Cameron’s EU demands: Impunity plus apartheid

Dan Glazebrook
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and 'austerity'. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron © Stefan Wermuth
David Cameron has long claimed the EU needs “fundamental reform” and has promised his negotiation strategy would deliver exactly that. But when it was finally unveiled most of it amounted to a demand that things stay exactly as they are.

The first part of the strategy – outlined in Cameron’s letter to EU President Donald Tusk - insisted eurozone countries should not do anything that adversely affects other EU members. The aim here is “to prevent eurozone countries ganging up on Britain to discriminate against the City of London, and protect its status as Europe's leading financial center,” according to the BBC.

Cameron wants to prevent the emergence of any rival financial center and stop any of those affected by London’s financial chicanery from influencing its operations. Britain, or rather the City of London, plays a leading role in the world’s currency markets, and wants to keep it that way - especially when the EU keeps threatening such things as a ‘Tobin tax’. This is a levy of 0.01% on currency transactions, considered by the British government to be a hideous assault on the sacrosanct principle of free trade in other people’s means of exchange.

The BBC, as so often, has the matter on its head – it is not that the poor old City billionaires are victims of being “ganging up” on by EU bullies intent on “discriminating” against them, but rather that the British government seeks to enshrine a means by which they can block any attempts by the eurozone to break away from London’s stranglehold. Given the part played by the City in creating the Greek crisis (amongst others), the demand that Britain is exempt from any attempts to limit its destructive role amounts to an insistence that its existing financial impunity becomes permanent and guaranteed.

The second point in Cameron’s letter – on the need to enshrine ‘competitiveness’ within the EU – is another demand for more of the same. After all, the EU has been on a distinctly neoliberal trajectory for at least two decades. The only potential obstacle to its continuation is the possibility of anti-neoliberal movements coming to power and seeking to reverse decades of privatization, deregulation and crippling of public services. In this sense, what Cameron hopes to do is ensure the EU Constitution itself bars such a reversal - meaning that the taking of railways or energy companies back into public ownership, for example, would become illegal, not only under EU directives (which it already is), but under the very Constitution of the Union. The aim is nothing less than to render the EU permanently immune to democratic pressure to follow any course that differs from the destructive one it is currently on. For all his talk of ‘reclaiming sovereignty’, such a measure would effectively abolish sovereignty forever.

It is ironic that Cameron’s third point is supposedly a demand for the restoration of sovereignty. It is unsurprising that the demand is purely symbolic and utterly meaningless: an insistence that Britain be ‘exempted’ from the EU’s commitment to “ever closer union.”

This only leaves the fourth issue raised by Cameron: immigration. Specifically, he wants to ban migrants from receiving in-work benefits for the first four years they are in the country. As migrants don’t generally come to the UK for benefits but for work, this would have no discernible effect on the numbers coming into the country. Nor would it particularly save much money, given that the money involved is so small anyway (and will be even smaller following the cuts Osborne is planning). So, on the face of it, this demand would produce as little actual change as the others.

However, this would be to underestimate both the significance of the precedent that would be set, and the ideological power of making the demand itself.

Ideologically, the demand to cut migrant benefits is an insidious means of searing on to the popular consciousness a link between migration, economic crisis and the erosion of public services. Needless to say, this link doesn’t exist in reality – endless studies have demonstrated the positive net gain to public finances generated by immigration. But the holding of the referendum itself has ensured that the ‘public’ (read elite media-controlled) debate will be dominated by ‘immigration’, not austerity, for the next two years. This latest demand is a crude means of trying to ensure that it is migrants, rather than Cameron's austerity policies, who end up getting the blame for collapsing public services. This demand is also an attempt to gain impunity, in this case the impunity to attack public services without being held to account.

If the EU were actually to allow Britain to start introducing discriminatory measures against EU migrants – contradicting the fundamental principles of the Union itself – there is no reason to think that stopping benefits would be the end of the matter. Nigel Farage pointed the way forward in a BBC interview this week, when he argued that it was not migrant benefits that were the “real problem,” but rather the “thousands of migrants putting pressure on our health and education services.”

Could we further down the line, following the next financial collapse, bankers’ bailout and subsequent slashing of public spending to pay for it, see EU migrants excluded from these services as well? Perhaps they could also be exempted from worker’s rights, such as the minimum wage, to stop these so-called ‘pull factors’ attracting migrants to Britain?

Were the EU to cave in on this point, it would set a very dangerous precedent, paving the way for a two-tier, apartheid-style, migrant labor economy. Ironically, far from deterring immigration, this would create a massive incentive for employers to hire migrants they could discriminate against rather than locals whose rights would have to be respected.

Cameron’s demands are nothing to do with sovereignty, saving money or even reducing immigration. They are about granting permanent immunity to the City billionaires he represents: immunity from popular sovereignty and regulation. It would also divert public outrage against their policies and direct it instead towards immigrants. Cameron claims his demands boil down to one thing – flexibility. In fact, what they boil down to is the only ‘British value’ Cameron really holds dear – impunity.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.