For a democratic Europe!

January 1 2002 marked a significant moment in European and world history. To the strain of Beethoven's 'Ode to joy' - the official anthem of the European Union - the single European currency finally came into being. From Prussia to county Kerry, from Lapland to Crete, 304 million people are all paying for their bread, beer or bananas with identical banknotes. On new year's day the euro was born. There was much satisfaction all round within the circles of the European bourgeoisie. Wim Duisenberg, the Dutch president of the European Central Bank, declared in Frankfurt: "Our countdown is leading towards a new era. By using euros, we will give a clear signal of the confidence and hope we have in tomorrow's Europe." Even stronger on the hyperbole, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder emotionally burbled: "We are witnessing the dawn of an age that the people of Europe have dreamed of for centuries: borderless travel and payment in a common currency." Put like that, it would seem petty and myopic in the extreme to downplay the huge significance of E-day - and, indeed, who apart from the most rabid nationalist or xenophobe would be dismayed by the prospect of "borderless travel"? The prophets of doom were proved wrong. January 1 did not usher in chaos or financial anarchy. Civilisation did not collapse. No, the German or French people did not suffer from a collective nervous breakdown at the thought of losing their 'precious' national currency - they just got on with their business. Money is not sentimental or backward-looking. From a logistical point of view, the introduction of the euro did of course seem a daunting task. Millions upon millions of transactions to be 'recalculated'. However, minor and surely unavoidable glitches aside, Europe is now awash with 144-billion-euros-worth of the new currency, covering 12 countries and over 300 million people. In total, this amounts to 15 billion banknotes and 50 billion coins. If you include those EU member-states that have not yet joined the party - Britain, Sweden and Denmark - and think of those countries who look set to come into the EU in the relatively near future, some 500 million people could be using the euro by the end of the decade. It is now a real currency - not one that exists just in the heads of bankers or EU bureaucrats. What is more, the euro now exists in parallel to the US dollar and one day could become a serious rival to it. Though the Maastricht treaty in 1991 kick-started the process, the actual euro began life on January 1 1999 when 11 countries, followed shortly afterwards by Greece, agreed to surrender their right to devalue the currency or alter lending rates. From this point on the euro then became an electronic or 'invisible' currency available for trading. But from now on, if you live in Berlin, Paris or Athens, you can make your purchases with the real thing - though you still have six weeks left to use up your old marks, francs, drachmas, etc. After that, dual circulation comes to an end and the euro is king. The notes embody what are imagined by the designers to be generic features of European architecture and culture (bridges, canals, buildings etc). The euro coins, however, will retain national images on one side - Ireland's Celtic harp, Germany's double-headed eagle, etc. So, some comfort - maybe - for the Little Irelanders and Little Germanists. Looking at all this, Hugo Young of The Guardian commented: "Today the euro becomes a fact. Not just a fact but the fact of Europe's daily life. It may have been an economic presence for three years, but economic facts, when they exist in electronic space, remain in the realm of the abstract. The kind of fact the euro becomes today is a political fact. It is an axiom, a precondition of other kinds of reality. It is no more destructible than the Eiffel Tower: given the aim of modern terrorists, probably less so. Three hundred million people now have to work on the assumption that it will never go away." He added that the euro "has overcome many hazards to get to the point. The cascade of pessimism began with theory. The euro should not work, the sceptics said, and therefore would not happen. A currency cannot be made to bridge national frontiers. A currency cannot be common to different economies. All theory says so, and some historical precedents confirm it. The Americans and the British were particularly sure of this" (January 1). In other words, the 'impossible' has happened. John Major in 1993 and Norman Lamont in 1995 both ruled out the very possibility of a single European currency. So, of course, did Peter Taaffe of the Socialist Party, who categorically declared the 'iron laws' of Marxism proved that the introduction of a single European currency was "impossible", in pretty much the same certain way we were told previously to lick our lips in anticipation of the "red 90s". It does have to be said that the Tories have been shown up just as much as Taaffe. In fact, they currently look even more stupid than they normally do - what with their battle cry, 'No to the euro'. Saying 'never' to something that objectively exists and is actually being used by millions of people on a daily basis is not a particularly clever move. And if Duncan Smith thinks the anti-euro card does represent some sort of political ace up his sleeve, then the man really is a complete fool. In search of 'principle' (ie, those frustratingly elusive votes) the Tories have effectively sabotaged themselves for the foreseeable future. Even The Daily Telegraph, albeit rather unconvincingly and hypocritically, tried not to sound too stridently anti-euro, given the growing reality on the ground: "Everyone in Britain should wish the project well "¦ Yesterday, for the first time since his election as Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith attacked Labour's enthusiasm for the single currency. Until now - wisely, in our view - he has avoided the subject, hoping instead to convince people that his party is concerned with public services. But the euro is too important a matter to be left to one side for much longer" (December 31). The euro is coming - whether Duncan Smith, The Daily Telegraph or The Socialist likes it or not. Tourists are flooding daily into London with their notes and coins. Major high street shops have to accept the euro or lose out. Therefore you can use it in many London branches of Boots, Superdrug, Waterstone's, Gap, Dixons, HMV, Marks and Spencer's, Next, Virgin, McDonalds, JD Wetherspoons pubs, etc. Naturally, this trend will escalate. Hardly surprisingly, given these circumstances, the voices of 'common sense' can be heard calling for an early referendum, as the essential absurdity of Britain and British capitalism being stuck 'outside' becomes ever more apparent. So, Sir Ken Jackson, joint general secretary of Britain's second biggest union, Amicus - formed from the merger of the AEEU and MSF - says four of the chancellor's five so-called 'economic tests' have been met, and the fifth, convergence with European economies, will be met only once Britain declares that it is about to go into the euro. Jackson made it clear that he wanted Blair to call a euro referendum within the next 18 months - indeed, ideally by this autumn. Therefore, E-day and its consequences pose vital political questions for our Socialist Alliance. Are we for or against the euro, or do we take a different position? Can a struggle to defend the pound and hence so-called national sovereignty ever advance the struggle for socialism and world communism? Or is the euro debate 'irrelevant' to the working class - like the question of the monarchy, as some on the left would have us believe. It is absolutely essential that the SA comes up the right answers - and soon. Up to now, if you look at the positions adopted by the Socialist Workers Party - the largest component of the SA - things have not boded well. Judging by its previous pronouncements on Ireland and Denmark, where it tried to dress up the 'anti-euro' referendums as a form of radical anti-capitalism, then it would only be logical to assume that the SWP will call for a 'no' vote in the coming British referendum. However, the latest issue of Socialist Worker seems to be taking a different line. In an editorial article entitled, 'Euro - the real debate', we can read the following: "Supporters of the euro play on the genuine feelings of people across Europe that they do not want a continent riven by nationalist divisions which contributed to two world wars. Those in the Tory Party who oppose the euro wrap themselves in Little Englandism and anti-European bigotry while at the same time wanting Britain to be drawn even closer to the US. "But the establishment figures who argue over the euro are really debating how best to organise British and European capitalism to compete globally. The euro is about drawing together European big business and handing more power to unelected bankers. It is another route to deregulation and privatisation. Public spending cuts are built into the rules for joining the currency. "The answer is not to line up with the rival fat cats and privatisers who are waving the union jack. People in Argentina have shown how to deal with the bankers by rising up and refusing to suffer for the sake of profit. Only last month 100,000 workers from many countries in Europe united on the streets of the Belgian capital, Brussels, to demand a 'social Europe' where the interests of ordinary people are protected" (my emphasis, January 5). This position would seem to herald a welcome change. The call "not to line up" with those "waving the union jack" can only mean, surely, a refusal to vote 'no' - in flat contradiction to the SWP's line on Ireland and Denmark. Or does it? Why does Socialist Worker not map out a plan of independent working class action - apart, of course, from the (rather abstract, in current circumstances) idea of "rising up and refusing to suffer for the sake of profit"? The "real debate" must be about what concrete position the SWP - and for that matter all the left groups both inside and outside the SA - adopts on the euro referendum. There are by definition only three positions which you can adopt come referendum day - 'yes', 'no' or 'abstain' (ie, an active boycott). Certain political consequences flow directly from whatever choice you make. To vote 'yes' would be to give the seal of approval to moves towards a 'federal' Europe constructed from above by bankers, technocrats and bourgeois politicians - fundamentally an undemocratic Europe. For us communists - as consistent or extreme democrats - that would be unthinkable. But equally unthinkable would be to blithely vote 'no' alongside the Little Englanders, xenophobes and national bigots. That would be a crime. Full stop. Does the left really want to line up in the ballot booth behind the uncomely figure of Umberto Bossi, leader of the federalist-chauvinist Northern League, who has described the euro as "a conspiracy of communists, pederasts and freemasons bent on devouring Italian sovereignty"? Only slightly less appealing is the prospect of handing out 'no' leaflets in the delightful company of John Redwood or BNP leader Nick Griffin. The political dangers represented by such programmatic confusion over the euro/Europe can be easily demonstrated by a Sex Pistols-style advert (circa its 1977 Never mind the bollocks LP cover) which has sprung up all over London. The poster says, 'Never mind the euro - what about the hospitals?' The frightening thing is that the sentiments expressed in that phrase could just as easily come from the Tories as from the Socialist Labour Party, Communist Party of Britain, International Socialist Group, etc - all of whom are committed to a 'no' vote. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 'official' Communist Party of Great Britain, which campaigned for a 'no' in the 1974 referendum to join the then Common Market (as Arthur Scargill, for one, still insists on referring to the EU). Nor do we - most emphatically - want to repeat the 'Danish experience', which in the November 20 2001 general election saw an openly right wing Liberal/Conservative coalition government come to power - backed by the anti-immigrant, anti-euro Peoples Party (Folkeparti). For the first time since 1924 the social democrats are not the biggest political party in the country, and the Red Green Alliance also saw its (small) parliamentary presence shrink as well. The obvious beneficiaries of the Danish 'no' vote in the 2000 referendum were the chauvinist, anti-immigrant right. Though in the topsy-turvy world of the SWP this vote - in tandem with the Irish referendum result on the Nice Treaty - only served to "illustrate that there is a strong socialist and internationalist case against the EU" (Socialist Worker June 16 2001). We need answers for the whole of Europe, indeed for the whole of the world, not just for Britain. In opposition to the Europe of the bosses we need a Europe-wide working class response. We need an effective, all-Europe TUC. Why should workers in Britain, instead of being members of Unison, or Amicus, not be members of their European equivalent? Even more importantly, we need a Socialist Alliance of the European Union, coordinated at the highest level possible. This is the internationalist perspective we should be fighting for. To further that fight, we must campaign vigorously for an independent, third position in the referendum. Neither 'yes' nor 'no', but an active boycott, calling on the working class to mobilise for a democratic Europe run from below. As Marxism - and the October Revolution itself - teaches us, it is the struggle for democracy itself that puts socialism on the agenda. Calls for a 'socialist' or 'workers' Europe, in the absence of such a struggle, are mere abstractions. * Abolish the Schengen accords. There must be the right to leave the EU and the right to enter the EU. * For EU industrial unions. All officials to be elected and accountable. * For an EU minimum wage and social and unemployment benefits. A maximum 35-hour week. * Not a single euro, not a man or a woman for the EU's armed forces. * Abolish the council of minister and the EU commission. * For a democratic EU. Elect a constituent assembly of the EU on the basis of universal suffrage and proportional representation. Eddie Ford