During the recent referendum it was difficult to see the difference between the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) and the People’s Movement Against the EU or, for that matter, the Danish People’s Party (DF). The ‘no’ campaign was based upon the defence of the Danish state and a dedicated opposition against any surrender of sovereignty. The arguments focussed on the corruption of judges in south European countries and conservative family policies outside Denmark. The necessity to act against the rising number of cross-border problems in a binding international collaboration were barely mentioned, even though this should be a core concern for left wing politicians.
Against this background it is understandable that Enhedslisten thought it necessary to justify their position, as their MPs Pernille Skipper and Søren Søndergaard tried in Information newspaper on December 29. Sadly, they did not create much clarity.
Enhedslisten claims to be opposed to the EU, and may even believe that Denmark should leave the EU. But the party understands the necessity of European cooperation – only that it should not come at the cost of giving up sovereignty. The party has asserted that the European Council is a better model for European cooperation. But with all respect for the European Council it is not a serious position to take when considering the cross border challenges we face, for example environment, criminal activity tax evasion and refugees et cetera.
Opposition to the EU is driven by the European right wing. Parties such as UKIP in the UK, the National Front in France, Freedom Party in Holland and DF in Denmark. These are all parties riding a new nationalist wave. They argue that national entities should close in on themselves at the cost of the European community. This is not Enhedslisten’s policy, but they are contributing to the trend, and this is a serious concern. The left wing in South Europe is not anti-EU. They are simply opposed to austerity politics, which is somewhat different to being opposed to the entire EU project.
No way around the problem
Pernille Skipper and Søren Søndergaard claimed in their article that Enhedslisten has laid out a refugee policy that isn’t a reaction to national fear. Denmark should signal to the other countries that we will take our share of the many asylum seekers. That is great, it just doesn’t address the problem; that we lack a common European refugee policy and this scan only be achieved by EU-wide regulation and some surrender of sovereignty.
This is why there is a political struggle in the EU at the moment. But shouldn’t the left wing be involved in this struggle? Not according to Enhedslisten, who would rather bury their head in the sand than face up to reality. They scream with terror as soon as there is a hint of sovereignty loss. EU countries have tried the Enhedslisten model with voluntary agreements on refugees. But the individual countries hide and procrastinate about whose responsibility the crisis is.
Cross border problems can’t be solved within the confines of nation states. There is a need for a binding agreement on international collaboration. If such cooperation is to be binding, there is an obvious need for EU regulatory bodies, and that each country surrenders a part of sovereignty to the European community. There needs to be a regulatory body that can force countries who try to avoid their obligatory duties and this means giving up sovereignty. Yes, Denmark will lose sovereignty, but the other EU countries will too. Because the surrender of some sovereignty is the only way to solve problems that are common to us all.
Criticism without perspective
Søren Søndergaard and Pernille Skipper criticise the lack of democracy in the EU and its right wing policies. But honestly, can’t the same criticisms be made of Danish society? I share the criticism on right wing politics and lack of democracy. Both Denmark and the EU are not static. The EU is a framework or, stated differently, a battleground for the political forces that exist in Europe.
The battle between right and left can’t be contained within nation states, the simply EU creates a European perspective on this conflict. The EU as such is not something that is a given for all. It is a dynamic project that develops in accordance with developments within member states. In my opinion it is obvious that the left must participate in this debate in exactly the same way as we do in Danish politics.
It is pointless to blame the EU for problems that really are the result of poor judgement in individual member states. And it is completely hopeless to draw the conclusion that we should leave the EU, as Enhedslisten desire. Because however we try to twist the argument, the EU is the only opportunity to create binding European solutions for problems that need to be solved by cross border cooperation.
Does the EU work well enough? No but we damn well need binding European cooperation with institutions, and sanctions if rules are not abided by.
There is no way around the need to take up the struggle in the EU – just as we take up the struggle in Danish society. Clearly there is a need for greater democracy and there will always be a discussion regarding which decisions should be taken at national state level, and which should be taken in common at EU level. But the discussions are far too important to leave them to the right-wing of European politics.
Holger K. Nielsen is an MP for the Socialist People’s Party. This op-ed was originally published in Information newspaper.
Translated by Joshua Ursin Hollingdale