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Roy’s divisions

A look back at the work of Roy Jenkins in empowering the EU over its member states, before betraying Labour to found the first incarnation of the Lib Dems, tell us all we need to know about today’s pro EU ‘socialists,’ writes ROB GRIFFITHS

ROY JENKINS had been an orthodox Labour chancellor of the Exchequer and a reforming home secretary before he took up the presidency of the European Commission in 1977.

Always on the right of the party, he had long been an enthusiast for the European Common Market and its subsequent incarnations.

By the time of his appointment in Brussels, he had lost much of the social democratic ethos that separated him from the Tories and the Liberals — and that had made him a staunch opponent of the left and socialism.

While he still believed that the welfare state played an important, civilising role in society, favoured a modest redistribution of wealth and thought mass unemployment should be avoided, he also felt that the trade unions were too powerful and that nationalisation belonged in the past.

Above all, he looked to the US — warts and all — Nato and nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantors of liberty in the world, while also wanting a united Europe to play a bigger role in that common endeavour.

His memoir A Life at the Centre (1991) is an elegant and reasonably frank, if sometimes pretentious and petty-minded, account of his political career, based as it is on his unpublished as well as published diaries.

It lifts the veil on episodes from his time at the European Commission which need to be understood by those on the left who clearly harbour illusions about the EU as a vehicle for social progress and even socialism.

For instance, he testifies to the extent to which the EU Commission uses its considerable powers and resources to drive the process of integration towards the objective of a United States of Europe that is “free market,” capitalist and aligned with the US and Nato.

The notion that the Berlaymont bureaucracy represents an equivalent apparatus to that of the Civil Service in Whitehall is preposterous (as anyone who has read Part Six of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would already know).

For all the influence that Britain’s most senior civil servants wield behind the scenes, they do not indict governments and propose legislation as well as draft it.

They have no treaty-based powers to refuse parliamentary instructions, nor do they mediate — in effect arbitrate — between the government and parliament in the legislative process.

Certainly, the head of the British Civil Service — a Mr Mark Sedwill — does not pop up regularly in the House of Commons to tell MPs what the British state is proposing to do, or what they should be doing.

Nor, unlike present EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, would he dare turn up to lecture MPs about their attendance record.

Jenkins’s first few battles in post were, in effect, to secure the equal status of the EU machine and its top bureaucrat with the democratically elected heads of government of France and Germany.

Having won a partial victory, he needed an initiative that would set the course for the future: “But what should direction should it take? I was much influenced by the advice of Jean Monnet, given both publicly and privately.

“On at least two occasions, his advice had been spectacularly successful in gaining the initiative, and in the second case he had done so by rebounding from setback and switching from one blocked avenue to another which was  more open.

“The successful inauguration of the of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951 had been followed by the crashing halt to the plan for a European Defence Community in 1954. By the following year the Messina Conference was meeting to plan the Economic Community, and by 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed.

“The lesson he taught me was always to advance along the line of least resistance provided that it led in the right general direction.”

Thus it was that Jenkins and his fellow commissioners dusted down an old idea of the ex-prime minister of Luxembourg.

They — and not elected heads of governments or largely impotent MEPs — designed, proselytised and plotted to pull the major member states into a European Monetary Union (EMU) with its own currency unit and, in time, a European Central Bank that would be free from any democratic control.

Of course, the top politicians had to be persuaded, notably French President Giscard d'Estaing and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Giscard's problem was the opposition of the Gaullists and Communists, not to mention the majority of the French public.

Jenkins assiduously studied French election results throughout this period, fearing in particular any advances by the Communist Party there. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would not proceed with EMU if there were PCF ministers in the French government.  

A little bribery was required to grease the wheels at difficult junctures; hence the expansion of the minuscule European Regional Development Fund to give the Italian and Irish governments a sop to boast about.

Not that that puny fund since has even begun to compensate for EU prohibitions on national planning, state aid and the direction of investment capital.

Early in his crusade, Jenkins won the support of British business chiefs at Unilever, Shell, Dunlop, ICI and Imperial Tobacco. He then “harangued” (his word) the EU Parliament.

The central bankers in the major member states also had to be brought onside, although most of them — including Bank of England governor Gordon Richardson — were supportive from the outset.

They wanted to curb the profligate readiness of elected governments to tax business and “investors” (as we must learn to call speculators these days) and spend the loot on non-productive things like pensions and benefits, by locking them into the European Monetary System and European Currency Unit straitjacket.

The imposition of VAT and external tariffs on essential goods and services to fund the EU, so that more of the tax burden fell on working-class consumers, was clearly much more acceptable. Here too, though, the French Communists and Gaullists resisted EU VAT directives.

Nowhere in his wanderlust did Jenkins think it worth meeting — or at least recording any discussions with — the trade unions in Britain and Europe. British and European TUCs take note: the European Commission doesn’t see why lap-dogs should be treated with the same respect as lions.

In the event, the commission, big business and the mainstream political right in the EU had their way. Later, the 1986 Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty established the EU “single market,” Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the euro.

Enormous powers were handed to the commission and the European Central Bank to police and punish member state governments.

Britain’s EMU efforts to align the pound with the Deutsche Mark and the euro from 1990 boosted inflation, prices and interest rates, drained the Bank of England’s foreign currency reserves, destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs and made a killing for the speculators — sorry, “investors.”

Britain crashed out of the European Monetary System on “Black Wednesday,” September 16 1992.

Jenkins returned to British politics to help form the fanatically pro-EU, pro-Nato Social Democratic Party in 1981, splitting the Labour Party and forming an alliance with the Liberals to ensure a Tory victory at the 1983 and 1987 general elections.

His ghost will be warmly applauding the efforts of Lord Mandelson, Alistair Campbell and the same “Black Wednesday” currency speculators — oops, “investors” — to keep Britain in the EU and keep any future left-led Labour government in the single market and customs union shackles.

Rob Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.

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