Today the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, met with the William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and tonight he will meet with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. A quid pro quo took place. Cameron’s government agreed (amongst others) to allow the cultivation and development of land in the British Sovereign Bases and Anastasiades, in return, agreed to support the British government in its European Union reform agenda of returning power back to national governments. The announcement of the agreement can be found here [Greek] and an outline of the agreement here [again, Greek].
If we leave aside the neo-colonialist attitude of the agreement—cultivating one’s own land in one’s birthplace under British rule in 2014 is considered an achievement—we can observe how the attitude of conservative parties across Europe is now aligned. Old disagreements about the role of the EU are disappearing and the new conservative frontier is formed around issues of national sovereignty and small government (as a matter of principle rather than as a matter of necessity).
Let us briefly examine the case of Cameron and Anastasiades. Cameron and the Tories have never been supportive of the European Union and have always been complaining about losing their sovereignty. Since UKIP’s popularity this view has gained more prominence amongst the Tories. On the other hand, Anastasiades and his party have traditionally been supporters of the EU. They saw the European open market as a source of opportunities and the European legal framework as something that could bring Cyprus in line with the rest of Europe, especially when it came to social and legal issues.
This has now changed and the conservative parties of Europe are now likely to support the UKIPesque endeavours of the Tories. The European Union under the German leadership has become a bureaucratic monster that has long ceased to be democratically accountable, especially under the mandate of the Troika, the committee led by the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Troika directs economic policy, promoting privatisations and austerity politics. In the case of Cyprus, an admittedly extreme example, it has even suggested a bail-in—bail-in is a technocratic euphemism for taking money out of the bank accounts of citizens to cover the losses of the bankers. The result is poverty, even more recession and social unrest.
The political instability caused by the economic crisis and the lack of democratic decision making in the EU is particularly worrisome for conservatives. In Greece, for instance, where the effects of the Troika are most severe, SYRIZA, a radical left-wing coalition party, scores first in recent opinion the polls. Although SYRIZA will probably be less radical once in power, conservatives are understandably worried about the potential spill-over effect that it might have. A left-wing party with revolutionary rhetoric is seldom the ideal conservative choice for running a country-member of the EU.
The effect of a possible Tory victory will be severe, not only for the future of the EU itself but most importantly for the future of the citizens of the countries of Europe. It is very hard to envision the European Union that British conservatives call for: one that maintains its formal structures—legal, economic, political—but strips them from their power. A more realistic outcome is a European Union that consists of a free market economy without any strings attached.
The effect on European citizens would be devastating, since they will still suffer from the ills of ‘capitalist development’ yet will no longer enjoy any of the benefits that come with membership to the EU. This week the people of Cyprus have received a little taste of what it means to live outside the framework established by the Council of Europe. In the one and only prison of the island, five inmates have committed suicide, two of which after they have been ganged raped. Both the Ombudswoman and the European Union have criticised the poor prison standards, yet the Cypriot government refused to do anything about it. It was only after five people committed suicide that it decided to replace the prison warden, who has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations. The Minister of Justice has yet to resign. Similarly, the Minister of Interior refuses to meet with the recognised political refugees that are on hunger strike outside his ministry. The minister refuses to meet with to them, yet at the same time agrees to meet with owners of ‘nightclubs’ (remember: Cyprus is one of the top trafficking destinations in the EU).
I don’t want this Europe, where governments and their representatives can condone the systematic violation of human rights without being accountable to anyone. I don’t think that many people in the EU want to live outside these internationally established legal and political frameworks either. The social and legal aspect of the EU should be strengthened, not weakened. The EU should have the mandate to bring such injustices to an end.
The Tories should get their head around and be honest about what they want. Do they want to get out of the EU? Do they want to dissolve it? The should just say so. It would be much more honest and much more desirable in comparison to a European Union that is only united by a free market. The rest of us, those of us that think that the only way to get through the crisis is if we unite, should call for democratic legitimacy across the European Union and more accountability from its non-elected elites. The only way to create a stronger European Union is if democratic legitimacy is at its core, if people know what is being discussed in its institutions and if Brussels ceases to be the isolated bureaucratic labyrinth that it is today. The only way to make the European Union a project worth saving, is if its social aspect is strengthened as well.
What is certain, is that not many people would like to see the EU in the ‘development path’ that Cameron has put the UK, with a surge in food banks, payday loans and zero-hour contracts. A future Europe should be one of real development, of people having jobs that give them enough certainty to live a fulfilled life, one that treats education as a right and one that would never accept forcing a mother to chose between starving her child or transmitting aids to it [.pdf]. The only way to save the EU and its people from the ills of the nationalism and free-market frenzy that Cameron promotes and Anastasiades supports, is by focusing on the social aspect of the Union. To do that, we need a united Europe that helps its weakest countries get out of the recession, through real development and not the Troika-induced impoverishment that is taking place at the moment. This future is very different from what Cameron and Anastasiades envision; the EU should not be diminished to an economic Union that will have neither the legitimacy nor the power to do anything meaningful.