Eurosceptics are a threat to workers’ rights

Today’s European elections were written into history before they had even begun.

Not since the end of the Second World War has the continent experience has a profound economic, social, political and existential crisis.

The European project is under attack as a result of the austerity policies implemented by the Troika which has put the needs of business before the needs of Europe’s citizens.

In this context, ‘eurosceptic’ and xenophobic political parties are on the rise across the continent, from Greece to France to the UK.

The platforms of right-wing and far right parties in this election vary greatly, from forces that favour protectionist measures to those who herald the free market.

Of course, no all eurosceptics are far right: most notably, Italy’s Five Star Movement (FSM) lacks the overtly xenophobic features that characterise forces like the Front National in France or and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, instead favouring a stronger anti-establishment stance.

Beppe Grillo, leader of the FSM, has been clear in distancing his party from the likes of Marine Le Pen, and some FSM senators have even publicly disagreed with Grillo’s own hardline stance on undocumented migration.

Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party has sold himself, quite successfully, as the ‘people’s champion’, although other elements of the party have been less convincing that they are not right-wing extremists.

Under the new leadership of federal secretary Matteo Salvini, the xenophobic Northern League has seen its numbers bolstered by rising anti-European sentiments in Italy, and by portraying the single currency as the source of all problems in the bel paese,

In France, Le Pen’s Front National is emptying the political space left by the highly unpopular Francois Hollande and his ruling Socialist Party on the left, as well as the neo-gaulliste centre-right UMP as well.

But all of these parties – and many more – make no attempt to hide their desire to undermine the EU in its current status.


Unworkable for working people

The eurosceptic parties claim to put Europe’s people at the centre of their policies, unlike the mainstream parties in the European Parliament.

But their populist electoral promises – to leave the Eurozone for example – are likely to be completely unworkable if they are elected into the Parliament.

In addition, these groups lack the kind of political cohesion that may help them to create a functional European political family.

However, the role of the anti- EU forces cannot be undervalued as long as they represent a considerable political bloc, despite their differences.

But can these forces counter-balance the very real menace posed to workers’ rights and public services by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?

The TTIP aims to create a common free market area between the EU and the US, by reducing tariffs, increasing protection for transnational investors and harmonising regulatory barriers to trade between the two shores of the Atlantic.

The problem represented by this agreement is that it will give unprecedented powers to multinationals, enabling them to sue states through investor-state settlement (ISDS) rules.

An example of ISDS can be seen in Egypt, where the French multinational Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for raising the minimum wage.

Other risks are represented by the massive job losses, despite the claims of economic growth, as it happened in the past with agreements such as NAFTA.


The party line on TTIP

Trade union confederations on both sides of the Atlantic are working hard to enforce labour chapters in the agreement and to avoid a race to the bottom in labour rights.

But what role is being played by Europe’s political parties in this pivotal but secret agreement?

The TTIP, for example, is generally praised by the European People Party, doesn’t receive much attention from the European Socialist Party, and is ostracised by the Green Party and the European Left.

The cost of TTIP will most likely fall on employees and consumers, through weakened regulations and lower wages.

The diminished regulation will affect consumers on issues such as food security and the use of GMOs.

Far right and eurosceptic political forces blame elements like the single currency in the eurozone and migration for making the lives of European workers more difficult.

But the truth is, these parties will never have the organisation and reliability required to be effectively vigilant on agreements like the TTIP.

European NGO, trade unions and employees do not need a weaker Parliament,
blocked by eurosceptic forces who may paint themselves as champions of the people but in actuality, direct most of their energy on minor (although headline generating) issues.

The European elections are extremely important and the general public must be aware of the risks posed to their rights that left-wing political forces and trade unions are fighting so hard to protect.

Xenophobia, isolationism and unrealistic promises will always be used as weapons during a time of crisis – especially when some of the mainstream parties have failed to communicate clearly with the public.

Therefore, we must stay vigilant about what is likely to be the most eurosceptic Parliament in history and the way it deals with trade agreements like the TTIP.

The consequences of our failure to do so will be enormous.