This article was originally published in the Independent and can be found here.
When Barack Obama made his pro-EU plea to UK voters last month, he appealed to our internationalist tendencies. If the UK was to remain “open” and “outward-looking” he said, the choice to remain in the EU was unquestionable. It’s a narrative which has defined much of the referendum debate. We have been offered a seemingly straightforward choice: align with a group of nationalistic little-Englanders demanding Brexit, or side with the progressive internationalists promising a future of multinational co-operation.
Yet despite the rhetoric of global responsibility, the EU’s legacy harbours a shameful record on international justice. For a long time, EU practices have harmed developing countries. Take for example, the EU’s agriculture policy on which it spends more than 40 per cent of its annual budget. In attempts to support European farming, the EU issues billions of pounds of subsidies to farmers across the continent. While this benefits European landowners, it artificially lowers global crop prices, cutting profits for farmers in developing countries and leaving them disadvantaged by a common market which systemically favours European producers.
Oxfam has drawn attention to this inequity. “Subsidies destroy opportunities in developing countries and hamper global efforts to reduce poverty,” a recent report by the charity concluded. The Fairtrade Foundation have voiced similar concerns, while the all-party parliamentary group Trade Out of Poverty criticised the EU for exclusively “promoting [its own] direct commercial interests” and failing to “stimulate economic growth in the developing world”.
Forthcoming European legislation suggests this injustice will only worsen. The upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – an agreement between the EU and the United States – promises a similarly bleak outlook for international development. Analysis by the German non-profit organisation Bertelsmann Stiftung predicts that TTIP will harm the economies of “most other countries in the world,” as a result of trade diversion. Some of the world’s most deprived countries, including Niger, Botswana and Guatemala, are among those expected to suffer most from the agreement.
These effects would perhaps be forgivable had they resulted from poorly planned policy, but the reality is that the EU aspires to such outcomes in its founding principles. Like all economic unions, the EU is designed to strengthen the economies of its member states. Implicitly, this excludes the nations lying outside of the union, whose trade is routinely disincentivised and met with tariffs.
In the case of the EU – 26 out of 28 of whose member states have a “very high” Human Development Index, according to the United Nations – the union amounts to a syndicate of wealthy states preserving their global privilege at the expense of international equality.
This amalgamation of economic interests also grants the EU disturbing levels of political influence. Only last year, in Kenya, the EU implemented heavy import taxes to bully the national government into signing an Economic Partnership Agreement. “Developing countries have a gun pointed at their chest,” summarised Ska Keller, a German member of the European Parliament, at the time. Less than three months later, the Kenyan government had been forced to concede, in a worrying reminder of the neo-imperialist mentality at the heart of the union.
And it’s not just economics. The EU’s founding principles also endorse a latent and pernicious xenophobia. Masked behind the justification of a “united Europe” is the uncomfortable fact that the EU is comprised exclusively of predominantly white, Christian nations. No surprise then, that one of the biggest controversies facing the EU in recent times has been Turkey’s repeated calls to become a member state – all of which have been rejected. The EU’s cherished principles of free trade, free movement and cultural diversity have been rapidly overlooked when the majority Muslim population has appealed to join the union.
The EU boasts a legacy of double standards. Any self-declared internationalist defending its work must explain how an abstract “shared European identity” justifies the inequity of offering unlimited migration to millions of white Europeans, while the continent largely turns its back on the thousands of refugees queueing at its borders and drowning in its seas. They should explain why our wealthy neighbours are more deserving of our trade than some of the most deprived countries on earth, and why it is acceptable to use shared European wealth to coerce developing countries into signing political agreements. Yet while these questions go unanswered, Europhiles continue to hurl accusations of xenophobia at anyone who argues that the UK’s future should lie outside of the EU.
Remain campaigners are confident their strategy will work. Guilt by association is enough for many to find voting alongside Farage and other Eurosceptics too repugnant to stomach. The narrative of an ideological battle between progressives and reactionaries has sculpted the referendum into a disingenuous dichotomy, in which the Remain campaign has monopolised the internationalist brand.
Come the 23rd June, however, it will not be a choice between nationalism and internationalism that voters will be making at the polling booth. The real question will be whether calling oneself an internationalist is more important to the UK electorate than acting as one.