Today’s Ireland vote begs the question: Will the EU be the death of democracy?
With Irish voters going to the polls today to vote on the European Union fiscal treaty, an onerous responsibility weighs upon their shoulders – the future of Europe.
British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has warned of the “disaster” awaiting Europe at the hands of “a whole range of nationalist, xenophobic and extreme movements” rising across crisis-ridden Europe.
“Only those Europeans in their late eighties will have any idea about how bad it could get,” an EU official claimed last year.
The Irish electorate – once dubbed “ungrateful bastards” by another Brussels official after voting ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 – could again derail the European dream of peace and unity.
Except that, unlike with Lisbon Treaty or the Nice Treaty in 2001, there is not even the assumption that elections will be re-run if Ireland rejects the financial austerity package contained in the ‘fiskalpakt’. Diplomats have boasted that it has been-made ‘Ireland-proof’ by ensuring that it will come into force when 12 out of 17 Eurozone countries have ratified a treaty that Angela Merkel has claimed will ensure “the debt brakes will be binding and valid forever”.
“Never will you be able to change them through a parliamentary majority,” she added.
Perhaps the people of Ireland should consider themselves lucky to even have a say: Greek prime minister George Papandreou was forced to resign last year after suggesting a similar referendum, replaced by technocrat Lukas Papademos
The willingness within European circles to disregard national sovereignty in favour of expert technocrats is far from a novel product of the crisis: even Europhiles have recognised the problem of the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ for a number of years. The urgency of such anti-democratic measures have intensified as the crisis has deepened, but the argument that Europe stands on the edge of a precipice if the EU does not get its way should be more than familiar to those who remember the Dutch and French voters rejecting the Constitution in the halcyon days of 2005.
Yet while it is tempting to cheer what some are labelling the ‘European spring’ – heralded by the electoral breakthroughs of Francois Hollande in France and Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA coalition in Greece – the optimism feels misplaced. While Hollande and Tsipras talk good game in terms of promoting growth in favour of austerity, neither offer particularly coherent strategies for how to genuinely kickstart Europe’s sluggish and ailing economies. Indeed, the only commonalities shared by the two anti-austerity candidates are an opposition to nuclear power, and even on that point it is difficult to see how Hollande’s commitment to drastically slashing one of France’s core industries will increase growth in the immediate future.
Still, there is equally no coherent growth strategy from the unelected experts of the EU-ECB-IMF ‘troika’ either, which IMF chief Christine Lagarde’s contemptuous dismissal of Greek tax-dodgers reminded us this week. While the sudden appetite for anti-austerity parties feels like only a more agreeable and organised form of protest than those for the disparate band of right-wing, nationalist parties talked up as Europe’s ‘new far right’, it is clear that European electorates are at least placing their faith in democracy rather than EU technocracy as the best solution to this crisis.
Ken Clarke’s was right in one regard when he claimed that politicians should stop blaming “European bogeys under the bed” for domestic problems. In insisting that “only frenzied Eurosceptics” are interested in a UK referendum he reminded us that aversion to the democratic process is as prevalent in Westminster as in Brussels. Democrats today should be as willing to hold national leaders at home to account as much as the unelected ones in Europe for the mess we’re currently in. Whichever way Ireland votes today, and then Greece in the re-elections on 17 June, we should all be willing to pay attention.
David Bowden is special projects co-ordinator for the Institute of Ideas whose upcoming public summit Will the EU be the death of democracy? will be held at London’s Goodenough College on May 31st.
The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.Tagged in: 2001, Angela Merkel, Brussels, crisis, democrat, enda kenny, eu, euro, european union, europhile, eurosceptic, eurozone, fiskalpakt, George Papandreou, ireland, Ken Clarke, Lisbon Treaty, Mario Monti, Nice Treaty, nick clegg, papademos, referendum, Taoiseach, technocrat, tsipras, vote, Westminster
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