December 29, 2020
Much has been made of the fact that the long-awaited Brexit deal is the first in the “modern era” to erect barriers rather than dismantle them. The sorrowful tone in which this observation is made implies that Britain is shutting the door on progress and openness. For EU diplomats that is logical enough. It is more worrying when socialists raise the same lament.
This “modern era” is the era of neo-liberalism that began in the 1970s with Reagan, Thatcher and the “big bang” that removed regulation of financial markets; in Europe this era saw the evolution of the modern European Union through the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties.
Nothing better illustrates the dominance of liberal ideology across the left than the doublethink that allows people to decry the destruction of industry, the rollback of labour rights, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of democratic accountability that have taken place over the last five decades while championing the institutional developments that have accompanied them.
The left has not, historically, been in favour of “frictionless” markets that equate to unregulated capitalist power.
Socialists should not, therefore, mourn the mere existence of barriers. Nor should they fall for the sleight of hand by which some EU partisans have tried to present the lorry queues in Kent as a consequence of Brexit, when the restrictions were an emergency response to a new strain of Covid-19, and EU member states have repeatedly cracked down on cross-border movement within the bloc since the pandemic began, for obvious reasons.
There is little to celebrate in the details of the agreement that have so far been revealed. This is unsurprising. The agreement was negotiated between representatives of British and European capitalism; the interests of British and European workers were not on either party’s agenda.
Indeed, since the referendum was first called, the Brexit question has been framed as a “civil war within capitalism.”
Efforts have been made – by organisations such as Leave, Fight, Transform, for a time by Jeremy Corbyn, as at his Coventry speech in 2018 – to promote a Brexit vision with democratic and anti-monopoly interests at its heart, but it has never gained a wide hearing. When it was sunk within Labour by the People’s Vote operation the future of the entire Corbyn project was sunk with it.
So common binding principles have been agreed on state aid: a barrier to the planned regional development needed if Britain is to meet its climate change commitments, address regional inequalities and build a fairer and more sustainable economy.
Disappointing as this is, such policies are out of reach regardless unless the left is able to recover from the defeat of the Corbyn project and build a powerful movement which puts public ownership and planning back on the agenda.
Likewise, Britain’s freedom from rulings of the anti-labour European Court of Justice is welcome in itself, but will do nothing about Britain’s draconian restrictions on trade union freedom, the escalating jobs massacre and attacks on working-class incomes. This is a ruling-class offensive that has to be fought.
What has been demonstrated over the last five years is that socialist policies have mass appeal, winning Labour its biggest vote share increase since 1945 in the 2017 election. Several hundred thousand activists have also had a crash course in the unrepresentative nature of British political institutions and the Establishment’s far-reaching control of public discourse.
The stark regional, racial and social injustices exposed by coronavirus have made the case for socialist change even stronger.
And departure from the EU does show that a globalisation process along rules written by giant corporations is not unstoppable.
Since 2015 the left has allowed Brexit to divide the working class into two camps, both under capitalist direction. Our departure from the EU must prompt us to build a united labour movement focused on the fight for socialism.
December 27, 2020
EU countries on Sunday embarked on a vaccination campaign to defeat the “nightmare” of Covid-19, with the first to be immunised expressing emotion after their jab and leaders hailing a milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
The vaccine is a glimmer of hope for a continent yearning for a return to normal from a pandemic that has killed 1.76 million people worldwide since emerging in China late last year and caused at least 80 million confirmed cases, according to an AFP tally.
But polls have shown many Europeans are unwilling to take the vaccine, which could impede its effectiveness in beating the virus, while it will take months for large chunks of the population to be immunised.
“It is with deep pride and a deep sense of responsibility that I got the vaccine today. A small gesture but a fundamental gesture for all of us,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, an Italian nurse who was the first in her country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jab Sunday morning.
In Greece, the first in line was nurse Efstathia Kampissiouli who flashed a V-sign while being vaccinated and later told Ert TV it was “a great honour for me but also for those working on the front line.”
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hailed the campaign start as a “touching moment of unity and a European success story”, adding the process will “help to get our normal lives back gradually.”
Countries are however showing different strategies, with Italy focusing on health workers, France the elderly and in the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovakia political leaders at the front of the queue.
In a sign of impatience, some EU countries began vaccinating on Saturday, a day before the official start, with a 101-year-old woman in a care home becoming the first person in Germany to be inoculated and Hungary and Slovakia also handing out their first shots.
Araceli Rosario Hidalgo Sanchez, a 96-year-old living in a care home in central Spain became the first person in the country to be vaccinated on Sunday, in an event broadcast by national television. She said smilingly she felt “nothing” from the shot.
France began its campaign in care homes for the elderly in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, a low-income area hard hit by Covid-19, with a 78-year-old woman named Mauricette the first to receive the jab to applause from staff.
“We have a new weapon against the virus — the vaccine,” tweeted President Emmanuel Macron.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven described the vaccine as a “ray of light in the darkness”. One of the first Swedes to get the vaccine, Stig Larsson, 89, said he “did not hesitate” about being inoculated.
China, Russia, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Serbia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia have also begun their vaccination campaigns.
Britain, which last week finalised a deal on leaving the EU, began its vaccination campaign amid much fanfare on December 8, three weeks ahead of the bloc.
But it was also in Britain that a new strain of the virus emerged that has already reached several other European countries as well as Japan and Canada.
The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK.
Echoing concerns from officials across the continent, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France has not ruled out imposing a third nationwide lockdown if coronavirus cases continue to rise after the holiday season.
He said it would become clear in the next months if the vaccine did not just stop people falling sick but also from passing the virus on.
“This would allow us to leave this nightmare quicker,” he said.
Vaccines other than the Pfizer-BioNTech jab are also in the pipeline, and the United States, where over a million people have already been vaccinated, last week began jabs with the vaccine developed by US biotech firm Moderna.
Meanwhile the University of Oxford and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca have applied to the UK authorities for permission to roll out their Covid-19 vaccine.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said Sunday its vaccine was a “winning formula” and provided “100 percent protection” against severe Covid requiring hospitalisation.
There is concern that wariness among Europeans over the vaccine could impede its effectiveness, with a poll published in the Journal du Dimanche saying 56 percent of French people do not plan to take the jab.
China, accused of covering up the initial outbreak, has largely curbed the domestic spread of the virus. Its Communist leadership issued a statement hailing the “extremely extraordinary glory” of its handling of the crisis.
Israel on Sunday began a nationwide two-week lockdown — its third since the pandemic started earlier this year — after a sharp rebound in the infection rate.