs and supporters in the Midlands and North keen to reflect the Leave views of their constituents.
To attempt to resolve this conundrum, the official Labour line has shifted to one of staying in the Single Market and Customs Union for a transition period of probably four years. This is then supposed to allow time for the UK to shore up its trade relations with the EU, but in such a way that the majority’s desire for managed migration can in some unspecified way be met.
Not so revolutionary
One more concrete way this can happen has recently been spelled out by the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair and separately by his former policy chief and minister Lord Adonis. They have both pointed out that control of the free movement of people has in fact been applied elsewhere in the EU, but not yet in the UK.
Labour’s former Europe minister Denis MacShane has pointed out that there already exists, in EU Treaty law, provision for an emergency brake if too great a volume of Europeans arrive at too great a velocity and overwhelm public services in the local community. It is perfectly legal to require European citizens to return home if they have not found work after three months. Also under EU rules, no state agency is obliged to hire foreign workers.
The UK could also reduce the need for EU workers by making apprenticeships compulsory for British firms, as they are in Germany, Nordic nations and other countries, where local workers do not feel as much under threat as British workers do from European migrants. https://www.socialeurope.eu/time-eu-fair-movement-directive
Lord Adonis, has proposed that there should then be a referendum on the ultimate deal (or non-deal if Britain ends up quitting the EU without one). He made clear that this should not be seen as a re-run of the 2016 poll. Instead it should be a referendum on the government’s deal with the EU. It would be essential that before this referendum there should be a plausible alternative to accepting withdrawal from the EU. His proposal is that this could be achieved if German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron were willing to “make an offer, probably over the heads of the British government, for the UK to stay in the economic institutions of the EU but with national control over immigration”.
However any remain and reform agenda within the EU must go beyond just maintaining open borders to workers. It must allow countries to reshape their domestic economies, reverse the emphasis on austerity and work cooperatively to tackle cross-border issues such as climate change, organised crime and international migration flows.
Reviving support for the EU through a ‘Treaty of Home’
Thus while the Brexit process is in train it is possible that the major reason for many Britons voting for Brexit – uncontrolled immigration – could become the first issue to be looked at as part of a wider consideration of a rewrite of the end goals of the Treaty of Rome. Fine-tuning freedom of movement is therefore just the first step.
Without these fundamental changes to allow EU countries to take back control of their domestic economies it will be impossible to permanently see off the rise of the extreme right. To do this will require a rewrite of the Treaty of Rome to convert it to a ‘Treaty of Home Europe-wide’. This will involve the reintroduction of border controls for people, goods, capital and services, to allow local economies to be protected and nurtured continent-wide. Cross-border issues such as responding to non-European migration, climate change, pollution, crime and military security would still require intra-European co-operation. These measures could build a sense of hope and support for this more cohesive European future and so halt the EU’s present descent into unpopularity, which could be its undoing.
The existing EC Treaty of Rome Article 3 (ex Article 3) (c) foresees an internal market characterised by the abolition, as between member states, of obstacles to the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital.
The proposed ‘Treaty of Home’ Article 3 (ex Article 3) (c) foresees a market characterised by the maintenance, as between member states, of appropriate controls to the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital in order to allow regional, national and local economies to prosper.
Brexit, US president Trump and Europe’s extreme right all owe their success to addressing citizens’ concerns not just for stricter immigration controls, but also for protection of domestic jobs. Most other political groupings are still pandering to the demands of big business and finance and sticking to outdated calls for the retention of open borders. Compare this cloth-eared, slow-footed stumbling by left and centre parties with the victories of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and the rise of Marine Le Pen. These politicians shrewdly offered voters their first opportunity to reject inadequately controlled immigration as well as addressing protection for local employment.
The free movement of people is beginning to be reconsidered by leaders across Europe and could therefore be a crucial first step to changing the Treaty of Rome to a Treaty of ‘Home’. This is such a huge shift that a decade long transition mechanism is likely to be necessary to fully achieve it. One aspect could start immediately however. That would be the application of a 10-year brake on uncontrolled immigration of citizens between European countries to allow countries to manage migration to suit their domestic priorities. There is a precedent of a kind here with the transitional provisions of the EU enlargement process which allowed for restrictions on the free movement of workers from the new EU member countries for a period of up to seven years.
Calls for managed migration in Europe
The German parliament is considering a five-year ban on all benefits for non-German EU citizens. Other examples of support for such an approach were listed in a recent Policy Network report. The previous Dutch deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher stated that “support for free movement is crumbling when people see that it turns out to be so unfair” and Britain leaving the EU “gives a unique opportunity to do this in a very different way”. Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb, have called for debates on the application of the free movement principle.
The European Commission has recently tightened up its rules on access to social security, saying that member states may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens who are economically inactive, meaning those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. The EU Commission’s vice-president Jyrki Katainen has talked of understanding the “unwanted consequences” of freedom of movement.
The Social Democrat Austrian chancellor, Christian Kern, has called for the EU to review freedom of movement rules and in particular consider discrimination in favour indigenous job-seekers. He has proposed a system whereby “only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction”.
Gradual replacement of the Single Market with the ‘Protected Market’
For virtually all activists and commentators opposed to Brexit there has been a rush to sing the virtues of continued membership of the Single Market, with its economic advantages for some of open borders and possible increases in exports. Discussions about the future shape of Brexit have therefore centred on the conflict between controlling the free movement of people versus the perceived advantages of continued access to the Single Market.
However as the Brexit negotiations carry on and the opposition to the free movement of people and job relocations grows, a move towards a more protectionist Europe will itself require changes in the Single Market. As calls to increase border controls within the EU mount, two advantages become apparent. Firstly, this will bring European policies more in line with the will of the majority in Europe. Secondly, controls on the present unfettered movement of goods, capital and people will also lessen the present adverse social and environmental effects of open borders. These include the relocation of jobs, offices and factories and the absurdly splintered supply chains found for example in the car industry.
Jobs go east
In terms of job losses or new jobs relocated away from Western Europe, the automobile industry in Eastern Europe now produces approximately one-fifth of Europe’s cars i.e. 3 million cars. The companies involved include VW, and its subsidiary Audi, Daimler, Mercedes, Peugeot-Citroen and its subsidiary Opel, Ford Europe and the Asian firms Hyundai-Kia, Toyota, and Suzuki. The reason is simple, the search for higher company profits by taking advantage of more limited labour rights and lower wages. According to Audi CEO Rupert Stadler “An hour of labour in Hungary costs €13, in Germany, depending on the activity, between €40 and €52.” In Bulgaria and Romania, they are estimated at less than €5, and in Ukraine they are just as low”.
The environmental lunacy of ‘car part miles’
The car industry has probably exploited the open border single market more than any other sector. The result is the environmental lunacy for example of the production process for a crankshaft used in the BMW Mini. This involves a zig-zag journey of over 2,000 miles across the English Channel, three times. The crankshaft is cast in France, milled in the UK, inserted into the engine in Germany and put into the Mini in the UK. If the finished car is to be sold on the continent then the crankshaft, inside the finished motor, will cross the Channel for a fourth time.
Rebuilding national economies
However under the protectionist direction set for all EU countries by the ‘Treaty of Home’, member states would be able to control their own borders to protect and rebuild each national economy. This would enable the replacement of the Single Market with a “Protected Market” over a ten-year transition period.
Activists and European parties of the left, greens, centre as well as those supported by localist, small ‘c’ conservatives will gain support by campaigning for such a radical change in EU policy, for it would put them more in line with public opinion and allow them to catch up and finesse Europe’s extreme right. So far, the latter have had the monopoly on policies for curbing high migration and protecting local jobs from imports.
Dealing with immigration and insecurity is something that all political groupings will have no choice but to address. If they don’t then the extreme right could triumph and the rest will be left insisting that open borders and uncontrolled immigration between EU countries are irreversible. This will leave them as quaintly passé and irrelevant as those who once asserted that the sun would never set on the British empire.