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Back to Front - Fear and false unity


March was a bad month for Britain. Unemployment steepled up to over 2 million – and that’s just the official figures. And Brown agreed to the EU setting up a European Systemic Risk Council with ultimate authority over all financial markets in the EU. Not content with handing over the real economy to Brussels, he’s now given them the City.

Not that it will do any good. The EU is as clueless as Brown. In their show of false unity on 19/20 March, ahead of the G20, EU heads of state pretended they have everything under control, so we can all go back to sleep. But behind the scenes they are in disarray and fear that nothing will really work. Most of all, they fear what the working class might do.

A renewed Franco-German understanding poses state support for the car industry (scrappage rewards of 2,500 euros a car in Germany, repatriation of 400 Renault jobs from Slovenia to France) against the feeble calls by Brown and Mandelson for a fiscal approach and dependence on EU aid.

France in particular forced the Commission to perform a laughable series of contortions to conclude that French state protection was not in fact “protectionism”, but rather in the interest of the whole European car industry. The Commission described itself as “shaken and put to the test”, adding, for the benefit of the G20, that “all signs of division have been erased”.

No such promises of domestic support have been forthcoming from Mandelson. Visiting Nissan in Sunderland, he could only encourage reliance on EU loans. With British car production down 60.6 per cent on last year, he knows there is a battle for survival and this is his big chance to portray the European Union as universal provider.

Brown too has seen an opportunity to beat the anti-protectionist drum. But at the EU pre-G20 summit to agree common crisis exit strategies, the ideologies of anti-protectionism and of harmonisation look merely academic as the Commission is forced into case-by-case consideration of member states’ needs. So for example Hungary and Latvia will get emergency aid, countries like France, Spain, Portugal and Britain that have excessive deficits are eligible to apply, while Poland and Slovakia still enjoy growth. On that basis, Poland is proudly refusing EU aid.

As news comes in of a record fall in production in the factories and refineries of the euro zone, and as public contempt grows for having to ask Commission permission to implement national solutions, how is the working class of Europe responding? Demonstrating that internationalism begins at home, 200,000 marched against capitalism in Lisbon, 8,000 in Prague. In France, there was a national strike. Whatever the issue before, the failures of finance capitalism now dominate every agenda.

What was in France a two-month street protest against education cuts and “Mickey Mouse” university courses (“le bling-bling”) has inevitably taken on a more political complexion, and is forcing the government to back down.

Imaginative tactics have been a factor in the success of French teachers, research lecturers and students – as when they took over the tramway in Nice and delivered a lesson to astonished passengers on the siege of Malta by the Turks in 1565. There is no doubt that the public will respond positively to humour with a bit of national culture thrown in.

So come on, Britain!