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What happens when a Labour Britain meets a semi-fascist Europe? – by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for The Telegraph – 30.05.24

Right-wing movements across the Continent are upturning the political landscape.


Europe is lurching angrily towards the hard-Right. There is a whiff of the early 1930s across the Continent.


“Look around at the fascination for authoritarian regimes. Look at the illiberal moment that we are living. There is a bad wind blowing in Europe,” said France’s Emmanuel Macron this week in Dresden.


The political centre is buckling everywhere. Marine le Pen’s Rassemblement is running at 33pc in the polls in France, double the tally of his diminished Renaissance Party. A hard-Right coalition now runs the Netherlands, beholden to the incendiary iconoclast Geert Wilders.


An anti-Davos front of Right-wing movements and culture warriors is expected to win a quarter of the vote for the European Parliament on June 9. “Unless the opinion polls have got it very wrong, next month’s elections will trigger a massively disruptive blame game within the EU,” said Giles Merritt, head of the Friends of Europe in Brussels.  


The convulsion will turn the political landscape upside down and shatter long-standing alliances. “Frantic searches for scapegoats threaten to change the face of the European Union in the eyes of the world as well as at home. This upset risks alarming consequences,” he said.


Britain’s political centre has, by contrast, returned to rude good health. One mild-mannered gentleman will hand over power to another such gentleman in early July. The kingdom’s cleansing constitutional system will then deliver five years of national political renewal from the centre-Left.


Whether or not the politicians, professors, commentators, think tanks, tweeters and good citizens of the British Left realise it, their reflexive Europhilia has become absurd. A profound realignment is going to reopen frozen pietistic debate over Brexit.


“Hard-core Remainers are going to be very peeved about what is actually happening in their beautiful Europe,” said Yanis Varoufakis, enfant terrible of the Athens Spring in 2015 and now campaigning on a radical ticket in Greece. 


“Europe is in a structural process of economic desertification and cannot even afford its farm policy any more. It is a black hole and the distance between the EU’s propaganda and reality has never been so large,” he said. 


Professor Costas Lapavitsas, an economist at London University School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and author of The Left Case Against The EU, says British progressives have never understood that the EU is a Right-leaning corporatist construct, which has hardwired anti-Keynesian policies into the legal Acquis. 


Nor do they understand that the European Court is a “veritable machine for the relentless application of neoliberal ideology”. But a Right-wing landslide in the elections is hard to ignore.


“Europe is entering a very dark place. There is an authoritarian drift everywhere and democratic institutions are becoming empty shells,” said Prof Lapavitsas.


“A second lost decade is already shaping up to be even worse than the last one, and fiscal austerity has hardly begun. You are seeing the deindustrialisation of Northern France. The German car industry is being blown out of the water,” he said.


Britain is neither in a better nor worse economic shape but it has a superior political immune system. The country is starting to look like a reassuring liberal oasis, while Europe looks ever more like a menagerie of reformed fascists, proto-fascists, and actual fascists. Woe betide the woke.


“Britain could become an example for Europe if Keir Starmer gets it right,” said prof Lapavitsas.


One might argue that a successful Labour Brexit poses a greater threat to the EU’s ideological project than a Tory Brexit could ever do.


The New York Times will have to change its tune. It cannot keep conflating Trumpism with the entirely different sociology of Brexit Britain. “Their coverage has been caricature. They have portrayed Britain as a horrible, extremist, anti-foreigner country when that is clearly not the case,” said prof Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe.


“We do integration pretty damn well compared to most countries in Europe. The European Commission is very white, and it became even whiter when we left,” he said. 


Hitherto, the EU’s hard-Right parties have been no more than Balkanised protest groups in Strasbourg. They may soon coalesce into the second biggest bloc of Euro-MPs. Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni are in tentative merger talks for a “big tent” alliance.


The two dominant groupings would then be the Right (European People’s Party) and the hard-Right, together dominating EU legislation and shaping the new Commission. You can kiss goodbye to what remains of Ursula von der Leyen’s green deal


You can also kiss goodbye to Eurobonds or fiscal union, needed to back up the euro. Monetary union will remain the same half-built structure, stumbling from crisis to crisis with each cycle until the Franco-German divergence in debt ratios reaches snapping-point.


It has long been an article of faith on the British Left that this country needs European directives to curate our farms and forests, or to safeguard worker rights, or to prevent the roll-back of women’s liberation, or to stop us misbehaving in one way or another. Can that mental framework survive what is coming?


“I think the EU is going to start looking very foreign and unattractive to people in Britain. I’m actually quite worried about it,” said Andrew Duff, a former Member of the European Parliament and doyen of British federalists in Brussels.


Mr Duff said the EU has become “extremely introverted” as the world moves on. It is overinterpreting soft polls that point to a large Rejoiner majority. “They all take it for granted that Britain will have to come crawling back. I have to tell them, honestly darling, that is not how it is across the Channel,” he said.


Professor Menon said Sir Keir Starmer will ooze enthusiasm for the European Political Community at Blenheim Palace on July 18. He will seek stylistic deals on school trips and something on vet standards. 


But he will not re-join the customs union, or the single market, or accept dynamic alignment under the European Court of Justice, for all the obvious reasons. The Norway model of EU membership without a vote will never fly. 


Labour will have to deal with Brussels on a string of intractable issues. Level-playing field clauses in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement deal could set off a dispute at any time. The accord comes up for review in 2025 and that will be an irksome replay of Brexit talks, with the EU still thinking it can behave like a hegemon.


“The EU is not going to soft-pedal for Starmer. Labour thinks it can bend EU rules if it packages everything from data to climate and migration as security. But that is nonsense. There is going to be a sobering moment for Labour,” said prof Menon. 


The difference this time is that Brussels can no longer play off the Tories against Labour. Britain’s metropolitan elites will at last have skin in the game. It will be their leader facing Brussels – not Boris, not Rishi, not the Tories. They will have no incentive to keep talking down the British economy.


The EU is itself now facing mortal danger from Russia, and front-line EU states know that it would be even worse had Britain not stepped in from the start when others were still playing footsie with Putin.


Nor is the UK so vulnerable to pressure anymore. It has already been through the adjustment shock of Brexit. Supply chains have adapted. Britain has joined the Pacific trade pact (CPTPP), the world’s biggest and fastest-growing free trade bloc, a regulatory rival that will not bow to EU dictates.


Europe has in the meantime continued its economic vanishing act, trailing behind Asia and a resurgent America. Labour’s Rachel Reeves takes her cue from Washington, inspired by the turbo-charged growth of the Inflation Reduction Act. She has yet to show any interest in the European stagnation model.


Prof Lapavitsas said a new reality has crept up on Europe that is evident to anybody with a larger world view. The EU matters even less than it did a decade ago. “It is already irrelevant on the global scene,” he said.   

 

Labour can find other fish to fry.


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What happens when a Labour Britain meets a semi-fascist Europe – by Ambrose Evans-Pritchar
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